In search of known unknowns : an empirical investigation of the peripety of a knowledge management system
Abstract: In their quest to secure their level of competitiveness, organizations have turned their attention to a specific type of information technology (IT) solution referred to as knowledge management systems (KMS). Research recurrently views and defines such system as IT-tools that mainly enable the collection, storing and diffusion of knowledge within the boundaries of the organization. Consequently the focus of KMS is believed to be on intra-organizational ‘knowledge’ re-use of ‘known knowns’. However, despite this definition and despite the inherent claim in the very name of such systems research continues to report failures rather than successes. Yet, the occurrence of the phenomenon of IT–based knowledge management (KM) endeavours in organizations continuous to rise. What really is the nature of this phenomenon and what is it a manifestation of?The purpose of this investigation is to explore the nature of IT–based knowledge management endeavours and their outcomes, and to explicate thereby the intricacies that surround them. How can KMS be described? How are they developed? Why are they deployed and what, if any, are the outcomes for the organization using them are the four research questions driving the investigation. Furthermore, it the investigation rests on a theoretical framework influenced by a constructionist perspective on knowledge and builds empirically on a longitudinal case study of a large international pharmaceutical firm’s IT-based KM effort.The empirical findings suggest that the case organization bridged the boundaries with the outside world by using the KMS as a way to establish knowledge exchange relationships with key target audiences. Getting the audiences to use the system meant transforming them to de facto information producers. To enable the continuity in the use of the system, the case organization designed it to provide the audiences continuous knowledge intensive services in return for getting informated. The services centred on supporting the practices of the target audiences by drawing on the automating and informating ability of IT. Granted an interimistic at least continuity in the use of the system by the target audiences meant a possibility for knowledge creation through experimentation for the organization and a possibility for knowledge creation through the enactment of embodied practice for the target audiences. A number of intricacies however, limited as expected the lifespan of the system.The main conclusion drawn from the case study is that the phenomenon has become inter-organizational and instead of simply focusing on knowledge re-use it also focuses, and in the specific case predominantly so, on knowledge creation. This is an indication that the phenomenon can be understood as a manifestation of an attempt to search for ‘known unknowns’ by means of IT. This in turn suggests an expansion from only exploitative to both exploitative and explorative use of IT; an expansion from using IT not only for efficiency-enhancing purposes but for effectiveness-enhancing purposes as well.
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