Information Technology and How It Supports Knowledge Management in the Public Sector
The main mission of public sector is to provide public services. Demands of the public are numerous: social security, health care, communication, transportation and so on. However, resources are scarce. Therefore, public sector focuses on urgent needs. At the same time, such narrow focus does not eliminate the problem of lack of resources. Hence, the public sector even more than businesses should seek effectiveness of the operation. Since resources are limited, the public sector should spend wisely and efficiently. One may observe that modern technologies allow cutting traditional expenses. For instance, the possibility to communicate via email, Skype, video-conferencing allow reducing the need for travelling and thus, save costs that otherwise would have been spent on air tickets, hotels, etc.. Information technologies changed the way things are managed in business organizations as well as in the public sector. This paper explores the connection between information technologies and knowledge management in the public sector.
What Is Knowledge Management?
Knowledge management is now a well-defined concept, yet there is no one single definition of knowledge management. The concept of knowledge management is better understood if one is aware of its functions. As its name suggests, knowledge management is about managing the knowledge. In order to manage the knowledge, one should understand its importance in the operations of an organization. Therefore, when one learns that a company adopts knowledge management, he or she realizes that the company appreciates the role of knowledge in its operations. Barclay and Murray (1997) point out that one of the aspects of knowledge management is “treating the knowledge component of business activities as an explicit concern of business reflected in strategy, policy, and practice at all levels of the organization”. In other words, knowledge management suggests that knowledge becomes an essential element which permeates all the directions of business activity (strategic management, marketing, human resources management, etc.) at all levels, from the top to bottom. In short, one of the features of knowledge management is an appreciation of the role the knowledge plays in business activities. Another aspect of knowledge management is a link between the appreciation of knowledge and the positive results it can bring. Barclay and Murray (1997) refer to this link as the connection between organization’s intellectual assets and positive business results. Indeed, would an organization adopt knowledge management? Certainly organization would do so in order to obtain certain advantage, in most cases, the competitive advantage. Improved efficacy, increased profits, and winning marketing strategy are among the positive results sought by organizations which resort to knowledge management. To sum up, knowledge management can be defined as a philosophy that recognizes the important role of knowledge in achieving effectiveness of business activities.
Scholars categorize applications of knowledge management
Thus, Biney (2001) distinguishes the following modes of knowledge management application:
- transactional (applied in business-to-customer relations involving customer service application, as well as order entry and help desk applications, etc.);
- analytical (applied in the analysis of business operations, such as management information, data warehousing, decision support systems, etc.);
- asset management (intellectual property, document management, content management, knowledge valuation, etc.);
- process-based (benchmarking, identifying best practices, total quality management, etc.);
- learning (teaching, training, skills development);
- innovation/creation (networking, discussion, collaboration, research and development, etc.).
Thus, one may observe that knowledge management can be applied in a wide spectrum of operations.
Knowledge Management in Public Sector
Nowadays, governments all over the world seek to be effective and use fewer resources to achieve greater results (Arora, 2011). One may observe that governments attempt to reform themselves so as to serve their citizens in a more efficient way (Arora, 2011). In an attempt to be more effective, public sector often uses management techniques and strategies which are employed in business areas. Thus, such management concepts as enterprise resource planning (ERM), business process re-engineering (BPR), and total quality management (TQM) find their application not only in business but also in the public sector (Cong & Pandya, 2003). There are cases when management techniques used in business activities proved to be extremely successful when implemented in the public sector. The brightest example of such a success is the reform of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) in the middle of the 1990s under the leadership of Commissioner Bratton. At the beginning of the 1990s, the crime rates in New York City were extremely high. The city was literally dangerous for living. The NYPD was ineffective in fighting with crime. Commissioner Bratton soon realized that such ineffectiveness came from flaws in management approaches and styles. Bratton found the NYPD as extremely bureaucratic administration where employees focused on administration and paperwork in favor of fighting with the crime. In order to change the situation, the Commissioner took a managerial approach: he brought independent experts to identify strengths and weaknesses of the NYPD, introduced top-down and bottom-up change, incorporated the Compstat system, which served as a large database for officers (Weisburd et al, 2003). The results of the reform were astonishing: the NYPD became much more effective, and crime rates were sharply reduced. One may observe that Bratton adopted management techniques popular in business activities: SWOT analysis, reduction of bureaucracy by implementing information technologies among others. Such an approach proved extremely successful.
Knowledge management, as well as other management concepts, can be applied to the public sector. Previously in this paper it has been observed that knowledge management helps organizations achieving positive results by using knowledge. It is difficult to see why this should not be true for the public sector. For public sector, better results are measured in terms of providing better services while spending lesser funds. In order to achieve this goal, one should possess knowledge about various things: what kinds of services are urgent, what kinds of problem exist in society, how can these problems be addressed, what is the most effective way to address them, among others. However, knowledge without its practical application has little value. One should be able to apply and maintain knowledge flow. At this point, it becomes clear that knowledge management is necessary. In short, in order to render better services while using fewer resources, public service organizations have to adopt knowledge management concepts.
Information Technology and Knowledge Management in Public Sector
The central element of knowledge management is knowledge. Knowledge comes from information. Specifically, knowledge is the result of processing the information – making connections and comparisons, identifying causes and consequences, etc. (Cong & Pandya, 2003). In other words, information is vital for knowledge management. At the same time, not all information is necessary or relevant. Therefore, in order to create more or less true knowledge, information should be sorted out and processed. Here is the point when information technologies come to play their role. In general terms, information technology can be described as a tool able to recognize and identify necessary information and use it in an efficient way (Clein, 2013). Information technologies play a crucial role in supplying the knowledge. Thus, information technologies bring the knowledge about kinds of information necessary for the organization, forms in which such information should come, the sources of information, and the way information will affect the organization (Clein, 2013). This is very basic knowledge that employees should possess it in order to be useful for their employer. Therefore, the link between information technologies and knowledge management is that the former helps to create the central element of the latter which is knowledge.
How can knowledge management be implemented in the public sector and what is the role of information technologies in it? One of the most tangible results of knowledge management in the public sector is “e-government”. The term “e-government” became a buzzword. This term refers to “the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to improve the activities of public sector organizations” (Arora, 2011). Governance is often associated with enormous volumes of paperwork, which are both time and cost consuming. The introduction of an “e-government” helps to save time and costs since public services can be rendered online. One may observe that an “e-government” heavily relies on information technologies. Hence, information technologies enable implementation of knowledge management.
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Another example of the implementation of knowledge management in the public sector is the use of space technologies by emergency services. For instance, satellite images are used in maintaining wildfire firefighting operations, flood monitoring, and in identifying and assessing damages from natural disasters. For instance, in Florida satellite images were used to identify damages brought by hurricane Charley (Bills, 2005). In Australia, satellite images were used in order to elaborate methodology to identify fire hazard categories (Bills, 2005). Thus, one may observe that information collected and supplied by such technology as satellites provides public service employees with knowledge. The knowledge, in its turn, is used to perform public service functions in a more efficient way: identify the threat of natural disaster, formulate a response to it and warn people. This knowledge allows mitigating damage brought by a natural disaster.
The examples of e-government and the use of space technologies in emergency services show that information technologies create knowledge which is a basic element of knowledge management. At the same time, information technologies not only help to create such knowledge but also apply it in the effective way. For instance, satellite imagery provides an emergency service employee with information about possible place and time of the earthquake. The employee then uses this knowledge in order to warn the population and take preventing measures. To warn the population the employee again uses information technologies – emails, phones, emergency alert systems and others.
Knowledge management represents a philosophy that recognizes the importance of knowledge in organizational operations and establishes links between knowledge and positive results. Obviously, knowledge is a central element of knowledge management. Knowledge derives from information which is collected and processed via information technologies. The link between information technologies and knowledge management is that the former creates the central element of the latter. At the same time, knowledge management provides avenues for better use of information technologies. Therefore, the relationship between information technology and knowledge management is twofold: knowledge management relies on information technology, but information technology also relies on knowledge management. Knowledge management offers better efficiency for public service organizations. For instance, e-government, which is to a certain extent, is the product of knowledge management, reduces bureaucracy and spending, thus, saving cost and time. Also, the use of space technologies in emergency services allows mitigating damages from natural disasters and formulating a better response to them.
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Weisburd, D., Mastrofski, S. D., McNally, A., Greenspan, R., & Willis, J. J. (2003). Reforming to preserve: COMPSTAT and strategic problem solving in American policing. Criminology & Public Policy, 2(3), 421-456.