The Convergence of Knowledge Management and Technical Communication
“Knowledge Management is a collection of business practices that promote an integrated approach to the creation, capture, organization, access and use of enterprise knowledge—knowledge about products, processes, systems.” Patti Anklam
“Knowledge management is concerned with identifying, sharing and leveraging organizational knowledge for competitive advantage.” Steffen Raub and Charles-Clemens Ruling
“Knowledge management is the transfer of experience.” Managing Partner of KPMG–Canada
Knowledge management emerged as a recognized discipline in the early 1990s, and has steadily increased in the years since to become a “hot topic” in communication that is in high demand for corporations. Effective knowledge management is a corollary to success and profit. Many agree that as technical communication and knowledge management evolve over time, the two disciplines have increasingly converged. Essentially, an effective technical communicator must be well versed in knowledge management, and vice-versa. Knowledge management is about making the right knowledge available to the right people. It is about making sure that an organization can learn, and retrieve and use its knowledge assets as they are needed. When a technical communicator works with intranets, knowledge bases, and user guides, are they not performing knowledge management?
Knowledge management is a field that requires accuracy and clarity when storing information, and therefore technical communicators are contenders for leadership roles. According to Corey Wick, technical communicators possess three core competencies.
- They have a thorough understanding of the complexities of knowledge, language, and communication.
- They are exceptionally talented in working across functions, departments, and all disciplines.
- They are expert communicators.
Knowledge management (especially in the early to mid 2000s) was, and continues to be, a “hot topic” in business. The development of knowledge management over the past two decades has caused organizations to focus on knowledge as a valuable asset that must be protected, rather than something intangible and disposable. By becoming experts in knowledge management, technical communicators can expect greater recognition, and increase the perceived value of their work. This also provides broader employment opportunities for technical communicators that can sell themselves as knowledge management experts.
However, technical communication has traditionally been under-valued in organizations, and re-defining yourself as a knowledge management expert may devalue your contributions as a technical communicator. Corey Wick has stated an effective way to combat being swallowed by this “paradigm shift”:
“If knowledge management represents a paradigm shift in the way business is perceived and conducted, then technical communicators must also change paradigms to meet the needs of an evolving business climate. We must move beyond demanding adequate recognition and compensation for our contributions”… In other words, we must evolve beyond the narrowly-defined roles of “technical writers,” and actively prove to our superiors that technical communication encompasses knowledge management, among other skills.