The value of concept maps in knowledge management

Schilawa, Jörg (2004-03)

Thesis (MBA)--Stellenbosch University, 2004


This study project investigates the use of concept maps in knowledge management and takes a look at both the people, and the technology sides of knowledge management. The report discusses critical aspects and theories of knowledge management. Attention is focused on the importance of human beings in creating and being of value to organisations. While some theories of knowledge management view knowledge as a further developed stage of information, there are other theories, which view tacit or individual knowledge as the most basic source of knowledge. Despite this difference, and other dissimilarities, certain issues concerning knowledge creation and amplification through communication appear in both theories. A detailed discussion of the conversion process, and the knowledge spiral, explains and reinforces the importance of communication. The discussion touches on issues such as the influence of company culture towards the facilitation of sharing attitudes, supportive leadership styles and organisational structure. The continuous exchange of knowledge and the acceptance of new methods, such as best practise, promote the creation of a learning organisation that concentrates on the value of human beings, their needs, and their individual fulfilment. Challenges and obstacles of knowledge management such as experts seeing their sharing of knowledge as a hindrance of personal competitive advantage or work security will be examined. Although the logistics of knowledge management are very complex it is extremely beneficial for organisations for creation of extra value, the speeding up of processes, and the creation of a better work environment. Despite the importance of the people side of knowledge management, a technical infrastructure and a sophisticated knowledge management system are essential. General information about knowledge management systems and information are given, including objectives, trends, and an example of a standard technical infrastructure. Concept map technology is the interface between the computer system and the user. Although concept maps are not a new invention, they are becoming more popular due to new technical possibilities. All kinds of knowledge can be saved in concepts, connections, links and underlying documents. Their cognitive structure enables instant use without extensive guidelines or instructions. A further advantage is the generality of concept maps, making them applicable to various environments and industries. To increase awareness for concept map applications, differences between two concept mapping software tools are briefiy discussed. One application concentrates on maps, the other application aims to enable further functionality. The empirical part of the study project evaluates the use of concept maps in the banking and insurance environment of Sparkasse Sudholstein. The company currently has about 1400 employees and provides a knowledge based service, which made it very suitable for the research project. The technology infrastructure of Sparkasse Sudholstein contains certain distinctive features due to security reasons. The company has a user interface with different applications, various internal databases, external databases for the discretion of customer data, and several other external information and knowledge services. All the factors above make Sparkasse Sudholstein to an ideal candidate for the use of concept map applications. A survey by means of a questionnaire was undertaken at the headquarters of the company to determine the current situation of their knowledge management system. The most popular knowledge sources in use were the Lotus Notes "info-tiles", as well as direct communication amongst colleagues. It was further recognised that concept maps are known by almost half the participants of the questionnaire and that people are very open to new techniques of knowledge management. Various concept maps were created with company experts to evaluate the value and possible applications of concept maps in the company. The results showed that concept maps are not able to fulfil all the tasks of a knowledge management system, because they do not yet provide enough functionality. However, concept maps do have an essential significance in knowledge gathering, job descriptions, trainings and seminars, presentations, as discussion support tools, and project work such as workflow management. The advantages of concept maps are their cognitive use and understanding, their self-explanatory structure, the interactivity with the user, and the implementation of multi-media in combination with special layout features. In conclusion, it can be said that concept maps can be successfully applied to selective areas in companies. Concept maps should be implemented into a broader knowledge management system and combined with other traditional methods of knowledge management. The use of concept maps will create value for companies by increasing efficiency, effectiveness, as well as the overall performance of the company. If concept maps are combined successfully with other knowledge management measures, sustainable competitive advantage could be created for the organisation.

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