Teaching an old economy company new economy tricks: knowledge management at a multinational information technology services firm
Wick, Corey Wynn
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In recent years, issues traditionally associated with the field of Technical communication have been increasingly referred to in business settings as "knowledge management." Technical communicators generally contribute to knowledge management through their skills of audience analysis, interviews, and research— synthesizing relevant knowledge from volumes of information and compiling that knowledge into printed and electronic forms. Their skills allow people to (1) access it quickly, (2) understand it with relative ease, and (3) apply this knowledge within the context of their work. Technical communicators, however, also possess in-depth knowledge of pedagogy, learning theory, and rhetoric—in other words, an understanding of how humans learn, understand, and communicate—which enable them to facilitate organizational learning and sharing of knowledge through social means as well, not just through documentation. Technical communicators, then, are logical professionals to lead organizational knowledge management efforts. Organizational knowledge management initiatives generally take one of two approaches. Codification approaches emphasize knowledge codified into documents and distributed to vast audiences through high-powered information systems. Personalization approaches emphasize learning and the sharing of knowledge through close social interaction and collaboration among professionals. Efforts to integrate these approaches to knowledge management, however, have traditionally met with limited success, and little is understood about the factors impeding successful integration. This dissertation presents a case study conducted at a multinational information technology services firm, a company attempting to implement a knowledge management initiative that integrates both codification and personalization approaches. The firm will be referred to as Acme IT to protect its anonymity, and the names of all personnel have been changed. The purpose of the case study was to identify the barriers impeding the successful integration of these approaches. Acme IT'S difficulties in integrating codification and personalization and codification approaches can be best summarized as the growing pains of an old economy company attempting to implement new economy practices. The limited success of knowledge management at Acme IT was largely the result of a socio-organizational environment that stifled the efficacies associated with personalization knowledge management approaches. These efficacies were ultimately filtered out of the knowledge management initiative as a result of several characteristics frequently present in old economy companies: *Restrictive control over communication and employee behavior; *An organizational culture and social climate that impeded trust, jeopardizing effective collaboration among employees; *And excessive concerns over documentation, bureaucracy, and intermediation that misdirected resources toward activities that added little value to the initiative. This dissertation ends by discussing the multiple core competencies of technical communicators that enable them to lead knowledge management, connecting those competencies to the outcomes of the knowledge management initiative studied. The dissertation concludes with a discussion of the near and intermediate future of knowledge management, the leadership opportunities this future presents for technical communicators, and strategies technical communicators must employ to claim these leadership opportunities.