According to Webster’s Dictionary, knowledge is “the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association”. In the context of business enterprises, we see that knowledge tends to be interpreted as possession of experience (tacit knowledge) as well as possession of factual information (explicit knowledge) – or where to get it.
The difference between data, information, explicit and tacit knowledge
These days everyone is talking about the Internet of Things or Industrial Internet of Things and Big Data. Common for both is that they are all about data and information but not so much about knowledge. So why is this so important? It’s crucial to understand the difference between data, information and knowledge – especially when capturing knowledge from the experts in a computer system and it’s important to understands the kinds of knowledge that we are trying to formalise.
Explicit knowledge can be expressed in words and numbers, and easily communicated and shared in the form of hard data, scientific formulae, codified procedures, or universal principles and general rules.
Data is simply unorganized and unprocessed facts, whereas information can be considered an aggregation of data – processed data. For example, the number 32 is data, but it means little to us before we can put it into some context. A thermometer might read 32 degrees – and suddenly the number starts to make sense. However, we gain knowledge when we interpret this into a larger context and we apply our pre-existing knowledge and information. In this case, we know that water will freeze at 32 degrees, which could be the reason why our sprinkler system is not working properly.
The kind of knowledge that cannot be expressed easily in words and numbers is referred to as tacit knowledge (Nonaka & Takeuchi) is not easily visible and expressible and it is highly personal and hard to formalize, making it difficult to communicate or to share with others. Subjective insights, intuition, and hunches falls into this category.
Tacit knowledge is what most organizations call “know how” – skills and expertise gained over many years of experience.
So why is this important for knowledge management systems? It’s crucial because if we don’t appreciate that we must apply our pre-existing knowledge and put all the data and information into a context to interpret it correctly using our know how, we will end up with an Information Management System – scattered information where users are left to their own devices to search through endless manuals, flow-charts or wiki-type systems and each one left to interpret this the way they can. Contextualization is extremely important for transforming those massive amounts of data collected through IoT to into real structured information that we can learn from and generate knowledge – knowledge that we want to capture and share.
Inherently difficult to transfer knowledge
Most knowledge management solutions out there fails to capture much more than the tip of the iceberg in that they capture only explicit knowledge using article based approaches or simple workflows.
We need to recognize how difficult it is to transfer knowledge from one person to another and we need to understand the importance of tacit knowledge when taking a more holistic approach to process all the data and information we have in order to truly call it a knowledge management system or – God forbid – an expert system.
Capturing knowledge in a computer is difficult – making it accessible and useful to others is hard, but it’s exactly in this transformation from tacit to explicit and formalised that we can realise our valuable organizational knowledge and improve efficiency and quality using it.
Working with enterprises we see how organizations are beginning to treat their accumulated structured knowledge as an asset and how they are starting to build knowledge management strategies and applications and the massive value it provides throughout the organization – next time we will focus on capturing and applying knowledge such that it can actually be used by others in a useful and meaningful way and such that it provides value to other services.
We have 20 years of experience with helping businesses of all sizes capturing, organizing and optimizing expert knowledge and we work with clients ranging from the world’s largest enterprises in the wind industry, mining sector and air compressors to consumer printing and telecom.
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