Do we practise what we preach?
Are knowledge management systems in
practice truly reﬂective of knowledge
management systems in theory?
James J. Nance College of Business Administration,
Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Keywords Knowledge management, Knowledge management systems, Knowledge workers,
Organization, Memory, Competitive advantage
Abstract Knowledge management systems are predominant in both theory and practice.
However, are the same systems discussed in theory actualized in practice? By comparing and
contrasting knowledge management systems in theory and practice, this paper demonstrates that
they are indeed dissimilar. In theory, they have both subjective and objective components. In
practice, only the objective component appears to be actualized; hence, these systems in practice are
essentially organizational memory systems at best and not knowledge management systems at all.
By unravelling the mystique of knowledge management systems, this paper exposes a fundamental
anomaly. Further, an apparent void currently in practice is highlighted; namely, the lack of the
subjective component of knowledge management systems in practice. They are being heralded as
key systems that are vital for organizations to survive and thrive in the intense competitive
environment of the information age. Surely then, a system that in practice supports not only the
objective component, but also the subjective component of knowledge management, would indeed
be a truly powerful system.
We are not only in a new millennium, but also a new era. A variety of terms
such as the post-industrial era (Huber, 1990), the information age (Shapiro and
Verian, 1999), the third wave (Hope and Hope, 1997) or the knowledge society
(Drucker, 1999) are being used to describe this epoch. However, whichever term
one subscribes to, most are agreed that one of the key deﬁning and unifying
themes of this period is knowledge management.
Knowledge management is a key approach to solving current problems such
as competitiveness and the need to innovate, which is faced by businesses
today. The premise for the need for knowledge management is based on a
paradigm shift in the business environment where knowledge is central to
organizational performance (Drucker, 1993). This macro-level paradigm shift
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This project was funded by a staff development grant from the Faculty of Economics and
Commerce, The University of Melbourne. The author is indebted to the generous support from
the faculty, as well as the support from the members of the organizations who participated in this
study. A shorter version of this paper has been accepted at the 35
Conference on System Science, January 2002, and will appear in the proceedings for that
Business Process Management
Vol. 9 No. 3, 2003
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