Safe in the knowledge
by Ada Poon
Although knowledge management (KM) is a relatively new concept, there is a fast-growing demand for people with such expertise, and educational institutes are quick to respond.
"Hong Kong companies are becoming more aware of the importance of effective KM. They are receptive to the idea and keen to try it out," says Eric Tsui, professor and associate director, knowledge management research centre, department of industrial and systems engineering, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU).
However, organisations tend to lack knowledge about KM planning and often do not know where to start, Professor Tsui notes. While KM is often associated with information technology, it is in fact a huge field that, more often than not, involves organisational culture, processes and system tools.
Professor Tsui further explains that KM is an interdisciplinary area that encapsulates processes and techniques for the creation, collection, classification, distribution, evaluation and re-use of institutional knowledge.
"Human factor is one of the main building blocks," he says. "The knowledge and experience of individual staff are valuable assets to an organisation. This should be captured and shared to instigate improvements."
To do this effectively, companies need to establish an open and trustful environment to encourage employees to share their successes, failures and the lessons learnt. In this sense, it is important to work on the company culture and communication, instead of merely implementing an IT system.
Having foreseen the significance of KM in a changing economy, Hong Kong CyberU, the online arm of the PolyU, was the first in Asia to launch a master of science (MSc) in KM programme in 2004.
The curriculum was designed by the university in cooperation with a team of international KM experts and consultants. Courses consist of a mix of face-to-face lectures and online learning. This ensures that even students living overseas can keep up.
"For example, one of our students is a US Marine Corps officer. The online learning model allows him to attend classes, deliver presentations and participate in group projects with his Hong Kong classmates," notes Professor Tsui.
The programme also draws on input from the business sector to provide students with relevant training. It incorporates a wide range of compulsory and core subjects, including methods and tools for KM systems, managing and measuring intellectual capital, strategic issues and case studies in KM, business intelligence and data mining, knowledge communities and enterprise knowledge portals. This enables students to acquire and develop their expertise through both theoretical studies and practical application.
More than 100 students have earned their academic awards over the past few years. While some of them come from IT backgrounds, such technical skills are not a prerequisite, Professor Tsui stresses.
"As KM can be applied in different contexts to help people generate ideas and make informed decisions, the programme is open to graduates and professionals from all backgrounds and disciplines," he says, adding that KM is relevant in the fields of human resources, business management, health care, social work, logistics, education and many others.
"Students have the option to complete 10 taught subjects, or finish seven subjects plus a dissertation," he explains. "They often run KM projects in their own companies and use them in their dissertations. This brings practical benefits to their organisations as well."
He points out that people who are passionate about KM and have good communication and interpersonal skills tend to be more successful in their jobs than their counterparts without these qualities.
A growing number of organisations have started to recruit KM professionals. Many of these employers initially fill KM positions by redeploying existing staff, but some are also creating specialised KM positions to support organisational growth. It is also becoming more common for recruiters to include KM as a requirement for other jobs.
Starting salaries for KM officers range between HK$18,000 and HK$25,000. This can increase to HK$30,000 or even HK$40,000 for mid-level professionals.
Professor Tsui remarks, "While some companies are consolidating their KM projects, many institutions, including large corporations, public utilities and insurance and risk management companies, believe in the importance of KM. Instead of cutting down, these companies are taking the opportunity to formulate strategy and lay the framework for continuous development."