Organisations are increasingly competing on the basis of the knowledge that they can provide to add value in their business dealings. As a result, there is a growing demand for experts in the area of knowledge management (KM).
A relatively new concept, KM involves processes and techniques to create, collect, index, organise, distribute and evaluate an organisation's knowledge.
People working in the area of KM often have varying interpretations of the term, notes Eric Tsui, programme leader, MSc in knowledge management, and professor, department of industrial and system engineering, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. "This is partly because of the differences in background, experience and responsibilities between KM staff in different organisations," he says.
To manage knowledge, companies need input from a range of sources, including management, human resources, decision science, marketing, leadership and information technology, Professor Tsui says.
"Hong Kong is moving rapidly towards a knowledge-based economy where knowledge sharing, team coordination and collaboration are even more important," he notes.
The university's master of science programme in KM has been running for five years, and the university is constantly updating and improving the programme, drawing on feedback from business leaders and senior executives from different industries.
Blending online and classroom modes of study, the programme is designed for graduates from different disciplines to acquire and develop their knowledge and expertise in KM. Students are provided with an in-depth understanding of the tools and methods needed to design and implement KM programmes for themselves, their organisations and the society.
Companies that apply KM often rely greatly on IT, but there is also a need for human resources concepts, leadership skills and organisational development in the KM context, Professor Tsui remarks, adding that the programme also incorporates engineering and IT principles but frank knowledge sharing within an organisation is the cornerstone of KM.
The MSc programme caters not only to professionals in Asia, but also for people further afield, says Professor Tsui. While 80 per cent of the students are based in Hong Kong, 10 to 15 per cent are from mainland China, with a growing proportion from Australia, the US, Canada and Italy. Up to one third of the programme's lecturers are from overseas.
The faculty runs a number of activities to boost awareness of KM. These include events and seminars, as well as a KM award for which qualifying criteria include the company's culture of sharing, workflow, interpersonal coordination and mutual trust.
Many past graduates are now employed as KM officers and managers, helping to strengthen awareness of KM within their companies, while, encouragingly, about 50 out of the 140 current undergraduate students are currently working on a range of KM projects for their employers.
Many companies, government bodies and non-profit organisations have commenced KM projects over the past three years, Professor Tsui says. "Others are concerned that they may expose themselves to some risk by implementing KM and therefore have their reservations," he remarks.
In spite of this, there is a great need for KM, Professor Tsui emphasises. People born between 1950 and 1965 are moving towards retirement, and in Hong Kong large engineering and maintenance corporations will see between 10 to 15 per cent of their senior engineers retire within the next five years. "The young engineers taking their places will not be able to facilitate an effective knowledge transfer within a limited period of time," he cautions.
However, the MSc programme can help minimise the impact. While different industries get varying benefits from KM, those valuing their intangible assets, such as the financial and manufacturing industries, tend to be more receptive.
The university plans to keep updating the programme content and quality, and to continue mining KM's potential. "As we move towards a global economy, it's all about providing a human touch, rather than just focusing on business practices," Professor Tsui concludes.