Knowledge management plays an important role in today's business world since it has significant implications for company earnings.
Knowledge management (KM) helps businesses manage their data more effectively so that they can attain competitive advantages. As pointed out by Eric Tsui and Benny Cheung, co-leaders of knowledge management programmes offered by the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), KM is an interdisciplinary area that combines processes and techniques for the creation, collection, classification, distribution, evaluation and re-use of institutional knowledge.
PolyU has been offering a master of science degree (MSc), a postgraduate diploma (PgD) and a certificate programme (CKP) in KM since 2004. The first two are part-time postgraduate programmes with an expected completion timeframe of one and a half to two years. The CKP is a customised 45-hour KM training programme for corporation staff. Graduates can fill roles such as chief knowledge officer, chief learning officer, director of learning, innovation manager, knowledge manager and consultants.
Much of the learning is facilitated by a range of computer software. However, as Professor Tsui stresses, participants are not all technical professionals. In fact, 70 per cent of them are from non-technical backgrounds. As far as student composition is concerned, at least half are master's degree holders and 90 per cent have five years or more work experience.
He points out that KM is essential for all industries and working professionals as it is within the management discipline rather than IT or other technical disciplines. "It is about generating greater values through the company's know-how in products, people and processes. Additionally, an organisation can use its internally generated information and knowledge to crack new markets," Professor Tsui adds.
Taking up the point, Dr Cheung says, "Product and trade knowledge and clientele are forms of capital of an organisation, especially for knowledge-intensive industries such as trading, governments and professional services. This 'intellectual capital' is not reported properly on books of accounts. Therefore organisations need professionals to carry out knowledge audits, which can be translated as 'stocktaking of knowledge'. By doing so, organisations can get a more accurate idea of their market value."
The PolyU's KM programmes aim at meeting those needs. The MSc and the PgD in KM include compulsory, core and elective subjects, covering the latest methods and techniques in both KM and business management. Examples of the compulsory and the core subjects include methods and tools for knowledge management systems, organisational learning, managing and measuring intellectual capital, business intelligence and data mining and e-Learning technologies and practices. Participants can also choose from a wide range of electives that equip them with the foremost management methodologies. Among these are workflow design and management, the Six Sigma, technology transfer and commercialisation, and customer relationship management and technology.
The PolyU presents its KM programmes in a state-of-the-art learning environment, and the faculty comprises world-renowned experts in the field. The MSc and the PgD programmes are mainly delivered online to provide executives with maximum flexibility. Participants can communicate with their peers and lecturers using a web-based bulletin board and email. Participants in all three programmes have access to the PolyU's Microsoft Enterprise Systems Centre equipped with over HK$50 million worth of hardware and software embodying BizTalk, SQL Server, Sharepoint Portal Server, RFID Kit and Portal Werx. It provides students with an entrepreneurial setting to learn and conduct research into e-commerce, logistics and enterprise management. Moreover, an educational business game, SimEnterpriseTM, is available to help participants learn business tactics, buy-and-sell strategies and enterprise trading operations. Together, these exceed the standards of similar facilities internationally.
The two programmes have even attracted some overseas students, including an officer in the US Marine Corps. They learned of the programmes through PolyU's online arm Hong Kong CyberU, which facilitates participation by overseas residents. They come to Hong Kong for special occasions such as presentations, seminars and assessments. Having overseas students on the programmes enriches students' learning experience as well as consolidating the internationalism of the programmes.
On the other hand, the CKP programme is more employer-initiated, catering for customised topics of institutions, and is seeing its fifth intake.
KM graduates should be able to maximise returns on knowledge assets, and assess the degree of receptiveness of KM in the institutions where they work.
"By receptiveness, we are talking about the organisation's 'awareness' of KM, or conversely its 'resistance' to KM. The graduates should then audit their organisation's knowledge with a view to devising and implementing KM strategies for value creation," says Professor Tsui.