Knowledge management publications

By Glenda: First published in Online Currents – Vol.18 Issue 6, July/August 2003

Book reviews:

Bishop, Karen. Information service professionals in knowledge-based organisations in Australia: what will we manage? A report by Karen Bishop for the University of Technology, Sydney, Department of Information Studies. Sydney: The One Umbrella, [November 2001], 65p. ($65 including GST, plus $7 postage and handling).

Bishop, Karen. New roles, skills and capabilities for the knowledge-focused organisation. BEA 003-2002. Sydney: Jointly published by The One Umbrella & Business Excellence Australia (a division of Standards Australia International Limited), December 2002, ISBN 0 7337 4874 0, 30p. Available in hardcopy at $29.92 or PDF at $26.93 (including GST). Contact Standards Australia on 1300 654 646 or

Knowledge Management (KM) is a misused and misunderstood term. These publications from The One Umbrella Group and Business Excellence Australia should help clarify the situation, and provide guidance to librarians and other information professionals considering employment in this area.

They are based on work Karen Bishop did for a Master of Arts/Information at UTS, Sydney, and are influenced by her work as a recruitment consultant specialising in information and knowledge management.

Report for UTS
The Report for UTS is 65 pages long, spiral bound, with text on one side of each page. The style is academic, but it is fairly easy to read. There is a six page reference list and bibliography, and no index. I would have liked more references to information on the Web, but nearly all of the references are to books and printed articles; and some of the in-text references to Web sites only give the home page. I have often been struck by the tendency of librarians to publish books that are hard to catalogue, and these two are no exception. For example, there is no date on this one. The editor in me noticed a few inconsistencies (e.g. p and pg for page, on page 14) and missing information (e.g. dates and pages in references, p23).

Karen Bishops Executive Summary highlights the key findings that:

  • Information professionals will be more highly valued in the future
  • Content management, knowledge management and information consulting are roles which should continue to be filled by information professionals
  • Training for these roles should include subjects such as change management, business analysis, and information architecture
  • Leadership ability and negotiating skills are desirable for these strategic roles

The book examines the background of the knowledge economy, knowledge-based organisations and the management of intellectual assets, the concept of tacit knowledge and its management, skills and roles of information service professionals, and case studies of librarians in knowledge management roles.

Figure 1: Knowledge Management Publication

Chapter 1 examines the knowledge economy, and provides some extreme quotes to set the scene: knowledge is the only meaningful resource today (p.4) and In the workplace of the future, only two things will matter: people and knowledge (p.7).

Chapter 2 examines managing knowledge in knowledge-based organisations. Bishop describes knowledge-based organisations through metaphors such as learning, knowledge-creating, intelligent and political. Bishop quotes extensively from the literature, but the experts often contradict each other. For example, Nonaka says: everyone is a knowledge worker (p.11), but Drucker claims: Knowledge workers are ideally educated people, who are creative, communicative team-players (p.8).

Davenports models of information politics describe the ways people generate and use information. They are:

  • Technocratic utopianism: stressing categorisation of all of an organisations information assets
  • Anarchy: the absence of any overall information management policy
  • Feudalism: information management by individual business units
  • Federalism: an approach to information management based on consensus and negotiation on the organisations key information elements and reporting structures.

It appears as if federalism should be the preferred approach, but the requirements of a knowledge manager, on page 41, include the ability To integrate separate document management, library and other databases into a single KM system, suggesting that technocratic utopianism still plays an important role.

One of the main features of KM is that it includes management of tacit knowledge (things we know that are not necessarily documented). In addition, Bishop feels that KM is distinguished from information management by the fact that it is a whole of organisation approach, requiring investment in support schemes, communities-of-practice, collaborative reward schemes and so on (p.13).

Chapters 2 to 5 all include a section on implications for information service professionals, which examines core competencies in information management and the likely roles that librarians could fill within KM. For example, this chapter suggests that the technical processes involved in KM are core competencies in traditional library and information management, and that KM also includes social processes, including group facilitation and change management (p.17).

Librarians have potential roles in strategic information management, as information filters, and in reassembling information.

Chapter 3 examines elements of effective performance in knowledge work. For this it is necessary to deconcentrate power. CEOs set the strategies but delegate more responsibility to employees to make their own decisions. Eric Tsui says the key KM technologies are online databases, document management systems and groupware (e.g. Lotus Notes), with corporate intranets the fastest growing area. Information literacy is another key issue, and corporations need to enable employees to efficiently find and use information.

Chapter 4 is titled knowledge management, and includes the management of intellectual assets and knowledge-based strategies. Six critical success factors identified for KM include (p.29):

  • Links from KM to the strategic direction of the organisation
  • An organisational culture that supports collaboration
  • Technology to facilitate collaboration and information access (although many KM disappointments are caused by over-reliance on vendors claims  p.36)

The section Implications for information service professionals emphasises the need to concentrate on the way people behave with information as much as on the processes used to store or classify the information. [Although librarians have traditionally cared about how users find information, especially over the last decade or two when user studies have been common, the modern breed of information architect has certainly made usability and user interaction concerns more central to their work.] Changes we may need to make to fit in with KM strategies are to better understand business strategy and align ourselves with the performance goals of the organisation, and to take a more holistic view of information, valuing both formal and informal sources of information. Some roles that might be relevant are knowledge mapping (to identify high-value resources), knowledge auditing (to identify resource gaps), information consulting, and training.

Chapter 5 moves on to the skills and attributes that information service professionals bring to new roles in KM. Bishop notes that When a person is being considered for a particular position, the employer will most often be inclined to select someone whose work ethic and value-set is in line with the vision of the organisation..

From Bishops recruitment experiences she has identified key skills that clients would like to see in knowledge managers, including the ability (p.41):

  • To facilitate a collaborative information environment
  • To lead, motivate, influence, manage change and manage projects
  • To share explicit knowledge virtually through Web-enabled technologies, and to apply metadata and other information management techniques
  • To integrate separate document management, library and other databases into a single KM system
  • To understand the business and its information flows
  • To understand the theoretical underpinnings of knowledge use, transfer, and management

Bishop notes that this sounds like you have to be SuperSleuth/WonderPerson, and that, in future, teams of professionals working together will fulfil the full range of requirements. Librarians are considered by many to be under-utilised and under-valued, perhaps partly because they operate under an obsolete conceptual model of what an information centre should be today (p.42). The warehouse model must be “blown up”, librarians must not see themselves as warehouse custodians, or even as centralised providers of expertise, but rather as overseers of an organisation-wide multi-media network that connects information providers and resources with users of information. (p.42)

Bishop then lists some specific KM jobs with role descriptions from positions advertised on the One Umbrella Web site (pp.45-46).

Chapter 6 includes summaries from case studies, generated from face-to-face interviews with four knowledge managers. The content is aggregated, which draws out useful generalities, but means that the personal aspects of the case studies are lost.

For critical success factors, one mentioned top management support. One of the participants introduced electronic white-board coffee-table tops in the canteen, so obviously money was no object. Its hard to tell whether this was a short-term gimmick, or did improve communication over coffee. And when do people do their off-topic socialising, if not at tea breaks?

Continuing education was mentioned as a key point. Suggested courses were information technology and business communication (for beginners) and management courses such as strategy, leadership and organisational behaviour (for experienced people).

The general conclusion is positive  that there are significant roles in KM that information professionals can do, with the proviso that we need to improve our skills in some areas, and perhaps change our attitudes and approaches in others. One shock finding (somewhat hidden in the conclusion on p.58) is that information managers find that the information specialist graduates they employ are poor at core information management skills like online searching, thesaurus development, metadata and indexing and that they battle to apply the understanding they do have to specific business processes. This suggests that the general conclusion should be cautiously altered to read that some information specialists have the necessary skills for KM.

New Roles, Skills and Capabilities
This 30-page book has 6 chapters, and an appendix with sample job descriptions. It was written specifically for human resources professionals, and examines:

  • the implications for human resources professionals of the focus on knowledge and intellectual assets in the knowledge-focused organisation
  • the importance of developing new roles, skills and capabilities in knowledge-focused organisations

The first three chapters cover the knowledge economy, knowledge management characteristics and knowledge-based organisations, summarising much of the content from the UTS book. They give an overview of KM that is useful for librarians as well as for HR personnel. The next three chapters focus more on specific tasks, and are relevant to librarians trying to assess their match with these positions. Because this book gives more detail than the UTS book on specific roles within KM, it is useful for a person trying to target or define themselves  they may not become knowledge managers, but might fit into a role as an intranet content manager, or competitive intelligence leader.

HR personnel have a role in recruiting people with the appropriate knowledge mix to fill knowledge gaps in the organisation (p.3). Chapter 3summarises some of the metaphors of knowledge-focused organisations discussed in the UTS book (learning, knowledge-creating and intelligent), then lists key performance indicators for them. These include fostering a knowledge-sharing culture, providing staff access to knowledge resources, regardless of location, encouraging risk-taking, and appraising knowledge-sharing behaviour in performance agreements. One problem with KM is said to be that it is an attempt to manage what cannot be measured! (p.8)

Chapter 4 examines the elements of effective knowledge work, listing critical competencies, desirable skills, and learned knowledge. The lists sometimes state the obvious in great detail, e.g. it is important that people learn about&the role/s they are able to/expected to play (p.10).

Chapter 5 looks at management of knowledge as a core business process, with brief hints on developing and improving performance in knowledge-focused organisations. The brief lists it contains would be better if extended.

Chapter 6 examines new roles, skills and competencies for managing knowledge. This is probably the chapter with most relevance to the librarian or record manager wondering about their role in KM. Bishop again emphasises that information professionals have the core skills to manage explicit knowledge, but have more challenge in managing tacit intuition and know-how, which requires people skills (a slightly disturbing inference that librarians dont tend to have these skills).

Many of the requirements for KM roles apply equally to other information professionals (a team approach, with good leadership and facilitation skills), and some are vague and hard to judge (high-energy levels and the ability to cope with ambiguity) (p.14).

This chapter lists key skills and attributes, core competencies, objectives, tasks for a range of specific KM roles: knowledge managers, information literacy managers, content managers, and knowledge auditors. Content managers may be information professionals, but could just as well be journalists, as writing and editing skills are also important. Competitive intelligence leaders have a more strategic role, and need research and business analysis skills. For competitive intelligence leaders Bishop lists the following competencies: information architecture, content management, thesaurus development, metadata, taxonomies, indexing, abstracting, editing and repackaging information” (p.19). These are fields in which librarians are pre-eminent. Knowledge auditing aims to discover what information is needed, who knows it, what barriers there are to applying it, how it might be developed, and what is missing (p.20).

The Appendix lists sample job descriptions for the following roles:

  • Competitive intelligence leader
  • Knowledge and information manager
  • Information literacy manager
  • Intranet content manager
  • Knowledge coordinator

These job descriptions list personal characteristics and qualifications, selection criteria, role responsibilities, education, skills, critical success factors, and characteristics of people suited to these positions. They would be useful for HR managers to base their own job descriptions on, and are useful for information professionals trying to work out their own place in knowledge-focused companies. Most of the requirements are for high-level general skills in communication and management, including a tenacious demeanour (p.23), and one of the responsibilities is the rather Orwellian thought leadership (p.27).

There is a two page bibliography, with only one Web reference.

Librarians and other information professionals interested in KM and considering working in the field would find both of these books useful. The first one (UTS Masters) gives a thorough overview of the field, with comments on the role of librarians in a number of chapters. The second one (HR) is shorter, and is aimed at Human Resource Professionals, but gives more details about specific roles, which makes it pertinent for those considering working in the field, who are trying to see which specific role, if any, would suit them. As it does not try and cover so much background information, it is possibly easier to digest.