As a knowledge-based business centre, Hong Kong holds much valuable knowledge among the general workforce, with employees often possessing skills and know-how that is just waiting to be tapped by the business they are working in.
Forward-looking companies and organisations can leverage on this situation by setting up their own knowledge management programmes on such subjects as updated workplace and business knowledge, thereby enhancing their competitive advantages.
Knowledge management (KM) is an interdisciplinary area that encapsulates processes and techniques for the creation, collection, classification, distribution, evaluation and retrieval of knowledge related to a particular company's business. KM programmes are typically tied to organisational objectives and are intended to lead to the achievement of specific improvements such as shared intelligence, improved performance, competitive advantage and higher levels of innovation.
Currently The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) offers a master of science degree and a postgraduate diploma in KM. W B Lee, head of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at PolyU, explains that KM first emerged among corporations in Europe and the US in the 90's, and has now evolved into a valuable business tool. As KM grew in importance in these big companies, important roles and responsibilities were delegated to the chief learning officers responsible for KM. More recently, new titles have been created for in-house KM experts such as knowledge management or learning director, and knowledge specialist or associate. Whatever the title, this serves to emphasise the growing importance of KM in the business world.
Today, KM specialists take up diverse responsibilities across a company's various departments by helping steer and shape its knowledge policies, structures and processes, and developing technological systems or workgroup application suites that nurture and facilitate organisational learning and a shared knowledge culture.
Hong Kong businesses quickly grasped the value of KM, says Professor Lee, and there is huge demand for KM specialists to help companies or organisations to implement KM procedures to efficiently accomplish business goals. However, public understanding of KM remains limited, and sometimes its role in improving workplace practices is even misinterpreted as being a branch of information technology.
"KM is not just for a specific industry or type of business," he stresses. "Whatever the business or activity, every company wanting to achieve significant improvements in human performance and competitive advantage should deploy a KM system."
Nowadays, over 60 per cent of Fortune 500 companies achieved their success through good management plus utilisation of intangible assets through the introduction of KM.
The intangible assets of a company can refer to human, structural and relation capitals. The human capital represents the workforce's education, experience and skill sets, while structural capital is equivalent to companies' workflow and embedded culture.
Relation capital includes the customer database, plus relationships with business partners, external experts, suppliers and stakeholders. Professor Lee regards intangible assets as being indispensable in helping a company strengthen its competitive edge, adding that if a company deploys a KM system to harness these assets while leveraging on the staffs' collective expertise, its product and services quality can be further improved.
Change of mindset
No company can successfully adopt KM without a change of mindset among management, and a willingness to develop and promote the shared knowledge culture among employees at different levels.
"Traditionally, company directors consider that the more business knowledge they acquire, the more power they accrue. Hence, they build up more barriers to block the transfer and sharing of their knowledge and experiences with others, despite the fact that this jeopardises the work atmosphere, reduces the workforce's competitiveness and hinders the company's overall development," Professor Lee explains.
KM is practical business experience rather than an academic subject. As a result, professional training courses on KM have been limited, and various courses have just "sprung up" in Hong Kong only recently. However, PolyU offers a balanced course for people who are interested in KM or are considering a change in their career direction.
Professor Lee believes that the university's programmes are suitable for graduates from various disciplines and those with appropriate work experience aiming to become a chief knowledge officer, chief learning officer, director of learning, innovation manager, knowledge manager or consultant, carrying out knowledge audits and introducing KM programmes in companies and organisations.
The completion time frame for the current KM programmes is one and a half to two years. Participants will learn methodologies and tools for running KM systems and handling strategic issues, organisational learning and other areas of KM via online learning platforms, workshops and seminars where they will meet KM experts.