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June 15, 2022

What is knowledge management?

The emergence of big data is rapidly transforming the life science industry.
what is knowledge management

Equipped with robust data sets and real-time data analysis, business leaders can make more informed decisions about how to optimize their innovation efforts, improve R&D research and clinical trial efficiency, and, ultimately, produce desirable solutions for both health care entities and consumers.

However, that information is useless without a strategic process that organizations capture, store, organize, and share the relevant data. In other words, knowledge management (KM) is essential, combining new knowledge and previous experience to improve organizational learning holistically.

But what is knowledge management exactly?

Read on as we break down everything there is to know.

What is knowledge management?

The concept of knowledge management first emerged within the consulting industry in the late ‘80s. With the introduction of the internet, leading consulting firms quickly saw that KM is a useful tool for accomplishing two key outcomes:

  • Opening the lines of communication – KM allowed organizations to rapidly spread information and reduce the knowledge gap between key members, no matter where they were.
  • Fostering situational awareness – KM provided organizations with relevant data and the knowledge base required to make the best decisions possible.

Naturally, they packaged KM and sold it as a product, which caused the practice to spread like wildfire across all industries. But few were as heavily impacted by the novel concept as the world of life sciences—specifically, within the R&D process.

In modern practice, knowledge management can be defined as an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, analyzing, retrieving, and disseminating information assets within a healthcare or pharma organization.

And the original concept has evolved so that KM now encompasses all types of relevant knowledge, not just that which was produced internally.

Types of knowledge

A modern life science company is built upon the foundations of knowledge. To operate competitively, resources and information must be effectively created, acquired, shared, and applied across all processes.

Information captured as a part of knowledge management may broadly stem from:

  • Documentation
  • Processes
  • Onboarding
  • Information
  • People
  • Training
  • Expertise
  • Advice
  • Technology
  • Practice
  • Continuous improvement

Almost every one of these information sources can be broken into sub-components according to three primary types of workplace knowledge. Understanding the differences empowers you to identify the most effective tools for facilitating specific knowledge management practices.

1. Explicit knowledge
This refers to any type of information that’s easy to write down and share. Encyclopedias, textbooks, and manuals are a few examples.

Explicit knowledge is often formalized and codified. And this information may be conveyed using various mediums, including print, audio, and video. As such, it’s the most commonly used and most important category within the knowledge management space.

2. Implicit knowledge
This type of knowledge is more difficult to articulate and codify.

Also referred to as applied knowledge or know-how, it involves a more nuanced understanding of the processes that exist within explicit knowledge. As a result, it’s typically acquired via real-life experiences.

If explicit knowledge answers “what,” implicit knowledge provides deeper understanding by answering “why.” For example, implicit knowledge may involve knowing how to operate instruments within a scientific laboratory.

3. Tacit knowledge
Considered a subset of implicit knowledge by some, tacit knowledge refers to information learned from an experience that’s difficult to articulate and record.

For instance, consider leadership skills.

While you may be able to describe the qualities of a good leader, in many cases, leadership is a skill that can’t be taught solely using words, especially not overnight. Rather, it must be modeled and then emulated over time.

These are the basis for the 3 types of knowledge management systems: enterprise-wide, knowledge work systems, and intelligence techniques.

Knowledge management applications in healthcare organizations

The management, organization, and structuring of healthcare require knowledge-driven processes. How this management is implemented and then used to inform decision-making can significantly impact care delivery.

As researchers from the Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences point out, to succeed in a competitive space, “Providing the right knowledge at the right time, i.e., at the point of decision making by implementing knowledge management in healthcare is paramount.” And the only way this becomes possible is via meticulous systemization and implementation.

What does this knowledge management process look like?

The specifics will look different for each organization, but generally speaking, there are six overarching aspects of knowledge management:

  • Knowledge creation and capture – The first imperative is gathering various sources of knowledge as new information emerges daily. This information may spring from internal sources, like employees, and external sources, like outside medical specialists or patient consumers.
  • Knowledge identification – Once knowledge has been obtained, the next task is determining its potential use and application, highlighting what’s integral to strategy and operation.
  • Knowledge organization and ranking – Life science entities have troves of information at their disposal, but all of that is useless if it’s not organized logically. Once your knowledge base has been structured, the data subsets therein must be categorized according to relevance, accuracy, and applicability.
  • Knowledge access – Not everything should be accessible to all members of an organization. Private health records especially must be guarded. As such, access controls must be set, which restrict certain information to authorized personnel only. From there, push and pull mechanisms must be installed throughout the system that make it possible for authorized personnel to access the relevant knowledge.
  • Knowledge sharing – This speaks to one of the primary goals of knowledge management, which is to connect individuals seeking knowledge to others within the organization with relevant knowledge, skills, or experiences.
  • Knowledge usage – Once processes are installed, organizations can then use knowledge to solve problems, inform strategies, and streamline operations.

The key components of knowledge management

Want to know how to build an effective management process?

After two decades of research, APQC has identified the four cornerstones every organization needs regardless of its size, industry, or knowledge requirements.

1. People
A knowledge management system in healthcare primarily relies on its people. They’re the glue that holds everything together. And if you wish to install knowledge management processes, you’ll need to ensure that the right people champion it from the outset.

Although it must be adopted system-wide, two parties, in particular, can spearhead the initiative: senior leaders who can provide strategic guidance and cross-functional stakeholders who can guide implementation.

Successful implementation requires engagement across all levels and departments of an organization. Over time, such efforts can help ingrain the ethos of knowledge sharing.

2. Processes
Ideally, knowledge should be able to flow throughout an organization easily. For that to occur, processes must be established that help ensure the right information gets to the right individual. As mentioned, this includes:

  • Knowledge creation and capture
  • Knowledge identification
  • Knowledge organization and ranking
  • Knowledge access
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Knowledge usage
  • Knowledge retention
  • Knowledge transfer

But these processes don’t have to be designed for one company necessarily. At times, it can also impact the whole industry. For instance, pharma knowledge management helps companies track which drugs are being made and what they are for.

3. Content and IT
To share explicit knowledge within an organization, that information must be documented. Here, content represents the various ways in which this information can be saved and conveyed. For example, this may include:

  • Training manuals
  • Reports
  • Guides
  • Case studies
  • White papers
  • Company vision
  • Consumer personas

But how will individuals create, store, access, and share the content?

For that, you’ll need a proper IT infrastructure. Without one, knowledge will be siloed, leading to redundancies, inefficiencies, and informational gaps.

4. Strategy
What is your intended purpose for installing a knowledge management process? What are your critical knowledge needs?

Such a massive undertaking can’t be done haphazardly. You need to set goals and then determine the best strategies to achieve them. From there, you can also figure out which knowledge management tool you need.

To that end, strategy-oriented knowledge management best practices include:

  • Considering the company’s organizational culture
  • Setting clear objectives
  • Reviewing current content usage
  • Building a knowledge management map
  • Designating key individuals to champion the process
  • Creating intuitive knowledge-sharing policies

The Impact of Knowledge Management on Organizations
Whether it’s treating a patient, manufacturing a medical device, or developing a pharmaceutical product, healthcare is a knowledge-driven industry. The effectiveness of the care delivery and R&D processes relies heavily on the tools, resources, and knowledge each organization has at its disposal.

By creating an effective knowledge management system, life science companies can benefit in several different ways, including:

  • Improved organizational learning
  • Faster decision making
  • Increased operational efficiency
  • Fewer mistakes
  • Secure collaboration
  • Optimized training
  • Intellectual property protection
  • Improved quality of information and data
  • Better communication throughout the organization

Knowledge management vs insights management

For decades, life science companies have practiced knowledge management. And while it remains foundational to your overall activity, new challenges have emerged within the modern landscape that render it ineffective on its own. Common causes for these insights gaps include:

  • The sheer volume of data that must be managed
  • Legacy systems and processes are fragmented and slow
  • Companies are under constant pressure to create operational efficiencies
  • The industry is in the midst of a digital transformation

Whether knowledge is pulled from the latest clinical data, scientific trends, market research, or relevant experts, teams at each phase of the lifecycle depend on insights to make strategic decisions.

But how can you judge the value and quality of the insights accrued via knowledge management?

Increasingly, insights management technologies – solutions designed to collect and analyze insights – are the tools life science companies rely on to optimize how information flows throughout an organization – including HCP insights, patient feedback, peer education, training, and more. Such platforms ensure that the right information in the right format can quickly reach the people who need it most.

Insights management rejects the fractured process of knowledge management. Instead, it treats insight-gathering as a singular event, making it possible to understand disease communities better, identify the best experts, engage digitally, and discern the critical scientific and market signals.

Put simply, it transforms analytics into action and connection.

To learn more about insights management for life science, read our blog series or experience a demo today.


KM World. What is KM? Knowledge Management Explained.

Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences. Knowledge Management Implementation and the Tools Utilized in Healthcare for Evidence-Based Decision Making: A Systematic Review.

APQC. What are the Best Four Components of Knowledge Management?

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