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Knowledge strategy in organizations

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Scheepers, Venkitachalam and Gibbs discussed the model of knowledge strategy

and information technology support first detailed by Hansen, Nohria and Tierney, and proposed refinements to the model based on their observations following case studies of the connection between knowledge strategy and information technology infrastructure.

Hansen, Nohria and Gibbs (HNT) conceptualized organizational knowledge strategy as being based in either codification (an attempt to capture and store knowledge explicitly using such tools as documentation and knowledge databases for later use within the organization) or personalization (an attempt to pass knowledge “person-to-person” though informal knowledge sharing, training or mentoring or apprenticeship arrangements) (Scheepers et al, 2004, 202).

Each of these knowledge strategies requires different levels and forms of IT support. Codification requires support for document storage systems, knowledge databases and other storage and retrieval facilities. Personalization requires IT support for facilitating person-to-person communication, including email and message boards. HNT argued that in order to effectively utilize organizational knowledge, corporations should choose either codification or personalization as their primary knowledge strategy, supplementing it with the non-primary strategy at a suggested 80%/20% ratio of utilization (Scheepers et al, 2004, 202).

The authors used a case study framework for their investigation of HNT’s model. This framework was chosen because the authors determined that anecdotal case study could be a method of determining the accuracy of HNT’s model.

They chose a variety of companies to investigate differing knowledge strategies and usefulness of these strategies. The case studies were then analyzed using a thematic framework in order to determine the validity of the HNT model. A case study analysis can provide valuable insights into the validity of the HNT model; however, care should be taken not to inappropriately extrapolate these observations to unanalogous situations. They describe the HNT model as:

HNT 1. The organization’s nature of business and their business economics should determine their knowledge strategy … with the alternate strategy in support (80/20 mix).

HNT 2. The organization’s knowledge strategy mix should determine the level and focus of the investment in supporting IT infrastructure.

HNT 3. Organizations that pursue an appropriate knowledge strategy choice should have effective use of knowledge (in line with HNT1 and HNT2). (Scheepers et al, 2004, 205).

The authors establish the importance of their study by utilizing a literature review, examining previous attempts to define knowledge strategy in organizations. The literature review found that many authors distinguish between explicit knowledge, which can be expressed in numbers, figures and documents, and tacit knowledge, which is rooted in an individual’s skill set, memory and experience (Scheepers et al, 2004, 203). Explicit knowledge is seen as a candidate for a codification strategy, where tacit knowledge is best transmitted through a personalization strategy.

            Examination of the author’s case study analysis yielded information regarding the validity of HNT’s model as well as some suggested refinements to the model. The case studies were analyzed in four dimensions: nature of the business and economics, knowledge strategy, supporting IT infrastructure and effectiveness of knowledge use. The authors examined each case study for signs of agreement with the principles stated as HNT 1, HNT 2, and HNT3. The case study analyses examined a company with a primary codification strategy, a company with a primary personalization strategy, a company which an unclearly defined strategy and a company with a shared codification and personalization strategy.

The authors determined that the first company, which used a primary codification strategy, upheld HNT’s model – although difficulties in tacit knowledge transmission were acknowledged, the authors considered that the company increasing IT infrastructure support for personalization demonstrated that the model was correct. The second company, which used a personalization strategy, was rationalized similarly; although the company expressed that more codification of knowledge needed to take place, IT infrastructure support was being increased to bulk up that strategy.

In the third case, a company with no defined or dominant knowledge strategy, the authors also found that the HNT model was correct, because the lack of knowledge strategy led to ineffective use of knowledge. The last company, which appeared to share strategic emphasis between codification and personalization, did not support the HNT model. Despite a dual emphasis on both strategies, the last company did not display ineffective use of knowledge. The authors attributed this to the long-term establishment of the company and the longstanding knowledge strategy.

            The authors did not suggest that the HNT model was whole incorrect; in most cases, the model’s accuracy was upheld. The author’s solution suggested that refinements could be made to the model to take into account the discrepancies observed in their case study analysis. They suggested that the choice of a dominant and non-dominant knowledge strategy was most important at the initial definition of strategy. They further suggested that firms might need to refine their strategy as the organization evolves, in order to take full advantage of an increasing organizational knowledge and manage increasingly complex sub-organizations.

            The authors used a data analysis approach that combined the case study analyses, which were assembled from interviews with company staff, as well as supporting documentation and inspection of knowledge systems. The formal interviews, which were recorded and then transcribed, used an interview guideline to ensure consistent information across the companies studied. The authors then performed follow-up interviews as necessary. Interview participants included corporate officers and managers, information technology and management personnel. The authors then used themes to analyze the data; the themes included knowledge strategy, IT infrastructure and use of knowledge.

Information was then analyzed cross case to determine correlation between the cases. The approach used by the authors allowed for small-scale analysis in a targeted manner, and allowed for a thematic discussion of the correlation between knowledge strategy, information technology and effective knowledge use within the organization. However, the results of the research cannot be broadly applied; some of the author’s refinements do not yield easily to analysis (for example, how is it possible to tell if an organization has a mature knowledge strategy that can withstand dual approaches?)

            The author’s solution was presented in a number of recommendations. First, the authors recommended that the HNT model was primarily accurate. Second, they concluded that the emphasis on a single primary knowledge strategy was most important at the inception of the knowledge strategy. Third, they concluded that the knowledge requirements of an organization change.

Finally, they conclude that the HNT model is too simplistic when it accounts only for business and economics should be considered in its choice of knowledge strategy; political and cultural concerns of the company should also be considered (Scheepers, et al, 2004, 217). The solution as suggested by the authors is sound, but more information would be required in order to utilize their recommendations when implementing a knowledge strategy. A limited number of variables were taken into account during the case study analysis, indicating that there could be variables which affect the choice of knowledge strategy.

Some of the ways this study could be improved are to increase the number companies studied in order to gain a wider picture of more industries, increase the number of variables studied in order to determine the ideal knowledge strategy according to a number of factors and to attempt to quantify factors which lead to increased knowledge effectiveness. With a less limited study, broader recommendations could be made; for example, problems peculiar to the manufacturing industry, such as passing knowledge between shift workers, could be analyzed.

With an increased number of variables examined, a more precise picture of the influences and deciding factors in the choice between dominant knowledge strategies could be formed. Increased knowledge effectiveness was displayed as a slippery question in the author’s study; more study would provide a greater understanding of the correlation between choice of knowledge strategy and knowledge effectiveness.

            In order to effectively solve the problem posed in the author’s paper, there are a number of skills and pieces of knowledge that must be present. Skills include data analysis and study design skills.  Knowledge of the problem (the NHT model as well as an understanding of tacit and explicit knowledge) is essential, as are knowledge of business processes and an understanding of information technology facilities and infrastructure.


Scheepers, R., Venkitachalam, K. & Gibbs, M. (2004). “Knowledge strategy in

organizations: refining the model of Hansen, Nohria and Tierney.” Journal of Strategic Information Systems 13, 201-222.

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