Organizations have long recognized the importance of knowledge management and since the 1980s knowledge management has been part of the accepted lexicon of management practices. In fact, this shift aligns with globalization and the emergence of the knowledge-based economy which replaced a more manufacturing-based economy. The advances in technology (hardware, software, and the introduction of the worldwide web) have made it possible for companies to collect vast amounts of data about their business and their customers and clients. This information has been repackaged into information that can be retrieved and accessed in order to inform and aid decision-making, problem solving and services, products and process improvements. The information and data can be used by many different workers throughout the company for the same and different purposes. Knowledge became recognized as a company asset and a competitive advantage that needed to be managed and cultivated. The Web 2.0 technologies have taken knowledge access and dissemination even further through the use of networking software which enables both hard and soft knowledge to be shared and used.
KM can be dated from the late 1880s through the field of anthropology (Boas, Durkheim), moving to Schumpeter (early 1900s) who introduced the input of knowledge to classical economic models, moving into the field of the sociology of knowledge (Mannheim, Merton and others). Knowledge in this stage encompassed social bases (social status, occupation, mode of production, social and institutional structures, bureaucracy); cultural bases and belief systems and categories of thought. In 1957 the term ‘organizational learning’ was coined and Polyani introduced the concept of tacit knowledge. The 1960s paved the way for knowledge generation and diffusion in terms of introducing ‘learning curves’ and different modes of learning, as well as the influential work of Kuhn on paradigm shifts. Drucker, along with his management theories, introduced the term ‘knowledge worker’. The 1970s focused on cognitive learning, both individual and social, and by the 1980s the information technology revolution was underway, with Wiig and Little coining the term ‘knowledge management’ in 1986. The economy of the 1990s until the present has been characterized as knowledge based and a plethora of literature from academic experts, management practitioners, IT companies and consultant firms has flooded the market.
For a full chronological history of knowledge management in the workplace, refer to Module 2 of the on-line KM Certification Program by KM Concepts. 2 (www.eknowledgecenter.com/free_elearning/module_2.htm).
According to Beckman (2004), execution of any KM/KT strategy is not about managing knowledge, but nurturing people with knowledge - the knowledge that exists in employee's experience needs to be effectively harnessed to satisfy the needs of the organization. To do this, an organization needs to provide benefits to each individual as they try to improve how they operate and refine the speed at which they can function. People will use those organizational systems that provide them benefits in doing whatever they are trying to do. If the system is not useful to the individual, then they will not use the system.