KM spread wide through nation

20/05/2003 - 22:00

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In, part two of the knowledge management series, Vince Brown examines the extent to which the practice of KM has been adopted in Australia.

In, part two of the knowledge management series, Vince Brown examines the extent to which the practice of KM has been adopted in Australia.

AS defined in article one, knowledge management is the putting in place of behaviours, procedures, support structures and tools to encourage and enable the acquisition, creation, storage, sharing and application of knowledge.

Emerging as a distinct management discipline in the early 1990s, it has now become one of the hottest topics of discussion in the management community worldwide.

So what is the extent of KM adoption in Australia?

Sydney University of Technology School of Management head Thomas Clarke said that many Australian organisations employed KM practices, although not all referred to these as KM specifically.

“Common to all such initiatives, be they referred to as KM or not, is a desire by organisations to embrace a more concerted effort to restructure their internal procedures and practices to survive and thrive in a knowledge driven economy,” he said.

“Australian organisations employ a range of management strategies such as total quality management and the measurement of intellectual and human capital, each of which are modes of KM. However, when these practices are drawn together to achieve a coherency supporting communities of knowledge within the organisation, this is KM. In this sense, the practice of KM in Australia is widespread.”

Indeed, a report released by the OECD in 2001 entitled The New Economy: Beyond the Hype indicated that Australia was ranked third in the world in the adoption of KM practice.

“This puts Australia at the forefront of KM practice world-wide,” Professor Clarke said.

“This is unsurprising, for the innovative nature of Australian enterprise that underpinned its rapid adoption of information technologies has now led to a similar exploration and acceptance of KM practices.”

However, Professor Clarke warned that the development and implementation of KM in Australian organisations was unlikely to proceed without experiencing some difficulties.

He agreed that the ‘bandwagon effect’, commonly associated with other emerging technologies and practices, had emerged to be  problem for KM as well.

“Once a good idea like KM develops, the consultants move in and the hype begins,” Professor Clarke said.

“This often results in organisations jumping on the bandwagon, buying into so-called KM products and services without due consideration as to how these will impact upon their key functional stategies and operations.

“Consequently, when these often costly changes and investments fail to return a financial or operational benefit, KM stands to get a bad name.

“At a minimum disillusionment in KM may result in causing potential adopters to lose interest and enthusiasm for the practice.”

Another common obstacle for the adoption of KM within Australian organisations is the resistance to the practice put up by those who feel threatened by initiatives designed to embrace the new information world.

“The implementation of a KM culture within an organisation has to be sensitively handled, for many people feel disconcerted and anxious about being required to participate meaningfully in a knowledge-centered workplace,” Professor Clarke said.

“Although there is little problem in gaining acceptance by the younger members of the workforce, the so-called ‘digital natives’[aged under 25], the older generations, often referred to as the digital immigrants, require a great deal of encouragement and facilitation.”

Overall, however, the adoption of KM by Australian organisations, for-mal or otherwise, has been positive.

In keeping with international practice, Standards Australia has developed an innovative KM framework that can be found at  www.knowledge.standards.com.au and has been recognised as being one of the world’s best.

Professor Clarke said that the development of KM standards was very important to keeping in step with the rest of the world.

“Australia has worked very hard to create good codes of practice for KM and has carefully avoided developing standards that are rigid and prescriptive,” he said.

“This approach recognises that KM is often part of a creative process unique to each organisation and that a highly structured and inflexible framework would often have little applicability.”

In conclusion, Professor Clarke indicated that Australia’s international business success would only persist if it continued to embrace innovation as enthusiastically as it has to date.

“Australia has a good position in the world economy,” he said.

“However, to maintain it, educational systems, technical infra-structure and business practices will have to remain commensurate with the rest of the world. KM will serve a key role in this endeavour.”

p          Vince Brown can be            contacted at

vbrown@bigpond.net.au

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