Boosting competitiveness through knowledge

by Ada Ng

Eric Tsui, professor and associate director
Knowledge Management Research Centre
Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Photos: Nolly Leung

An increasing number of employers are looking for job candidates with prior KM experience

The keys to business success are constant innovation and an ability to manage change in a dynamic marketplace. Since information is readily accessible to all, skills and knowledge are the two assets that provide a real edge in any industry.

This make knowledge management (KM) a necessity, rather than a luxury in today's cut-throat business world, says Eric Tsui, professor and associate director, Knowledge Management Research Centre, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU).

"KM refers to an organisation's unique knowledge that helps it to create sustainable competitive advantage and improve performance. Companies ranging from multinationals to engineering firms and government departments are increasingly relying on KM to leverage their intellectual capital," Professor Tsui explains.

Practical focus

Hong Kong CyberU (HKCyberU), the online arm of the PolyU, is the only institution in Asia to offer a master of science (MSc) programme in KM in a blended learning model, with a curriculum that equips students with the expertise to manage knowledge for enhanced corporate efficiency.

"It is a platform for degree holders with solid work experience to gain an in-depth understanding of the tools and methods used to design and implement a KM system, which is increasingly necessary for organisational well-being," Professor Tsui notes.

A company can function more efficiently if its employees can learn quicker and implement and commercialise knowledge faster, he adds.

An interdisciplinary subject area looking at organisational behaviours, human resources and information technology, KM comprises a range of strategies and practices to identify, capture, collect, organise, integrate and retrieve knowledge related to a particular organisation's business for sharing.

The MSc programme, which is in its seventh year running, mainly attracts people in mid- to senior-management positions with at least five years' experience in the information technology, government, legal, education, engineering, retail or logistics sectors. It covers a number of subject areas, with a key focus on developing KM theories and practices applicable to different industries.

"The objective is to develop a systematic approach to managing organisational assets, including intellectual capital, employee expertise, customer knowledge, business and competitive intelligence, and organisational experience," Professor Tsui says. "We want to motivate employees to share and contribute their knowledge as a collective asset while, in turn, getting access to information that facilitates operational efficiency and quick decision-making."

In addition to textbook theories, the programme stresses heavily on local and international case studies to provide students with insights into the latest KM issues and developments.

The programme's success can be partly attributed to its competent teaching body of experienced PolyU faculty, he stresses, adding that the department invites esteemed international academics and KM experts to deliver online lectures on a regular basis, providing students with a global perspective.

Interactive environment

In addition to making use of online course materials and tutorial support, students are also required to attend face-to-face sessions involving small group exercises, discussions and sharing. They also get the chance to attend guest lectures by KM practitioners sharing their experience in applying KM principles in different industries and corporate cultures.

"Our goal is to equip our students with both theoretical and practical understanding in an interactive environment. More importantly, through the face-to-face seminars, we give them the chance to establish a wider industry network that will help them in their future careers," Professor Tsui remarks.

Students may choose to take eight core and two elective subjects, or to finish seven subjects plus a dissertation. Those opting for the dissertation are guided by a member of academic staff to ultimately solve a real-life business issue for an organisation. Aside from sitting open-book exams, students may also need to complete various assignments and mini-projects focusing on the applications of KM in a workplace context.

Professor Tsui emphasises that the programme is not only aimed at practising KM professionals wanting to update their skills and acumen, but that it also targets people looking to explore KM as a future career.

"Statistics show that many students in their second or third year of studies are already working in KM roles, such as knowledge manager, organisational learning officer, innovation manager and KM consultant," he reveals, pointing out that it is not unusual for graduates with sufficient experience to be promoted by their companies after completing the programme.

"The KM programme offers real career advancement opportunities, which is not surprising, considering that senior executives increasingly need KM knowledge and skills in order to make quick and strategic decisions," Professor Tsui concludes.

In the know

  • Knowledge management gives companies sustainable competitive advantage
  • Students equipped with expertise to manage personal, group and organisational knowledge
  • Interdisciplinary subject area focuses on organisational behaviours, human resources and information technology
  • Second- and third-year students already assume new organisational roles

Taken from Career Times 12 November 2010, A10

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