In human history, society has drastically shifted in relation to the man’s activities. From agriculture based society to Industrial Society in about 300 years ago. Whereby, the industrial society went through social transformation to knowledge based society; where we are today. In this connection, Information Systems emerge to be vital tool to the individual, organization and society. Thus, knowledge has become the driving force for social development and people’s demand for more information and knowledge skyrocket daily. As a matter of fact, knowledge economy is a new concept globally that converts intellectual assets of workers and staff members in the organization into higher productive forces – competition power and new value. In order for knowledge management realize a meaningful purpose; it requires linkage of information with information, information with man and information with activities. This is the reason for the involvement of IS researcher in societal KM issues.
Crucially, current knowledge research programs and their underlying philosophical assumptions, are at center stage for IS research theoretical foundation. The core assumptions that relate to Information Systems are knowledge acquisition or epistemology and ontology. In this respect, it is evident that our society is knowledge oriented; knowledge has evolved to be a large body of study and professional practice. Therefore giving IS research and researcher a major role to play in the IS community. It is within this line of thought that this paper shall explore the role of management knowledge in our knowledge based society.
In today’s fast moving and dynamic society, Knowledge Management is emerging as a major force in the overall organizations management strategies. Knowledge expertise and innovation (Galliers1992) as opposed to tangible assets like land and machinery are primary assets, which are critical for successful operation and creating competitive advantages for organizations in knowledge oriented society and economy (Popper1963). We are at the transitional phase from industrialized society to knowledge society. Hence, knowledge management is increasingly important productive factor for the modern economic system; therefore, society will inevitably require intensified management of information and knowledge to facilitate and sustain this productivity. In other words, Information economy relies on knowledge as capital and economic growth is driven by accumulation of knowledge and information: knowledge becomes main producer of wealth to the economy (Debra 2007: 201).
Empirically, human knowledge has become the source of business models for coming up with commodities of new competitive value as organizations move away from mass-production, mass-consumption and go in for undiscovered businesses. Because the market is flooded with goods and services from industrializing and industrialized nations, firms can no longer make profits by simply developing and producing commodities efficiently to supply to consumers. But rather by continually coming up with competitive and creative commodities that deliver new value to the consumer. In order to achieve this and stay competitive on the market, many organizations are going for managing their knowledge base efficiently and effective.
Knowledge management (KM)
Knowledge management has emerged in the recent years as a multidisciplinary subject area that draws its concept and theories from broad spectrum of technologies and disciplines. For instance, it draws its theories and concepts from; cognitive Science, artificial intelligence and expert systems, organizational science, Groupware, relational and object databases and decision support systems. Drucker, (1993), offer a sensible definition of KM as the process of organizing and sharing the diverse forms of business information created within an organization. This includes management of knowledge base such as, intranet websites and document libraries and other organizational knowledge assets to further firm’s objectives.
Essentially, there are two kinds of knowledge that comprise of explicit and tacit. Tacit knowledge is people dependent and its creation is as a result of experiences and insights added to available information. This kind of knowledge is within individuals and not verbal making it difficult to spread, articulate, measure, store and codify. While explicit knowledge is less people dependent, thus it can be spread, articulated, measures or codified. Whereas the term information, refers to the data (collected records of facts) with added meaning.
In order for knowledge to be useful to the society, it must be created, organized and shared. In this respect, Debra (2007) proposes four basic patterns for knowledge creation: from tacit to tacit through learning from observation, imitation and practice; from explicit to explicit through synthesizing explicit knowledge sources without adding to knowledge base; from tacit to explicit through individuals converting their inner knowledge to explicit by sharing with team members or others that results to innovativeness; and from explicit to tacit that occur when explicit knowledge is shared to the organization, employees internalize by accommodating, adding or reframing their tacit knowledge. Therefore, knowledge creation results to new knowledge through conversion of tacit to explicit, problem solving and innovative programs within institutional set up.
In order for the knowledge to maximize business performance through synergies between people, processes and technology; few steps have to be followed to realize efficient management. These steps are: making knowledge visible, building knowledge intensity, developing a knowledge culture and building knowledge infrastructure. Through this range of steps in knowledge management, knowledge shall be useful to the organizations to enable it compete well in the market and global business environment.
Moreover, steps that guide and aids KM, requires essential tools that facilitate these key steps. These essential tools which are vital for management knowledge are range of technologies to be used in KM systems. These are; Ontology, Groupware, Intranet and Extranet, Electronic Document Management, Data Warehousing, Meta-information, Agent Technologies and GIS. All these tools, steps, phases of knowledge creation and types of knowledge are part of a complex process of KM evident in our knowledge society.
Knowledge based society
The historical perspective of our society points out distinct phases that our society has undergone from past 10,000 years of agriculture based society, to industrial and now knowledge based society. Drucker, (1993); state that knowledge economy is the economy for the future. Basically, services and products available in the market are increasingly complex, most of our work is information based and even organizations compete on the basis of knowledge they acquire and use through R&D, it is hard evidence that we are in knowledge based society. As a result, life-long learning is inevitably needed in field of knowledge management. Consequently, organizations and countries that may survive competition and sustain in knowledge intensive era; need to understand the dynamics of the knowledge and create true knowledge society that blend past with present to reflect the future.
Knowledge based society use knowledge as driver of all societal activities; hence it enriches and empowers its population. In this case, knowledge is viewed as a powerful incentive to drive societal transformation with insight of innovation. Additionally, society in knowledge era is capable to generate, disseminate and protect knowledge with an aim of using it as major factor of production, to create economic wealth and social good for all members of that society. Other key features of knowledge based society that validate our today society to be a knowledge driven society are; speed and rapidity, (Feyerabend 1975) change affecting each aspects of life of the people, advances in science and technology, computer and communication technologies, knowledge recording and dissemination, knowledge workers and power shifting which are common in most nations in the world today; although the levels exhibited vary across the nations. The key enabler of knowledge based society is the rapid and progressive information technology.
Advantages of knowledge driven society are many and incomparable past societies. The most important is emergence of the knowledge based economy: that foster innovation that encourage free flow of ideas; improve customer services through streamlining response time; boost revenues and general economy performance by getting right, relevant and quality products and services to market faster that meets customer’s needs; enhances workforce retention by recognizing and rewarding the value of employees’ knowledge; and lastly Streamline operations and reduce costs by elimination redundant processes. Furthermore, cultures and life styles exhibited by knowledge driven society facilitate high standard of living, instant access to Information and knowledge through Internet, increasing trend towards consumerism, Smart homes and Influence of mass media, leisure industry and show businesses. We are working in knowledge-intensive sectors and producing knowledge-intensive services, validate us to be knowledge-based workers.
Role of knowledge management in society
From the roots of ancient Greek philosophical perspective the term knowledge was categorized into four meanings: episteme, techn, phronesis and métiers (Deetz 1996), all these meanings emanated from philosophical discourse of antiquity. These distinctions in meaning of knowledge depicted that the antique perspective had a broad understanding of knowledge, which implied different dimensions of individual abilities. The individual abilities were recognized as important in Greek society for greater good of society. However, the society ignored the power of knowledge until 1966 when a North-American political scientist Robert E. Lane used the term knowledge society to argue against irrational politics and requested for more rational knowledge to politics. Ever since, more work was done in attempt to calls for integrating knowledge and development. For instance American based sociologist Daniel Bell in 1973 defined a shift from industrial society to post-industrial society and reiterated the central role of information and knowledge emerging new social system.
In this regard, the role of management knowledge in society shall base on the assumptions (Kuhn 1970)of knowledge based society: specific role of information technologies, knowledge-based society as a globalized economy and increasing importance of knowledge as a new mode of production as opposed to capital or labor intensive production (Feyerabend 1975). In exploring role in holistic perspective, the paper shall examine the increasing penetration of knowledge in all societal levels which has greatly and contributed to performance by all professionals. Therefore, the approach shall be in the following levels; role of technology, globalization of societies, new mode of production, individual work and life and knowledge use in organizations.
The role of technology
Knowledge is the core concept that gives rise of information society, which in return gave rise to information technology. Over decades information technology has increasingly continued to be important as technological innovation results to social change in the society. This importance of technology is described in terms of explicit; since it can be codified and measured to give empirical results. While to some extend reflect the tacit as people are at the center of information generation.
Empirically, IT global knowledge base doubles after every five years, as 200, 000 publications are produced daily worldwide which reflects the highest number of scientists working towards new knowledge. Thus, knowledge proves to a resource that can be reproduced infinitely to a new dimension. This mass production validates Hans D.’Orville director of UNDP statement that “knowledge society will come. No matter if you want or not” in a Global Knowledge Societies workshop in Germany 1998.
From a sociological perspective technologies play a vital role to the society (Deetz 1996). First and foremost, information is a raw material in knowledge based economy; hence this is a technology to act on the information. Secondly, pervasiveness effects of new technologies medium shape individuals activities, all processes and collective existence. Third function lies in the networking logic of any technological system and fourth, information technology paradigm is based on flexibility which results to social changes that characterizes emerging patterns in modernized societies. In addition to that, the spreading up process of the technology has implications to the domestic and global markets.
Globalization of societies
Knowledge management and research work by IS researcher has significantly resulted to knowledge management products such as data mining and textual mining that leads to locating various documents disregard to their physical location. One of the facilitator to have our globe connectedness is the introduction of WorldWideWeb (Delanty 2005) at the beginning of the 1990s. This technological innovation led to new modes of production globally. For instance, due to worldwideweb there was an emergence of white color work as many people worked online (consultants, engineers, tutors, news editors, managers) from their destination. This is an example of newly created international labor structure enhanced by knowledge availability to the people through search engines.
The resultant of people having a body of knowledge they require to perform a given function, leads to increasing of the global trade volume and emergence of new modes of production worldwide. To this effect, information relating to; consumer research information, geographical locations, demographic characteristics information, social-cultural information and economic information availability to various producers and marketers make it easy for the business persons to focus on one global market target.
According to American based economists Thompson and Hirst, knowledge management has resulted to intensification of trade partners who trade online; easily and conveniently. Furthermore, Thompson and Hirst analysis indicate that triad trade between European Union, Asian- pacific areas and USA increased from 17.4 percent to 25.2 percent from 1980 to 1998. While the countries with less knowledge based economy (Africa) dropped from 35.7 percent to 22.9 percent except South Africa within the same period (Delanty 2005: 363).
From this analysis of the Thompson and Hirst and other relevant resources it indicates that trade concentration has increased between the triad mentioned above while declines in Africa. This implies that many countries worldwide participate in new modes of production and global technology by utilizing managed knowledge. However, this globalization processes have resulted to polarization between industrialized and developed states that have worsened global market integration.
New mode of production
The new mode of production is facilitated by KM, when knowledge management is understood from the perspective of knowledge as a critical factor for organization of work process. Major companies and medium sized firms basing on the technological innovation they started to reorganize production processes by early 1990s. Technological innovations in relation to demand facilitated non critical services like payroll processing and managerial advantage of outsourcing, but much is in favor of supply side. Available knowledge through information technology has resulted to multi-unit specialized firms. These firms explore economies of scale and scope in services production much more effectively than non-specialized firms to meet consumer needs.
Technological innovations have enhanced standardization of production processes and reorganization of company’s structures leading to drastic change in the composition of the prices of products. To emphasis on this point, persons working in production sector reduced from 0.4 million from 0.02 million by 1980s. To add to that, firms like IBM as a global company started with production of software and hardware for sale. But in knowledge based economy, production shifted to reflect knowledge based activities; software designing and development, network management; and sales and support which yields more profits that hardware and software initially produced. In general, product oriented services like R&D and design are high on the firms priority area and expenditure list that material costs to be successful.
Production is guided by product knowledge which is driven by market needs of customer with such aspects like market-oriented organization of labor, standardized production, international management structures and just-in-time production. As a result, many organizations today are increasingly working toward product oriented services in industrializing and industrialized nations. Deetz, (1996); describe this individuals and firms working towards services orientated production as symbolic workers. While the activities of symbolic worker as a simplification of reality into abstract images that are rearranged, juggled, experimented with, communicated to other specialists, and then transformed back into reality. In this connection, symbolic work has three dimensions for knowledge based activities that have resulted to new mode of production: Targeting knowledge for management, administration and organization; Orientation knowledge for co-ordination, consulting and controlling; and Knowledge of production through R&D, innovation to produce market oriented products.
The use of knowledge in organizations
The knowledge use for organization is centered on Michael Polanyi, (1958) differentiation between tacit and explicit knowledge (Galliers1992). Whereby, tacit knowledge is individual dependent that constitute his or her know how, he adds that “we know more than we know to say”. While explicit knowledge is documented and formal knowledge which is functional and conscious. These two forms of knowledge become useful to the organization only when there is successful transformation or conversion from explicit to tacit form of knowledge; which is difficulty to many employees. While on he other side many individuals within workforce may be unable to explicit their implicit knowledge which is a challenge to organization’s KM.
In order for organization to use knowledge well to its advantage, organization should focus its efforts to the organizational knowledge creation by enabling, facilitating and supporting the transformation of individual implicit to explicit knowledge through intensive communication processes like metaphors or rounds of meaningful dialogues. However, organizational learning is critical to the firm use of knowledge. Contrary, sociology of organization depicts lack of interrelationship between individual and organizational knowledge. Hence, for KM to be useful; organization should adopt policies and strategies of intelligent organization, collective mind, team work and project oriented team work.
Individual work and life
The role of KM in individual work and life is in terms of flexibility to imply all work aspects: work organization on the individual level; work – life balance; new demands of qualification and skills; work time; and employment level. KM management played key role in individual’s empowerment within the working processes as integrated part of working conditions for individuals. Today individuals face many greater challenges like more varied work tasks and extended autonomy. As work intensity increases globally especially Europe and Western countries due to result-based salaries, constant readjustments and individual contracts. Therefore, information technology facilitated construction of organization complexity that resulted to work intensity witnessed.
The integration of women in creative parts of IT sector within the labor market was a great employment opportunities for qualified women. Thus, promotion of women was emphasized as creativity and qualification pushed the integration of women in labor market.
Moreover, at individual level in relation to organization of work, knowledge management enhanced emergence of an entrepreneur or entreployee or his or her own labor power. Entrepreneur had three characteristics: self-rationalization as individuals are capable to self-determine organization of one’s daily life and long-term plans and the tendency to accept willingly the importance of the company as an integral part of life; self-control which intensified active and practical planning, control and monitoring of work by the person responsible; and self-commercialization as intensified active and practical production and commercialization of one’s own capacities and potential on the labor market and firms. Information technology has resulted to elimination of large part of labor force that is improperly skilled or unskilled with no room for training to up-skilling (Deetz 1996).
To sum up this paper, today our society is knowledge based and uses knowledge as driver of all societal activity domains. Where most of our work is information based and inter-organizations competition is knowledge oriented. The IS researcher has a key role to play in societal transformation as many scientific debates indicate that knowledge is a remarkable indicator for the changing character of modern societies. However, the effect of Knowledge Management to the society can be witnessed from broad range of evidences. These evidences crown the knowledge based society in terms of the emphasis of knowledge within the global value chain and skyrocketing of experts for political decision processes; the change towards lean-management in companies and in the public service sector; the re-organization of the global economy; diffusion of information technologies in private households; and finally, the new pattern of work-live balances among individuals in today’s society that is driven by knowledge intensity.
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