Knowledge Management – Interview with Eric Tsui – LUT

So, good day, everybody who’s watching this. I am Aino Kianto, Professor of Knowledge Management
in the School of Business and Management in Lappeenranta University of Technology. And, today I have the immense pleasure and
honor to interview Professor Eric Tsui from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Not only is Eric an established and well-recognized
scholar who is teaching Knowledge Management issues worldwide; he also has extensive
experience in developing and implementing knowledge management in different kinds of
organizations. So, it’s a pleasure to have you here in
Lappeenranta with us, Eric. Professor Kianto, thank you very much for
inviting me here. And, I would like to discuss with you, several
issues related with our mutual field of research and development – knowledge management. So, if we start with one of the, I think the
key questions of our field, how would you define knowledge management? Well, the first question, how do you
define knowledge management. In fact, my belief is when you get to know
more about knowledge, it is very difficult, almost impossible to define. To me, KM, at best is to provide an environment
through a set of activities that allow, for example, situated information to generate
knowledge so that people can make decisions, people can solve problems and people can generate
value for organizations because we all know that knowledge is a situated information,
knowledge is interpreted information, knowledge is contextual. So, it’s not a tangible thing that we can
put it into a tin can or something like that. It has to be cultivated with an environment,
with a context. Yeah, so you think that managing knowledge,
this is a different business from managing tangible resources? Well, very different, it is more like
managing, as I said, the environment so that the knowledge can be as easily reviewed
as possible, can be shared and can be analyzed for operational gains. Our field knowledge management is a very
multi-disciplinary academic field and discussion. Different researchers have their
background in information studies, in organizational psychology, in library sciences, and so on. So, we really have many different approaches
in managing knowledge in organizations. So, how would you see the key
approaches within our field? Great question. In my own research, I’ve identified it clearly;
there are three strains of research into KM. The first one is the IT and systems approach
whereby we apply technologies to automate, to analyze, to orchestrate services, to add
value to organizations. The second one is about humanistic
approach, process and culture-oriented, people-oriented as well. How do we actually discover how to connect
people with common interest? How do we actually enable people who have
the expertise to share their valuable knowledge with other people who are seeking
to have that piece of knowledge. And the third one, a stern reminder from
the recent insurgency of big data is, through the accumulation and analysis of data, we
can also derive information and ultimately, of course, discovery of knowledge. So, these three to me, represent the key palettes
for KM initiatives and the framework. Thank you, Eric. Yes. And, why should an organization embark on
the knowledge management journey? Well, I think it’s easier to answer compared
to the previous two questions. I think management principle tells us that
for organizations to win and to excel, basically they have to look at value propositions. Now, common principles have led us to believe
that there are three value propositions. One is customer intimacy, another one is product
or service leadership, and the third one is operational efficiency. So, for example, if you talk about operational
efficiency, if an organization is not achieving its goals in the efficient and economical
way, surely they will lose out. They will lose out very badly to the competitors. So KM can help them to better know about
the operational gains, the bottlenecks, the areas that they can improve, so that, incrementally
they can improve on the operations and also execute their processes in an economical fashion. Second one is product and service leadership,
and that is even more important. These days, all organizations, well, not all
but most of them are going for globalization. And, under that banner, they will find that
many of their offices and staff are distributed in various offices, in different regions. Yet, they have to deliver high quality products,
competitive products with local service delivery. And that requires a collective wisdom,
collaborations among the good souls of the company. And the third one is customer intimacy. So once again, assuming that you have customers
all over the world, you are struggling to generate a holistic view of what you customer
knows, what you know about your customers and how you best serve your customers. So, scattered knowledge, scattered opinion about
a customer is not going to do a company any good. Therefore, under the doctrine of KM, they
are principles and practices that help organizations to harness local knowledge gained from various
offices with a customer and then holistically combine to compose the total view of a customer
for the company. So, all those things, I think, convincingly
answer the question that companies surely need KM and good KM. Oh, yeah. So, it really sounds like KM has manifold
benefits. Absolutely, I would say that it is a central
plank of a business operation. We don’t even need to single and talk about it. It should be fully permeated into business operations. Oh, yes. And, how is this actually achieved in practice? So, what in your extensive experience would
be some of the most useful practical tools and mechanisms for implementing
knowledge management? Okay, well. I can talk about some of commonly used tools.
Whether they are definitely useful for organizations or not, I suppose that is dependent on each case, alright. So, again, going back to the tools I have
been talking about earlier on the framework. We can separate into two types of tools. One type of the tool is the people
and process-oriented. And in that category, we have, for example,
very common among project-based organizations, after project review, after implementation
review, after action review, also lessons learnt inventory, databases, best practice repositories,
knowledge café to share ideas and suggestions among staff, bottom up the input. And, on the other hand, in technology-driven
side of KM, we see commonly deployed collaboration tools, portals, Web 2.0 knowledge
sharing initiatives, like instant messaging and many others, are being used in organizations
to help to foster the elicitation and sharing of knowledge. And in practice, do you find that in fact every
organization has sort of their idiosyncratic combination of the different tools available
or are there some kinds of stable packages that a typical, one type of organization
would typically be using? Well, definitely, I think to do this right,
organizations would have to assess their own unique situation, and their stage and readiness
for the KM journey. And by that, needless to say, there
has to be a customized and individual solution for each organization. Now that said, these days, most of the so-called
KM solutions especially the technological oriented ones, they are basically off-the-shelf
packages. So, therefore, on the other hand, we also
see that many organizations are adopting a common set of vendor provided tools with local
customizations to suit their needs. Oh, yes. And, how should an organization interested
in knowledge management begin the process of implementing it? Okay, well. That’s a very interesting question. I’d like to expand that a little bit more. In my experience, I find that many organizations,
they don’t know anything about KM. But, in fact, they are led into the KM journey
because of some difficulties, should I say. Difficulties in searching, difficulties in
organization of the documents and information. I think it’s common to assume that the larger
the organizations, the more likely you have communications barrier. The larger the organizations, the more tangible
assets, documents, and content you have generated. And, therefore, without proper systematic
classification, naturally you would have a growing problem of searching and retrieving. And we find that is, I always use this term called
an easy entry point for organizations, to consider implementing KM. Another one is a global phenomenon, the baby
boomers’ retirement syndrome. After the second world war, typically, from 1945 to 1960, a
lot more babies in proportion are being born. And if you add sixty to sixty-five years to
that band, we are right in a middle of that retirement age era. So that means the world has never seen such
a higher proportion of people retiring before. And without additional measures to, in fact,
early measures to start harnessing the knowledge of the “would be departing” employees, many organizations get lost as to how to carry
on and maintain the quality and excellence in business. So these and more, I believe, are natural
entry points for KM into organizations. And then, once the need for knowledge management
is realized due to facing some of the big problems in an organization what then could be or should be done? Well, again, that’s also a typical and difficult
question, as well. In my past experience, I find that it would
be nice if we can find some evangelists, people who are passionate about KM, and put
them in key roles, they may not be very senior roles, but at least key roles that can inspire
other people to join the journey. And, look for existing problems and issues
that are already being tackled or they are already hurting the organization, put it in
this way, look for low-hanging fruits. And these things, and more, possibly can add
more ease in helping organizations to launch into the journey. The launching into the journey is one thing,
sustaining the journey is a different matter. Oh, yes. Oh, this is a very interesting idea that passionate
change agents are needed in the organization. Yes, sometimes they are called “knowledge
champions” or “knowledge brokers”, in some of the companies that I’ve worked with. Oh, yes. And, how can we cultivate such passionate
knowledge agents or knowledge champions? Lead by example, collect success stories,
sell the success stories and demonstrate by example. I encourage my client companies to, for example,
produce new stories to market their success even whatever mini success that is, and, show to people that in fact that works. I encourage them to employ their knowledge
ambassadors and knowledge champions. And, in fact, equip these people with more
advanced knowledge about the KM journey, so that when they return to the workplace, they
can often help their colleagues whenever they hear something consciously or sub-consciously
about anything that their colleagues need in terms of KM. So, they would swing around and grab a chair
and work with colleagues. And, I find that that is quite useful and
constructive in helping organizations to move along incrementally and positively. Alright. So, sharing the successes. Sharing successes and plant
seed to multiply the infiltration. Wonderful. And now if we return to think about the overall
development of knowledge management as a practical field but also an academic field, how do you
see the overall temporal development of this field? What have been the key achievements
of knowledge management so far? Well, my view is, while there are both research
and practice going on, they don’t seem to overlap a lot unfortunately. Up to now, I am lead to believe that for example,
in academic research, a lot of people are working on fostering trust, a lot of people
are working on technical side of building intelligence systems and agents. But I haven’t seen a wide implementation
of these systems. And on the practice side, practitioners are
crying out for solutions on how to, as you rightly ask, what are the entry points to
KM and how to sustain KM journey. So, hopefully, in the near future, that would
be more academics involved in practice projects and be able to inject the theory and also
demonstrate success in the KM trenches so that you can bring the two camps closer. And, now if you think about the recent years,
I mean as we know knowledge management is a very burgeoning, emerging field, and a lot
of developments are happening all the time, both in terms of the research as well as the practice,
so what do you think are the key recent trends of the couple of recent years in KM? Okay, I think three major areas are going
to impact KM in a big way. First one is cloud-computing which I believe
will turn knowledge into cloud-based knowledge services. And, by that, I mean that everybody, not just
IT people, but business people would be able to provide their knowledge enriched services
in the cloud. They would be able to orchestrate that service,
they would be able to provide, to sell that service equally, they would be able to acquire
that service. In some of my seminars, I actually talked
about how that’s being done and they are already marketplaces for trading such services. Secondly is, KM is going to be influenced
heavily by digitalization. A lot of our assets is being digitalized. So, in terms of tangible assets, we really
have to sit back and rethink about the speed and the areas in which we need to codify and
how we actually organize our digital repositories. The third area is, as I said, big data. Companies will hopefully soon realize that
in addition to all the good practices and the lessons learnt that they have internally
generated. Wow, there’s another part of goal
they are sitting on. And that’s the data that they have been
accumulating. If they start to build up data science expertise
to start collecting, analyzing and deriving actionable knowledge out of that big data. They would find that there is a new source,
and hopefully a new revenue of opportunities. Alright. Thank you very much, Eric. Okay. Thank you very much. Thank you for this opportunity.

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