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KM Systems

The issue of knowledge management systems has probably always been the most discussed and debated topic within knowledge management (KM). Even though knowledge management systems are not the most important part of KM (with some arguing that they are not even absolutely necessary), this is still the subject that generates most interest.

On this site, I have considered the impact of IT in all the knowledge management strategy subsections, with particular emphasis on its role in knowledge sharing. From this point on, the discussion will be organized as follows:

What are Knowledge Management Systems?

Knowledge management systems refer to any kind of IT system that stores and retrieves knowledge, improves collaboration, locates knowledge sources, mines repositories for hidden knowledge, captures and uses knowledge, or in some other way enhances the KM process.

If my explanation above makes the definition of these systems seem vague, that is because there is no consensus as to what constitutes a knowledge management system, much like there is no consensus regarding KM. Furthermore, since KM is involved in all areas of the firm, drawing a line is very difficult.

James Robertson (2007) goes as far as to argue that organizations should not even think in terms of knowledge management systems. He argues that KM, though enhanced by technology, is not a technology discipline, and thinking in terms of knowledge management systems leads to expectations of "silver bullet" solutions. Instead, the focus should be determining the functionality of the IT systems that are required for the specific activities and initiatives within the firm. However, with proper implementation, IT systems have become a critical component of KM today.

For the purpose of this site (intended to be useful for those people that do search for terms like knowledge management systems), I will break these down into the following general categories (adapted from the work of Gupta and Sharma 2005, in Bali et al 2009):

These categories will cover the vast majority of the systems that people would normally associate with a KM system.

Problems and Failure Factors

Too often, the effects of technology on the organization are not given enough thought prior to the introduction of a new system. There are two sets of knowledge necessary for the design and implementation of a knowledge management system (Newell et al., 2000):

The problem is that rarely are both these sets of knowledge known by a single person. Moreover, technology is rarely designed by the people who use it. Therefore, firms are faced with the issue of fit between IT systems and organizational practices, as well as with acceptance within organizational culture (Gamble & Blackwell 2001).

Botha et al (2008) stress the importance of understanding what knowledge management systems cannot do. They point to the fact that introducing knowledge sharing technologies does not mean that experts will share knowledge - other initiatives have to be in place.

Akhavan et al (2005) identify several additional failure factors including: lack of top management support, organizational culture, lack of a separate budget, and resistance to change.

Building upon all this, and incorporating previously discussed elements, failure factors of knowledge management systems are as follows:

Promoting Acceptance and Assimilation

According to Hecht et al. (2011) the process of successful implementation has three stages: adoption, acceptance, and assimilation. Based on recognized models and theories, the authors identified three comprehensive sets of factors affecting these three elements. The resulting model organized the KMS implementation factors into the following categories:

Step 1: KMS Adoption

Some of the key factors identified by Hecht et al (2011) are: characteristics, commercial advantage, cultural values, information quality, organizational viability, and system quality. To promote KMS adoption:

Step 2: KMS acceptance

Some of the factors outlined by Hecht et al. (2011) include: anxiety, ease of use, intrinsic motivation, job-fit, results demonstrability, and social factors. Promoting acceptance can be improved by:

Step 3: KMS Assimilation

Some of the factors identified by Hecht et al. (2011) include: knowledge barrier, management championship, process cost, process quality, and promotion of collaboration. Assimilation can be improved by:

Naturally, these factors do not apply to all systems. Some are fairly straightforward and accepted in today's society (e.g. email). However, the strategic implications of implementing knowledge management systems that significantly aim to change the way things are done in the organization requires proper consideration and careful planning. Moreover, with the evolution of systems to better support different facets of KM, they should be regarded as a critical component in the implementation of the discipline.

Alan Frost M.Sc., 2010 - Updated 2017
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