Knowledge management tools must incorporate four components in order to be effective:
- A database subsystem. A database is an essential element as it enables the underlying information to be shared and organized in a manner that assists employees and managers to share their information in a timely and efficient fashion.
- An organizational language subsystem. This could also be described as Metadata i.e., data that describes data. It enables individuals who access the tool to better understand the meaning of things.
- A networking subsystem. The networking subsystem is required so as to enable employees from far-reaching areas of the organization to share information. Sharing of this nature has the potential to create new knowledge.
- The transfer subsystem. This component enables systemic knowledge to be directly transferred between individuals or it enables new knowledge to be created from a combination of other people’s knowledge. This could be described as the most critical component as it enables both the transfer and, or the creation of knowledge.
Tools incorporating the above components, which are effectively managed and utilized, for the purpose of knowledge sharing, assist the organization in terms of greater innovative output, either in terms of new products or services or better operational performance. This often results in enhanced financial performance.
3M has effectively used knowledge management tools to assist with transferring employee knowledge and experience with other employees. These tools assist in motivating the employees to share information, an essential ingredient for innovation to flourish.
The most effective tools enable individuals to operate within communities. Sharing / transferring knowledge within communities enables a strategic focus for the development of knowledge and ideas in pursuit of common goals.
Communities promote intrinsic motivation (intrinsic means innate or within; intrinsic motivation is, therefore, one’s internal motivation to keep going; it is the form of motivation that drives us to help others), which is a necessity for creativity and innovation to flourish.
Generally, tools should simulate environments that were previously conducive to innovation. Key elements to simulate include accessibility to experts in individual fields, cross-department/division networking and providing the means to enable the sharing of ideas and practices.
It is important to recognize that knowledge production is a social process. Prior to knowledge management tools knowledge sharing was often face-to-face interaction (e.g. at the coffee machine, during cigarette breaks, by the water cooler, working lunches and scheduled meetings). Such tools simulate this form of interaction via specialized communities, news based emails of user problems, community events, discussion forums, and chat sessions.
Modern tools must strike a balance between supply-side and demand-side knowledge strategies. Supply-side strategies provide the means to distribute existing organizational knowledge whereas demand-side strategies attempt to provide knowledge to satisfy organizational needs for new knowledge. Demand-side strategies tend to be more learning or innovation-oriented.