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What are the key challenges of knowledge management?

By: Jill Huettich

Once most business executives learn about the advantages of a well-designed knowledge management process, they view it as a no-brainer. After all, the ability to collect, organize, manage, and retrieve valuable organizational information on the fly must be a huge competitive advantage, right? Well, yes and no. In reality, there are some serious challenges of knowledge management that need to be accounted for in order to be successful.

While it’s absolutely true that a knowledge management process offers a distinct advantage in the competitive global marketplace, that’s only the case when:

  • The information being collected helps businesses meet their strategic goals,
  • The knowledge management tool being used has kept pace with the latest technology, and
  • Employees are actually sharing information the way they’re supposed to.

Should that trifecta fail to occur, a company can actually experience a competitive disadvantage. For instance, executives might be slow to react to fluctuating market conditions, because they can’t find the information they need to make key decisions.

This example highlights one of the potential disadvantages of knowledge management. Fortunately, many of the problems associated with knowledge management can be prevented with advance planning.

To help in that regard, this article highlights common  challenges of knowledge management, as well as other disadvantages of knowledge management. The three most common challenges of knowledge management relate to:

  1. Obsolete technology;
  2. Employee motivation; and
  3. Making information easy to find.

By the end of the piece, you’ll have a good understanding of the problems you might come across when managing a knowledge management process at your workplace, so you can avoid potential pitfalls.


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What are some disadvantages of knowledge management?

Knowledge management is viewed as increasingly important in today’s world. After all, managers are bombarded with data.

So much so, that according to Forbes, “Scientists have worked out exactly how much data is sent to a typical person in the course of a year – the equivalent of every person in the world reading 174 newspapers every single day.”

Stats like that only serve to highlight the critical need for knowledge management, right? Admittedly they do, yet that doesn’t mean knowledge management systems are always orchestrated smoothly.

And of course when they aren’t, there are several disadvantages of knowledge management:

  • Knowledge management tools may be too complex for workers to comprehend, necessitating the need for costly training.
  • Using knowledge management tools incorrectly can waste time and money, preventing operational efficiency. Ultimately, problems such as this one can even go so far as to jeopardize a business’ standing in the marketplace.
  • Without a vision of how the collected information will help achieve an organization’s goals, a knowledge management system may be vastly underutilized, essentially rendering it useless.

Although these disadvantages of knowledge management shouldn’t be overlooked, they also shouldn’t prevent companies from investing in knowledge management tools.

After all, according to Forbes, “Fortune 500 companies lose roughly $31.5 billion a year by failing to share knowledge.” Clearly, implementing a good knowledge management process can actually save an organization money.

Of course, to experience a financial benefit at your company, you need to be aware not just of the disadvantages of knowledge management, but also of the most common challenges of knowledge management.

By doing so, you can minimize the likelihood of experiencing these knowledge management problems at your own organization.

What are the biggest barriers to knowledge management?

There are several challenges of knowledge management. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the most common ones.

1. Obsolete technology

Technology is continuously evolving and what worked well yesterday soon becomes antiquated. Think of your cell phone, for example. If you’re old enough, you might remember you once carried around a phone that was the size of a brick! By contrast, today’s phones get lighter and slimmer every year.

Now, you can’t visually see a clunky, “brick-like” knowledge management system. You can, however, be affected by one when:

  • Finding what you need is cumbersome,
  • Storing information is far more time-consuming than it should be, or
  • Employees avoid using the system altogether, because it’s archaic.

Older systems that rely on a decentralized architecture create another challenge with knowledge management. A scenario such as this one often means that nobody knows whether information is stored on a network drive, in the cloud, or in one of several databases.

As you might imagine, all this confusion means that organizations don’t experience the benefits of knowledge management that they should. Of course, this simply means that you need to have the right knowledge management tools in place in order to reap the benefits.

2. Employee motivation

Motivation is another one of the problems of knowledge management in organizations. Obviously, the value of a knowledge management system is dependent on what employees choose to share. For instance, if nobody creates a “lessons learned” document after the completion of a project, there’s no lasting benefit to an organization.

For this reason, it’s important for company leaders to communicate goals, report on progress, and enforce compliance when it comes to knowledge management.  In essence, setting expectations—then evaluating whether employees have met them—is key.

As mentioned earlier, employee acceptance here often hinges on the knowledge management tools that an organization chooses to adopt. If those tools are outdated and subsequently, too difficult, tedious, or time-consuming to use, employee acceptance plummets.

3. Making information easy to find

We’ve touched upon this before, but it’s so important, it bears repeating. If people can’t find the resources, expertise, or information they need, there are no benefits to having a knowledge management system.

A knowledge management challenge like this arises whenever search functionality is incomplete, outdated, or irrelevant. Again, this is often resolved with the right knowledge management tool.

Are you sensing a theme here? We’re kidding—a little—but usually, technology is what makes or breaks the success of a knowledge management system.

That’s why it’s so important to invest in an effective, well-designed knowledge management tool that can help your organization rise above these challenges. Ultimately, you want the way you’re storing information to give you a competitive advantage—rather than to prevent you from achieving your business objectives.

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