Knowledge management challenges in small-and medium-sized enterprises

Mohannak, Kavoos (2014) Knowledge management challenges in small-and medium-sized enterprises. In IFSAM 12th World Congress : Management in Crisis, 2 – 4 September 2014, Meiji University, Tokyo. (Unpublished)


Background & Research Focus

Managing knowledge for innovation and organisational benefit has been extensively investigated in studies of large firms (Smith, Collins & Clark, 2005; Zucker, et al., 2007) and to a large extent there is limited research into studies of small- and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs). There are some investigations in knowledge management research on SMEs, but what remains to be seen in particular is the question of where are the potential challenges for managing knowledge more effectively within these firms? Effective knowledge management (KM) processes and systems lead to improved performance in pursuing distinct capabilities that contribute to firm-level innovation (Nassim 2009; Zucker et al. 2007; Verona and Ravasi 2003). Managing internal and external knowledge in a way that links it closely to the innovation process can assist the creation and implementation of new products and services. KM is particularly important in knowledge intensive firms where the knowledge requirements are highly specialized, diverse and often emergent. However, to a large extent the KM processes of small firms that are often the source of new knowledge and an important element of the value networks of larger companies have not been closely studied. To address this gap which is of increasing importance with the growing number of small firms, we need to further investigate knowledge management processes and the ways that firms find, capture, apply and integrate knowledge from multiple sources for their innovation process.

This study builds on the previous literature and applies existing frameworks and takes the process and activity view of knowledge management as a starting point of departure (see among others Kraaijenbrink, Wijnhoven & Groen, 2007; Enberg, Lindkvist, & Tell, 2006; Lu, Wang & Mao, 2007). In this paper, it is attempted to develop a better understanding of the challenges of knowledge management within the innovation process in small knowledge-oriented firms. The paper aims to explore knowledge management processes and practices in firms that are engaged in the new product/service development programs. Consistent with the exploratory character of the study, the research question is: How is knowledge integrated, sourced and recombined from internal and external sources for innovation and new product development?

Research Method

The research took an exploratory case study approach and developed a theoretical framework to investigate the knowledge situation of knowledge-intensive firms. Equipped with the conceptual foundation, the research adopted a multiple case study method investigating four diverse Australian knowledge-intensive firms from IT, biotechnology, nanotechnology and biochemistry industries. The multiple case study method allowed us to document in some depth the knowledge management experience of the theses firms. Case study data were collected through a review of company published data and semi-structured interviews with managers using an interview guide to ensure uniform coverage of the research themes. This interview guide was developed following development of the framework and a review of the methodologies and issues covered by similar studies in other countries and used some questions common to these studies. It was framed to gather data around knowledge management activity within the business, focusing on the identification, acquisition and utilisation of knowledge, but collecting a range of information about subject as well. The focus of the case studies was on the use of external and internal knowledge to support their knowledge intensive products and services. Key Findings

Firstly a conceptual and strategic knowledge management framework has been developed. The knowledge determinants are related to the nature of knowledge, organisational context, and mechanism of the linkages between internal and external knowledge. Overall, a number of key observations derived from this study, which demonstrated the challenges of managing knowledge and how important KM is as a management tool for innovation process in knowledge-oriented firms. To summarise, findings suggest that knowledge management process in these firms is very much project focused and not embedded within the overall organisational routines and mainly based on ad hoc and informal processes. Our findings highlighted lack of formal knowledge management process within our sampled firms. This point to the need for more specialised capabilities in knowledge management for these firms. We observed a need for an effective knowledge transfer support system which is required to facilitate knowledge sharing and particularly capturing and transferring tacit knowledge from one team members to another.

In sum, our findings indicate that building effective and adaptive IT systems to manage and share knowledge in the firm is one of the biggest challenges for these small firms. Also, there is little explicit strategy in small knowledge-intensive firms that is targeted at systematic KM either at the strategic or operational level. Therefore, a strategic approach to managing knowledge for innovation as well as leadership and management are essential to achieving effective KM. In particular, research findings demonstrate that gathering tacit knowledge, internal and external to the organization, and applying processes to ensure the availability of knowledge for innovation teams, drives down the risks and cost of innovation. KM activities and tools, such as KM systems, environmental scanning, benchmarking, intranets, firm-wide databases and communities of practice to acquire knowledge and to make it accessible, were elements of KM.

Practical Implications

The case study method that used in this study provides practical insight into the knowledge management process within Australian knowledge-intensive firms. It also provides useful lessons which can be used by other firms in managing the knowledge more effectively in the innovation process. The findings would be helpful for small firms that may be searching for a practical method for managing and integrating their specialised knowledge. Using the results of this exploratory study and to address the challenges of knowledge management, this study proposes five practices that are discussed in the paper for managing knowledge more efficiently to improve innovation:

(1) Knowledge-based firms must be strategic in knowledge management processes for innovation,

(2) Leadership and management should encourage various practices for knowledge management,

(3) Capturing and sharing tacit knowledge is critical and should be managed,

(4)Team knowledge integration practices should be developed,

(5) Knowledge management and integration through communication networks, and technology systems should be encouraged and strengthen.

In sum, the main managerial contribution of the paper is the recognition of knowledge determinants and processes, and their effects on the effective knowledge management within firm. This may serve as a useful benchmark in the strategic planning of the firm as it utilises new and specialised knowledge.

Impact and interest:

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

Full-text downloads:

72 since deposited on 20 Oct 2014
33 in the past twelve months

Full-text downloads displays the total number of times this work’s files (e.g., a PDF) have been downloaded from QUT ePrints as well as the number of downloads in the previous 365 days. The count includes downloads for all files if a work has more than one.

ID Code: 77866
Item Type: Conference Item (Presentation)
Refereed: No
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Knowledge Management, Knowledge-intensive Firms, Tacit Knowledge, Innovation and Knowledge, SMEs
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > COMMERCE MANAGEMENT TOURISM AND SERVICES (150000) > BUSINESS AND MANAGEMENT (150300) > Innovation and Technology Management (150307)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Management
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2014 The Author
Deposited On: 20 Oct 2014 22:51
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2014 22:51

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page