Distinguishing fact from fact

ME PoV Summer 2015 issue

A fact is a fact, they say. Or is it? Learning to differentiate between data, information and knowledge, says this author, is key to understanding Knowledge Management, which spurs organizations to achieve competitive advantage

“Knowledge is justified true belief,” said Plato centuries ago. Two millennia after the Greek philosopher gave knowledge its definition, Knowledge Management (KM) has emerged as a strategic tool in business. The KM field has received much attention from academics and corporate sectors in the last 30 or so years1 but despite the fact that a vast amount of research has been conducted in this field, there is still no universal agreement as to a common definition. A comprehensive definition for KM within the business environment has been presented by researchers Elias M. Awad and Hassan M. Ghaziri, as “a systematic, organized, explicit and deliberate ongoing process of creating, disseminating, applying, renewing and updating the knowledge for achieving organizational objectives.” 2

To date there is still wide misconception about the difference between Knowledge Management (KM) and Information Management (IM) to a point that the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. A survey of 40 companies in the United States, Europe and Japan showed that many executives think that KM “begins and ends with sophisticated IT systems.”3 Though one of the most common ways to describe knowledge is to actually distinguish it from data and information.4 If on the executive level there is misconception regarding Knowledge Management, unfortunately it is highly probable that this misrepresentation is cascaded down the corporate ladder.

In a general sense, Data Management (DM) and Information Management (IM) lack the “human aspect” prominent in Knowledge Management. While DM and IM are definitely crucial constituents of the modern business environment, their main role is to handle data, information and Explicit Knowledge (easy to copy, codified knowledge stored in a database/found in documents), whereas Knowledge Management deals with Tacit Knowledge i.e. hard to copy, non-codified, often personal/experience-based knowledge.

Regardless of the universal mindset limiting the importance of Knowledge Management in sophisticated IT systems storing knowledge, organizations willing to acquire competitive advantage should undoubtedly seek disseminating knowledge horizontally and vertically through all possible channels. These, of course, include sophisticated IT systems–on which employees may post lessons learned from projects they participated in, for example–as well as other channels such as social networks, internal chatting platforms, conferences and most importantly, interpersonal communication. 

Distinguishing fact from fact


  1. Xu, Y. and Bernard, A., Quantifying the value of knowledge within the context of product development. Knowledge-Based Systems, 24(1), 166-175, 2011; Laleci et al. 2010
  2. Elias M. Awad, Hassan M. Ghaziri, “Knowledge Management,” Pearson Education, Second Edition, Delhi, 2008.
  3. Hauschild, Moritz, Rüdiger Karzel, and Cornelia Hellstern. Digital Processes. Basel: Birkhaüser, 2011. Print.
  4. Spender, J.-C. Business Strategy, 1996. Print.
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