Managing the intangible

by Billy Chan

Eric Tsui, professor and associate director
Knowledge Management Research Centre
Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Photo: Lewis Wong
With knowledge comes confidence

During complex modern business activities such as mergers and acquisitions, internal growth or economic cutbacks, the flow of information can easily become chaotic, with clusters of data, information and knowledge lost along the way.

In such instances, sophisticated knowledge management (KM) may offer solutions, ensuring that information is archived, secure, accessible and therefore readily available for subsequent retrieval and reuse.

"In a nutshell, KM encompasses techniques that help with the sourcing and classifying of information," explains Eric Tsui, professor and associate director, Knowledge Management Research Centre, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). "In practical terms, KM often deals with the storage, retrieval, distribution and measurement of information, among other things."

The university introduced a master of science programme in knowledge management in 2004 via Hong Kong CyberU (HKCyberU), the online arm of PolyU, and has since attracted students from all walks of lives. Although many students work in government departments, a considerable proportion comes from the legal sector, while others hail from diverse professional backgrounds such as information technology, logistics, retail and the education sector.

Since the inception of the programme, some 130 students—most with five to seven years of work experience—have graduated and about the same number of students are currently working towards the qualification.

Putting in time and effort can be a challenge for Hong Kong's busy executives. In view of this, the curriculum comprises interactive internet-based tutorials and self-paced online learning materials in addition to conventional classroom teaching. "We're the only Asian institution to offer a master's programme in KM in a blended-learning mode, and HKCyberU's strong faculty is a key aspect that enables the university to deliver the programme for the sixth successful year." says Professor Tsui.

Students usually complete their studies within 18 months or two years. To help learners apply their newly gained KM skills in a real business context, the programme makes full use of local and international case studies. In the past, participants assessed the use of KM by the global sportswear giant Adidas, the MTR Corporation, and several government agencies.

Organising information

KM is a powerful tool, contributing to the healthy development of corporations in dynamic societies such as Hong Kong that strive to succeed in a competitive global economy. Efficient KM can add value to companies, government departments and NGOs, especially in cases where good decision-making depends on a vast volume of data and collective wisdom.

Professor Tsui provides an example of a financial analyst who has to understand and use a large body of information by drawing on his own experience and insight, as well as on expertise gained by the company and his colleagues. With the support of an effective KM infrastructure, the analyst can access the necessary data with a few clicks of the mouse.

Although knowledge can be managed through advanced computer technology, the study of the subject does not necessarily require specialist computer programming skills, he points out.

Students get to grips with the learning material and apply it in a practical context through simulated projects. Once they graduated, they are able to identify potential opportunities for introducing KM initiatives in an organisation, present a business case to their company's directors, plan and lead a KM project from inception to completion.

Importantly, graduates are equipped with skills to create value out of intangible assets and codify tacit knowledge into external resources. In a broader context, the programme aims to create an environment that promotes personal and group learning within an organisation.

Accumulated expertise

The PolyU KM faculty staff consists of Hong Kong-based and overseas academics, as well as renowned KM practitioners. All of them have years of experience in management and related fields with outstanding track records.

The superlative teaching corps is further complemented by a well-equipped library dedicated to KM. "Of all seven Hong Kong universities, we have the best body of resources on the subject," Professor Tsui remarks.

The university's commitment to education in KM is encapsulated by its knowledge management research centre, which in June hosted a one-day forum attended by officials from more than 20 government departments sharing their insights into the application of KM in the public sector.

In September, PolyU will organise the fifth International Conference on Knowledge Management in Asia Pacific in conjunction with Dalian University of Technology, the International Society for Knowledge and Systems Sciences, the Academy of Mathematics and Systems Science, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Practical application

  • KM encompasses techniques that help with the sourcing and classifying of information
  • Master's students come from a wide array of professional backgrounds
  • Graduates can identify opportunities for introducing KM initiatives in organisations
  • Commitment to education epitomised by dedicated research centre

Taken from Career Times 30 July 2010, A10

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