Books

XIII.2 March + April 2006
Page: 48
Digital Citation

Review of “Knowledge Management in Theory and Practice by Kimiz Dalkir”, Elsevier Butterworth Heinemann, ISBN: 0-7506-7864-X, $49.95


Authors:
Karen Quinn

The discipline of Knowledge Management (KM) has been around for more than a decade. It has reached a state of maturity in which one can identify the principles, practices, and tools that make it unique. KM has encouraged individuals and organizations to examine ways in which knowledge can be used to add to or create value and profitability. Although there is a wealth of literature about KM, few textbooks are available. As a rule, even where textbooks exist, I do not generally review them. However, I am making an exception in the case of Dr. Kimiz Dalkir’s new textbook because of its exceptional quality, comprehensive scope, and potential usefulness for both practitioners and academics.

Dr. Dalkir’s premise is that for a KM initiative to succeed it must have a robust theoretical foundation. She provides that foundation in a very readable volume that neatly integrates theory, practice, history, and issues from a multidisciplinary perspective. This book is a "must read" for anyone interested in leveraging knowledge assets to improve productivity or to enhance organizational innovation.

The text begins with a framework of language and concepts that provides the reader with a good overview of the theoretical underpinnings and key attributes of KM. It continues by explaining how KM has evolved in practice and why—if properly tailored to the needs of an organization—it can be a good investment. Despite the demonstrated maturity of the discipline, practitioners have not yet achieved consensus on the meanings of the complex terms at the heart of KM. Consensus is elusive because many KM terms, even the term "knowledge," are subjective and value laden. Dr. Dalkir’s method for solving this muddle is Concept Analysis, a well-established technique that has been particularly useful in obtaining group understanding and consensus in multidisciplinary domains. Instead of requiring consensus on the meanings of the terms, this technique works from a shared consensus on the key attributes, illustrative examples, and non-examples at play in order to build conceptual consensus. Concept analysis can also be helpful in visually mapping conceptual relationships to help define words or concepts. This is not just an academic issue; because KM usually means different things to different people, the author recommends "that each organization undertake the concept analysis exercise to clarify its understanding of what KM means to its own organization’s context" (p. 12).

This is followed by an historical overview that identifies the major KM milestones and describes the key roles and responsibilities required for successful applications. Dalkir highlights the importance of valued individual, group, and organizational knowledge, and how it should be handled during the various KM processes. She also carefully compares and contrasts a number of existing KM life cycle models using a clear and detailed explanation of each that highlights the challenges and benefits of each phase of each cycle. Dalkir uses this comparison to distill an integrated KM life cycle model based on the strengths of each approach. This model proposes the three major phases of KM to be: 1. Knowledge capture and /or creation; 2. Knowledge sharing and dissemination; 3. Knowledge acquisition and application.

Dalkir also provides a careful description of the basic terminology and concepts related to knowledge capture and codification. This includes a good overview of the major techniques used to elicit tacit knowledge from subject-matter experts and a thorough definition of the major roles and responsibilities that must come into play during the knowledge-capture and -codification phase. This is followed by a general outline of the major and varying taxonomic approaches used in classifying knowledge.

The key components of knowledge sharing and communities of practice are examined, beginning with an outline of the major phases in the life cycle of a community. The corresponding information and knowledge management needs for each phase are identified. Then the major roles and responsibilities within communities of practice are described with an emphasis on the skills of trained information professionals. Obstacles to knowledge sharing are also considered. The selective use of tools and techniques is recommended in order to better understand the flow of knowledge within a community. With this information, professionals are better prepared to enhance knowledge sharing, which in turn fosters organizational learning and enriches innovation. Many case studies are provided to demonstrate how these approaches have been implemented in very different environments. This volume clearly explains that knowledge-sharing communities are not just providing access to data and documents. They are in fact interconnecting the social networks of the people who in turn enrich and enhance the total knowledge resources of their organizations. There are many strategic and practical implications of knowledge communities, especially when professionals across platforms and distances are connected in a community that helps them to share in the richness of an organization’s total knowledge and memory.

To help promote the effective use of knowledge at the individual, group, and organizational levels, the author describes how one might design an organizational, knowledge management architecture. She suggests the use of learning taxonomies, task-support systems, and personalized or profiling techniques to ensure the best possible match between user and content. In some cases user and task-modeling approaches are suggested to gain a better understanding of current use patterns and to devise additional links between individual and organizational learning.

Organizational culture—the underlying values, beliefs, and codes of practice that make a community what it is—has long been a topic of discussion among management theorists. This text includes a good discussion of the different ways to examine the characteristics of this culture. Dalkir has done an excellent job of providing an overview of research related to types and levels of organizational culture, including a consideration of "micro-cultures." The key and often overlooked point is that it is important to understand how an organizational culture might intersect with a knowledge-management strategy even before that strategy is implemented. The author clearly communicates the importance of culture and its ability to change as a fundamental element of successful KM implementation. The discussion’s focus on key cultural enablers, such as reward structures, shared mental models, openness or transparency, trust, top management support or collaborative environments where explicit knowledge sharing is encouraged, is enlightening. Similarly enlightening is the coverage of the common obstacles to effective KM implementation often revealed through negative cultural attitudes like "knowledge is power." Again, case studies help to clearly communicate the role of and implications of cultures in different well-known organizations. The discussion is rounded out by a set of guidelines for cultural change if it is determined that such change is needed in order to achieve successful KM implementation.

KM implementations often require a wide range of very diverse communication techniques and technologies, or "tools." Many different tools may come into play in the different stages of the KM life cycle, and the author does an excellent job of reviewing them. For example, she compares and contrasts different types of intelligent agents and shows how they can be used to personalize technologies, illustrates the advantages and drawbacks of push and pull technologies, and explains the concepts of data mining and the major components of a knowledge repository. Her discussion demonstrates the wide range of very diverse technologies currently available. Each tool has advantages and drawbacks that depend on their application; it is crucial that information professionals have the knowledge to make the best choice among these tools and to use them to maximum benefit.

To apply KM beneficially, it is also important to understand the KM building blocks that are generally developed and implemented. The major steps involved in developing a KM strategy are presented. Three commonly used measurement techniques—benchmarking, the balance scorecard method, and the house of quality metric—are discussed.

The author includes a list of key KM skills required to carry out the work and the justification of the need for each skill. Management needs to understand how the chief information officer (CIO) role can evolve into a chief knowledge officer (CKO) role or even a chief learning officer (CLO) position. Included in this discussion is an examination of the critical cognitive and attitudinal attributes that a professional should possess. The sensitive topic of ethics is also discussed. Here the author identifies the key tenets that should be included in a KM code of ethics. In addition, ideas for justifying these recommendations are identified.

KM objectives are often extremely ambitious and most always involve cultural and job changes at the individual, group, and organizational levels. As a result, the objectives are never easily achieved. In the last chapter Dr. Dalkir explores some of the critical issues facing knowledge management professionals both today and in the future. These challenges include access issues, organizational issues and valuing issues. As Dr. Dalkir concludes, "Knowledge management will continue to build the foundation for improved business advantages and strengthen the capabilities for a sustainable future (p. 323)." This is a complex undertaking that involves people and organizational issues, not just technology. KM must be based upon solid theoretical foundations requiring a systemic perspective and must continue to evolve as a profession.

From my perspective, this is a book all managers and professionals should be given the opportunity to read. It provides much of the fundamental background for understanding KM and the food for thought to feed the discussions that need to occur in order for knowledge management initiatives to succeed and flourish.

Author

Karen Takle Quinn
Notre Dame de Namur University

About the Reviewer

Karen holds a PhD in Human and Organizational Systems, an MA in Organization Development, and an MSLS and BS. Some of her recognitions include: 1990 Distinguished Alumna, Rutgers University Graduate School (SCILS); 1985 Elected Fellow, Institute of Information Scientists (UK); 1993 Centennial Award ASEE; 2000 Butterworth-Heinemann Knowledge Management Consortium International Press Board; Ford Foundation Consultant South East Asia; National Science Foundation Grantee. She currently teaches Systems Management and Usability in Management Systems at Notre Dame de Namur University. She has had extensive industry experience in information technology. Her areas of research include innovation, groupware, electronic meeting facilitation, system dynamics, and knowledge management.

To submit a book review, please email Gerard Torenvliet at gerard.torenvliet@cmcelectronics.ca

Editor:

Gerard Torenvliet
CMC Electronics
415 Leggett Drive, P.O. Box 13330
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K2K 2B2
gerard.torenvliet@cmcelectronics.ca

©2006 ACM  1072-5220/06/0300  $5.00

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