Technology will change the way people perform work and hence the operating model of organisations will need to be re-evaluated and adjusted within the foreseeable future.
Bhalla, Dyrcks and Strack (2017) warn that, “a tidal way of change is coming that will soon make the way we work almost unrecognisable to today’s business leaders. In an age of rapidly evolving technologies, business models, demographics, and even workplace attitudes … change is not only constant but also exponential in its pace and scope.”
These changes result from the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its emphasis on technological innovation and digital productivity.
Schwab (World Economic Forum, 2017) describes the extent and nature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: “In its scale, scope and complexity, (it) is unlike anything humankind has experienced before … Consider the unlimited possibilities of having billions of people connected by mobile devices, giving rise to unprecedented processing power, storage capabilities and knowledge access. Or think about the staggering confluence of emerging technology breakthroughs, covering wide-ranging fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing, to name a few.”
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will primarily affect the following four organisational areas:
• Customer expectations – how customers are served;
• Product enhancement – digital capabilities, durable and resilient, predictive maintenance;
• Collaborative innovation – new forms of collaboration;
• Organisational forms – new business models, different skills and talent.
Traditionally, each of these four areas has been enabled and supported by Knowledge Management. While there are various theories on the meaning of Knowledge Management, but I see it as the “the deliberate and systematic coordination of an organisation’s people, technology, processes, and organisational structure in order to add value through reuse and innovation. This is achieved through the promotion of creating, sharing, and applying knowledge as well as through the feeding of valuable lessons learned and best practices into corporate memory in order to foster continued organisational learning.” (Dalkir, 2005.)
Because of the profound impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on organisations, people, and work processes, it is critical to reflect on the manner in which Knowledge Management is practised in organisations, in an age where people are seamlessly connected through ubiquitous technologies. In future, data will be generated by sensor-enabled technologies and analysed by powerful analysis tools that will inform decision-making in the workplace.
What is the role of Knowledge Management in a world where individuals are increasingly becoming redundant? What contribution can Knowledge Management make, when thousands of devices are connected in the Cloud and can perform simple and complex tasks with limited interaction with their human counterparts? This is a world where a refrigerator can instruct a driverless car to stop at the nearest supermarket; where a voice recognition-enabled device can perform financial transactions without human intervention.
Many Knowledge Management strategies and initiatives have been implemented to focus on the processes of creating, capturing, organising, and leveraging the information and knowledge of individuals. But technology now dictates the way forward, with regard to how we manage the knowledge of people and the work processes performed in organisations.
The question that needs to be answered is: how can Knowledge Management remain relevant in an era where knowledge is the result of data captured in a variety of systems that connect technologies? Tacit knowledge will become slightly less “valuable”, as decisions will be based on rational or scientific decision-making, as opposed to recognition-based or intuitive decision-making (resulting from previous experience, stories and mental models).
In companies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Knowledge Management must support:
1. Identifying and leveraging the skills and competencies that robots cannot “learn”;
2. Identifying and “contracting” sources of knowledge or crowd resourcing;
3. Localising global knowledge;
4. Smart organisations and continuous access to knowledge and creating employee-centric hubs;
5. Sourcing of relevant data and ensuring that data are clean prior to analyses;
6. Ascertaining the relevancy and the value of capturing and sharing experience;
7. Social innovation and sustainability of knowledge;
8. Social networks and empowering the global employee;
9. Ensuring that devices are connected to the Internet of Things and that knowledge can be created from the connectedness of devices; and
10. Ensuring the safety and privacy of employees.
Change is imminent and Knowledge Management must evolve or subside into the realms of cyberspace. It is time for us to calculate and prepare to define the relevance of codification and personalisation strategies in an environment where information is redundant within seconds and employees are no longer tied to organisations via psychological contract.