There are shelves, and shelves, and bookstores and online book businesses with seemingly never ending selections of books written about business. Anything you see can be bought and sold. People seem to be at least as interested in books with business topics as any other genre available. Some business books even achieve best seller status. Given many people’s preoccupation with subjects related to business, why is it that everyone is writing a business book and many people are reading them? One of the answers may be that the “age” in which we find ourselves is rapidly transforming into a new era characterized by information. We are, and are increasingly becoming, an “Information Society”. We are bombarded with information daily. The availability of information in terms of access, speed, and proliferation is growing almost exponentially.
In terms of business, information can be considered as an advantage or as a detriment. Information is obviously an advantage when it serves the business. For example, if a business is shopping for credit, it may almost instantaneously determine the cost of a loan from several competing sources. On the other hand, those wishing to purchase something of value from a business, likewise may tap into vast sources of information about each particular company with which a transaction may be considered, as well as, perhaps price. For example, consumers can shop for home mortgages online and obtain financing and interest rate quotes from competing banks. Banks that choose not to compete in such manner in real-time, may be losing market share and revenue to online companies.
Given that we now find ourselves in an “Information Age” and a “New Economy” that is based on the information and its ubiquitous nature and its relationship to knowledge workers, does a company gain competitive advantage in the market if it has an organized and efficient means to manage its knowledge? “Knowledge has been recognized as one of the main assets of organizations” (Drucker, 1993). Other researchers go so far as to call knowledge management a core competency. “We live in a knowledge society where application, creation, recycling, sharing and storing of knowledge are considered crucial to growth and development” (Lewin et al., 1999; Christensen, 2000).
Key conclusions in some research also points to the efficacy and value of the uniqueness of the information a company may have at its disposal. As Clark Eustace summarized in the Journal of Intellectual Capital in 2003, “The empirical evidence suggests that successful players in competitive markets are those that have access to a corpus of unique – or at least difficult-to-replicate – capabilities and competencies.
While it is not arguable that knowledge is valuable, the question really becomes whether it is valuable to have certain types of knowledge. Moreover, to the extent the knowledge you possess is unique or offers information that is not easily replicated, then such knowledge may be considered as a competitive advantage or a niche that other competitors do not have. Peter Murray (2002) describes it as “knowledge management’s most important use would be making an organization competitive and profitable…high-margin niche markets.”
However, in the event that a company feels that it does possess some unique knowledge or its personnel as individuals may possess unique knowledge pursuant to their vocation, then how does the entire organization manage such knowledge? What is the scope and scale of knowledge management at the individual or the corporate level? The problem is that first there must be a definition of knowledge. After such definition, then the way to capture reusable knowledge is usually via some method in computing or Information Technology.
Even with a system for capturing knowledge and making it available for use or reuse by other people across the enterprise, the knowledge is truly only valuable for so long as that knowledge is a competitive advantage in the industry. Each company or corporation must decide for itself whether there is competitive advantage in a portion of their knowledge and to what extent this knowledge is shared. The particular aspects of a company’s knowledge management are individual case basis decisions.
Once it is determined that a company has knowledge that is of competitive advantage, then how does such company manage and share that knowledge within its organizational structure? Enterprise Resource Planning (“ERP”) systems and software may be one way to share knowledge company-wide, however, such software does not take into account prose or free thinking as data entry is logical and limited. Customer Resource Management (“CRM”) is another tool used by business to manage relationships, however, again, such system or software is not truly a knowledge sharing system.
Databases theoretically could provide a means for one to input certain aspects of his or her knowledge. Intranet websites could be another possible knowledge sharing media. However, what will prompt individuals to share versus hoard knowledge? Hoarding can be common practice especially in professional work settings where employees do not wish to share knowledge because their knowledge can be a source of power and job security for them.
The key then, is once a company has determined it has competitive knowledge, how to provide a system, and reward its usage, for knowledge workers to publish their knowledge and share it across organizational boundaries.
One of the ingredients in effective business today is speed. Speed allows the more agile company to provide solutions to their customers faster than their competitors. Experts have concluded that the majority of customers prefer adequate solutions delivered quickly over perfect solutions delivered more slowly. Such speed to market, if you will, is better gained by a company with systems that allow employees to communicate quickly with one another and to get a decision, answer, or solution in a rapid fashion. Given silo mentality and hoarding, most companies fail to achieve the speed they potentially possess. A proficient system of knowledge sharing enhances teams or individuals to come to consensus on a decision in almost real-time fashion.
The benefits are clear. Yet, cost and efficacy variables can play a factor in the adoption of knowledge sharing policies.