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Arun Hariharan


What’s Really New in ISO 9001:2015? Knowledge Management

Helping an organization implement a strategic knowledge management program

Published: Tuesday, August 11, 2015 - 10:55

Peter Drucker once said, "The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing. The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of knowledge work and the knowledge worker."

The importance of knowledge management (KM) as an important element of business excellence or strategic quality programs is gaining recognition. Some years ago, Baldrige and the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) added criteria related to KM to their models.

Now, ISO 9001:2015 has a new clause, 7.1.6, on organizational knowledge and its management. This clause has no equivalent in ISO 9001:2008. In fact, it seems to be the only clause that is completely new. The other clauses seem to have some equivalent in the earlier version, in letter or in spirit. (For a comparison of the two ISO 9001 versions, click here.)

The objective of this series of articles is to help organizations and their leaders, management representatives, and ISO practitioners, that aspire to be certified to ISO 9001:2015, particularly with the clause 7.1.6.

The series is aimed at helping any organization implement a strategic knowledge management (KM) program relevant to their strategic objectives. Having a dual career as a quality professional and a KM professional gives me an opportunity to look at KM from a quality practitioner's point of view (and the other way around). It is with this dual perspective that I have tried to look at the new ISO 9001:2015 clause on KM.

In my recent book The Strategic Knowledge Management Handbook (ASQ Quality Press, 2015), I introduced the Strategic Knowledge Management Framework, which forms the subject of this article. The framework is based on my years of experience helping organizations with KM implementation. I believe that the framework contains what almost any type of organization needs in order to implement a strategic KM program with substantial and sustained results.

What is KM?

What are the differences between KM as a strategy and a technology-only approach?

Look at one definition of knowledge management: KM is an enabler to achieve an organization's objectives better and faster through an integrated set of initiatives, systems and behavioral interventions, aimed at promoting smooth flow and sharing of knowledge relevant to the organization, and the elimination of reinvention. KM seeks to facilitate the flow of knowledge from where it resides, to where it is required (that is, where it can be applied or used), to achieve the organization's objectives.

The differences between KM as a "strategy," as the above definition suggests, and a limited "technology only" approach are given below. A strategic KM Program has the following:

• Senior-management involvement
• Linked with broader organizational priorities
• KM initiatives (such as knowledge-bases, communities of experts, and collaboration) are centered around predefined "mission-critical" areas
• KM roles are clearly defined
• Closed-looped processes for knowledge-sharing and replication in mission-critical areas—not left to choice or chance
• Technology is an important enabler, but clearly only one component of a larger KM program

On the other hand, a technology-only approach to KM (which, unfortunately, some organizations take) is a narrow view that treats the implementation of some form of technology—usually an intranet/portal with some features of document management, storage, and collaboration—as the be-all-and-end-all of KM. In such an approach, KM is not linked to organizational priorities or employees' performance. Not surprisingly, many organizations that take the technology-only view end up getting lackluster results from KM.

The Strategic Knowledge Management Framework is designed to help you keep your organization's KM initiative strategic, and derive significant and sustained results from KM.

The Strategic Knowledge Management Framework

The Strategic Knowledge Management framework is given in Figure 1 and consists of the following elements:

1. The organization's knowledge management vision
2. KM strategy (how to achieve the KM vision)
3. Leadership/top management's role
4. People and roles
5. Culture/change management
6. KM processes
7. Measurement of KM results
8. Technology

Figure 1: Strategic Knowledge Management Framework

All eight elements of the framework must be in place, and work in coordination with each other, for a strategic KM program to deliver sustained results.

The sub-elements under each element are given in Table 1.

Strategic KM Framework Element


1. KM vision

1. Broad direction
2. Link with broader organizational priorities
3. Helps to bring focus to, and sustain results from KM initiatives

2. KM strategy
(How to achieve the vision)

In several companies, we found the 360-degree knowledge management model to be an effective strategy to achieve the organization's KM vision. This model provides employees single-window access to all relevant knowledge and expertise from within and outside the organization, that is relevant to their domain. A detailed paper on the 360-degree KM model can be seen at http://www.tlainc.com/articl86.htm.

3. Leadership, top management's role, governance

1. Provide KM vision and direction.
2. Identify organizational priority areas and align KM efforts.
3. Define performance measures for KM.
4. Identify and put the right people in different KM roles.
5. Governance: create a structure and rhythm for regular review of progress and results.
6. Provide visibility and recognition for knowledge sharing and results from KM.

4. People, roles, structure

1. People-participation/mass-movement of knowledge-sharing and replication
2. Define roles such as knowledge manager, knowledge champion, subject matter expert, researcher, etc. Incorporate them into the organizational structure.

5. Culture/change management

1. Organization-wide culture of knowledge-sharing and "copying" of best practices
2. Uninhibited flow of knowledge/information
3. Visibly reward and recognize knowledge performance.
4. Key performance indicators/performance appraisal systems are realigned to reward knowledge sharing/replication.
5. Constant communication by senior leaders about expected culture/behavior
6. Lead by example (senior leaders must walk the talk).

6. KM processes

1. Standardized processes for knowledge-sharing, replication, and identification of best practices
2. Process for keeping content on online knowledge-sharing platforms, such as websites, accurate and updated. In the case of websites offering e-commerce (including e-government), proactive process must be in place to ensure that all links and transaction services are working.
3. Standard formats/templates for knowledge-sharing and replication
4. Measuring and publishing results of KM

7. Measurement of KM results

1. Measurement of results (lagging measures): Financial benefits (revenue or cost-savings), impact on customer satisfaction scores, reduction in customer complaints, improvement in internal/process-related measures, and so on.
2. Measurement of enablers (leading measures): Number of best-practices shared/published, number of best-practices replicated with business-results, employee engagement in KM (e.g., number of employees who shared knowledge, or replicated knowledge shared by other employees or from external sources, with results).

Monthly dashboards showing these results and their trend must be reviewed by senior leaders.

8. Technology

1. Portal to facilitate knowledge-exchange/virtual collaboration
2. Knowledge bases/repositories
3. Taxonomy, organized content, easy and quick search and retrieval
4. Organizational "yellow-pages"—virtual communities of experts (pool of talent)
5. Knowledge sharing/upload; workflow for review by experts and publishing
6. In the case of e-commerce and e-government websites providing transactional services and links—ensure links, payment gateways, etc. are always working

Table 1: Strategic Knowledge Management Framework—elements and sub-elements

My next article will provide a detailed explanation of each element of the strategic knowledge management framework.

For more information about the ISO 9001 standard, see the Quality Digest knowledge guide, “What Is ISO 9001:2015?”


About The Author

Arun Hariharan’s picture

Arun Hariharan

Arun Hariharan, author of Continuous Permanent Improvement (ASQ 2014), and The Strategic Knowledge Management Handbook (ASQ 2015) is a strategic quality, knowledge management (KM), and performance management practitioner with nearly three decades of experience in these fields. He has worked with several large companies and helped them achieve substantial and sustained results through quality and customer focus. He is the founder and CEO of The CPi Coach, a company that provides partnership, consulting, and training in business excellence and related areas. Former roles held by Hariharan include president of quality and knowledge management at Reliance Capital Ltd, and senior vice-president of quality and knowledge management at Bharti Airtel Ltd, India. He is a frequent speaker at quality and KM events around the world. He is also the author of more than 50 published papers on quality and KM.


Organizational Kowledge

Unfortunately, the clause in ISO 9001:2015 is Organizaitonal knowledge. Organizations don't have knowledge, people do. Organizations don't have memory either. Think about the hierarchy of data, information, knowledge wisdom. An organization has data and may have information, but knowledge and wisdom are specific to only people. The ISO 9000 series has always had a competency clause and it still does. The entire 7.1.6 Organizaitonal knowledge is such an unfortunate addition to a standard that is loosing its value. I am sure users of ISO 9001:2015 will not understand the difference between employee competence, documented information, and operational knowledge. How could they?