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Managerial Factors That Influence the Success Of Knowledge Management Systems: A Systematic Literature Review

Abstract: The purpose of this research is to remove the ambiguity that clouds the analysis of knowledge management systems. This is because of an overall lack of consensus on how knowledge management systems adapt to the new ‘knowledge explosion’ embraced by the booming ‘Big Data’ hype. In this paper, a refreshing synthesis of literature will uncover benefits and identify gaps in current knowledge. These findings will also be of benefit to researchers and industries as it allows for the holistic analysis of a KMS.

This systematic literature review collected 54 papers for qualitative analysis. This analysis led to a synthesis of factors evident in the research and how they could be combined and collected as key categories. Once each factor was categorized; the future directions of research was analysed and documented. The primary factors discussed include: 1) formal processes, 2) company culture, 3) top-down support, 4) motivation, 5) clear goals and 6) quality of KMS. This research has created a baseline for the further evaluation of knowledge management systems’ in the real world.

Keywords: Knowledge management, Knowledge management systems, Success factors, Knowledge, Systematic literature review, Factors.

Acknowledgements: This research has been conducted with the support of the Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship, ARC Discovery Project DP180101051, UOW Matching Scholarship 2018.

1.     Introduction

The method of dealing with a company’s knowledge is traditionally defined as Knowledge Management (KM). This KM process is the fundamental practice of creating, capturing and transferring knowledge within a company (Davenport and Prusak, 1998, O’dell and Grayson, 1998, Alavi and Leidner, 2001). Knowledge is described as information in a specific context (Sviokla, 1996) and it is viewed as an intangible resource (Alavi and Leidner, 2001). This resource is seen as a principal source of competitive advantage (Eisenhardt and Martin, 2000, Grant, 1996, Romer, 1990). There is also mounting evidence that organizations are dependent on the development and deployment of new knowledge for economic performance (Blundell et al., 1999, Furman et al., 2002, Roberts, 2000). Development refers to the process of creating new knowledge through internal or external sources to promote the growth of employee expertise. Deployment, on the other hand, is the crucial capability of sharing of knowledge amongst employees (Eisenhardt and Martin, 2000, Grant, 1996). These capabilities are being reinvigorated through the use of Knowledge Management Systems (KMS). KMSs are a class of information systems that are dedicated to organising a company’s knowledge and supporting the knowledge sharing process (Alavi and Leidner, 2001).

The evaluation of knowledge sharing technologies have been plagued with ambiguity and lacks a common foundation. These KMSs are advertised with grandiose promises of complete knowledge sharing and seamless transfer of expertise (Powell and Grodal, 2005). The ambitions of these KMSs are checked by the tacit side of knowledge sharing. This being the inability to quantify certain knowledge, that in turn, creates difficulties during their evaluation. In fact, managers across industries readily admit that they are unable to measure the benefits of these tools within their organizations (Li, 2012). This is affected by the limited understanding of influencing factors on KMSs. The ambiguity of these systems in practice is the motivation of this research. What is needed is a foundation of influential factors that really affect KMSs in any industry. This paper provides this through a synthesis of modern research papers and the creation of a platform for future research.

KMSs have enjoyed a sustained increase in investments that speaks to their importance and how vital they are to organizations (Haggie and Kingston, 2003, Hanafizadeh et al., 2014). These systems also empower employees, giving them the ability to be connected across regions by providing and strengthening interpersonal communication (O’dell and Grayson, 1998). This is accomplished by allowing knowledge seekers to explore and communicate with knowledge sources in a connected virtual environment (Hasan and Handzic, 2003). The benefits of KMSs are the reason for the growth in popularity in the research areas of knowledge sharing (Blundell et al., 1999, Furman et al., 2002, Roberts, 2000) and KMSs (Powell and Grodal, 2005, Wuchty et al., 2007). However, there is an overall lack of consensus in how KMSs adapt to new ‘knowledge explosion’ embraced by the booming ‘Big Data’ hype. In this paper, a refreshing synthesis of literature will uncover discovered benefits and identify gaps in current knowledge. These findings will also be of benefit to researchers and industries as it allows for the holistic analysis of a KMS.

2.     Methodology of Literature review

Using Jesson et al’s (2011) well established principles for a systematic review, our method is broken into 6 parts, these being 1) mapping of the field through a scoping review, 2) a comprehensive search for papers, 3) an assessment of quality of the papers, 4) an extraction of relevant data, 5) a synthesis of data found, and finally, 6) a full write up of research for presentation.

First, a research plan was developed to create and evaluate research questions of interest. This was the grounds for the paper which focused on the keywords, reasons to include papers and a set of criteria for the exclusion of non-relevant papers. The driving aim of this paper is to discover and re-examine the influential factors that affect KMS from real world case studies.

The initial keywords used in this discovery phase were “technology”, “systems”, “factors” and “issues” to form the full search of: technology OR systems AND factors OR issues. “Technology” and “systems” were used interchangeable to find any information technology system. “Factors” and “issues” were used in the same way to find any problematic system. This initial search produced an unsatisfactory outcome in terms of sheer quantity of publications. The work of Serenko and Bontis (2017) were used to narrow the search parameters but to still ensure only top level knowledge management journals were selected. These journals included the Journal of Knowledge Management, the Journal of Intellectual Capital, The learning organisation, Knowledge Management Research & Practice, Knowledge and Process management: The journal of Corporate Transformation, VINE: The Journal of Information and Knowledge management Systems and the Journal of Information and Knowledge Management. This resulted in 1598 identified papers.

To produce a list of manageable papers further inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied. The inclusion criteria were: publications from 2014-2018 to provide the most up to date research; empirical research papers, to gain first hand data; peer reviewed, to have a guarantee of quality; English language, to limit misunderstandings and a focus on knowledge management, to keep the data relevant. The exclusion criteria were: papers published prior to 2014, grey literature such as reports or non-academic papers. Once these criteria were added, 58 were investigated in greater detail.

Each paper was evaluated on the suitability by the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Only four papers were discarded due to unusable or unrelated research. This left 54 articles for the next phase.

Data from each paper was extracted. The main findings were used to produce a comprehensive table that allows the reader to gain an overview of the research analysed. This table includes data on the authors, publications, date, methods, main findings and a list of factors the paper discusses (See Appendix Table. 3).

The next stage was of the synthesis. This stage focused on factors evident in the research and how they could be combined and collected as key categories. Once each factor was categorized; the future directions of research was analysed and documented.

3.     Findings

The following is a composition of the factors discovered and their parent category. Each of the papers discussed can be found in the appendix. This figure illustrates the connections each factor has with its category (see Table 1).

Category Factors Papers
Formal processes Formal processes; Dynamic processes; Daily interactions with KMS; Relationship with customer; Unorganised; 1-6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 15-28, 30-35, 37-43, 46, 47, 49, 52, 53.
Company culture Company Culture; Geographic issues; The value of Knowledge; 1, 2, 6-11, 15, 21-27, 29, 30, 32, 34, 36, 40, 41, 43, 46-48, 50-54.
Top down support Top down support; Knowledge hierarchies; 1, 2, 5, 6, 9-14, 17-19, 21, 27-29, 31, 37, 41, 44, 45, 47, 51.
Motivation Motivation; Incentives; Trust; Knowledge protection; Intellectual property; 4, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 17-19, 22, 30-34, 37, 39, 41, 43, 47-51, 53.
Clear strategy Clear strategy; Clear goals; Performance measures of KMS; Change management; Inter-organisation knowledge sharing; 1-6, 13, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 24, 28-34, 41-45, 47, 48, 50, 51, 53, 54.
Quality of KMS Quality of KMS; Features of KMS; Extracting knowledge; Integrating technology with strategy; Social media; 1, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 23, 25, 30-32, 34-37, 40-42, 44-48, 54.

The 54 papers analysed are presented below by their parent category (see Table 1). The Papers are ID referenced with the complete list of papers in Appendix Table 3 (Download original paper). This table is further broken down into its components to simplify the synthesis in the discussion of findings.

4.     Discussion of Findings

The following is a synthesis of the research findings presented in the collected papers. This provides a valuable snap shot of the research, and their underlying case studies where used, previously published and more importantly, where this research could lead to in the future. Each of the 6 found categories are analysed, first on their content then on the gaps in research generated from this work. For a full list of papers, refer to Appendix Table 3.

4.1.  Formal Processes

Formal processes are guidelines and procedures that structure the knowledge transfer process. This is the combination of the concepts; guidance, communication, training and regulation (Norese and Salassa, 2017, Perez-Soltero et al., 2016).

Common amongst the most successful formal approaches was the use of the consistent terminology in a company process (Hirose Nishihara, 2018, Wiedenhofer et al., 2017). This approach can be supported by the use of a ‘process owner’ to enforce guidelines and processes (Pohjola and Puusa, 2016, Cavicchi and Vagnoni, 2018). This would require that the person with this responsibility had enough authority to ensure that the operations will be executed as designed. Conversely, consistency and process ownership can be derailed by geographical, technological and organisational obstacles (Aubert, 2018). In fact, organisational barriers are more detrimental than the technological (Bolisani and Scarso, 2016). A lack of clear authority can disintegrate a KM initiative and prevented it from fully attaining its goals (Pohjola and Puusa, 2016).

To address these concepts practically, favourable organisational conditions need to be created. This increases the success rate of KM initiatives and allows a company to tackle each challenge that a competitive company will face. There has been an increased understanding in the literature of the importance of these formal processes. What is not understood, is the cognitive change of a positive informal process to the formal. This would need to start with a clear way of identifying a positive informal process and then focus on transformation of this process into a formal activity. How this effects the process itself and how this new formal process can be transferred to another area of a company, would provide considerable insights for the KM discipline. Another area of interest would be to determine if the value of an informal process is lost in the transformation to the formal.

4.2.  Company culture

Organisational culture is a set of norms and values that are embedded in an employee’s sense making process (Zheng et al., 2010). Multiple authors stress the importance of a positive knowledge sharing culture (Mojibi et al., 2017). In fact, Biloslavo et al. (2018) calls it the antecedent to knowledge management effectiveness. This importance is derived from the promotion of knowledge sharing (Chang et al., 2017), lessening of communication barriers (van Dijk et al., 2016) and its effect on fostering teamwork (Ismail Al‐Alawi et al., 2007).

In some resistant company cultures, a breakthrough is needed before a KMS can even be implemented (Wing Chu, 2016). These breakthroughs are the result of a cultivation of positive cultural attributes (Biloslavo et al., 2018).

If culture could also be described as a combination of individual ideals towards a central goal, Pohjola and Puusa’s (2016) explored what happens when that central goal changes. They focused on an open source community of practice that disbanded after outside interests began investing in the group. This led to a shift in individual ideals and the central goal of a homogenous group became unsustainable.

 To summarise, a company culture is an organic process that needs to be monitored and fostered to continue to have a positive effect on a KM strategy. What is missing from the research, is an empirical comparison of successful cultural activities. In the papers reviewed, there were documented changes in the company culture, but they lacked a means of measuring that change (Pohjola and Puusa, 2016).

4.3.  Top down support

Top down support are the visible contributions from management that show their enthusiasm and commitment to the sharing of knowledge within a company. For a successful implementation of a KM strategy, top-level management involvement is imperative (Akhavan et al., 2006). Top down support is provided by formal or informal management positions (Wing Chu, 2016). In the absence of designated leaders, a collective will nominate leaders based on seniority, founder status or level of involvement (Pohjola and Puusa, 2016). Strong leadership qualities are needed (Danilova, 2018), because a lack of support can led to an implementation of KM being abandoned (Abukhader, 2016).

The factor, top down support, is compared throughout industries and across disciplines. What is not investigated or summarised is what effective top down support looks like in the work place. Plagued by the same issues that the study of tacit knowledge has, the level of support needs to be supported by explicit measurements. Where this factor can be further investigated is the internal comparison of leadership support. What most papers focus on is the inter-organisational comparisons of support levels. An interesting new direction would be an internal comparison of departments and how department management could provide support for the knowledge sharing process. In research terms, an empirical study could be conducted to measure differing levels of support and cross examining them with other departments in the same company to reduce influencing factors.

4.4.  Motivation

Motivation refers to the enthusiasm employees have to share their hard-won knowledge. It is driven from a set of incentives that can either be intrinsic or extrinsic rewards, which encourage an employee to share knowledge with their peers. Intrinsic incentives are psychological or internal rewards. These could include satisfaction from act of sharing knowledge, prestige attained or team building. Extrinsic, on the other hand, is the tangible rewards a company can offer. These are bonuses, promotions or recognition. Either intrinsic or extrinsic, there is a contentious divide in in the literature for the effect of incentives (Šajeva, 2014). Zhang et al (2010) highlights the fact that there is no conclusive evidence of the influence of a reward system. While other research gives evidence to a significant relationship between the amount of knowledge shared and a reward system (Ismail Al‐Alawi et al., 2007, Alam et al., 2009). Wing Chu (2016) focuses on the introduction of basic KM practices in a school environment and shows how the benefits of KM need to be explained for the whole and the individual. What these discussed studies demonstrate is that, it is the level of motivation to share knowledge that is paramount, but they are undecided on the exact method.

Similar to the other areas of research, motivation needs to be measured empirically. The studies used in this review emphasise that extrinsic rewards are more effective at cultivating motivation over intrinsic. A promising research direction would be a formal metrics of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and how these levels could be manipulated in the work place to derive the optimal level of reward.

4.5.  Clear strategy

Szulanski (1996) found evidence that the resistance to share knowledge can be traced to a lack of direction and clarity. Without the establishment of clear goals, even concentrated efforts on knowledge sharing, a KM initiative can fail (Ciborra and Patriotta, 1998). This clarity represents the unity of the goals of each key actor. Conflicting (Pohjola and Puusa, 2016) and vague goals have been seen to cause the collapse KM groups (Pezzillo Iacono et al., 2014). Clarity can also be disrupted by the shift in the valuation of individual pieces of knowledge and thus, change the behaviours of key actors (Pohjola and Puusa, 2016).

A needed tool for a clear strategy is the use of benchmarking. Pal and Jasial (2015) found that this method fostered confidence in KM processes and its benefits. By explaining the strategy and more importantly its direction, increases trust and creates positive knowledge sharing conditions (Perez-Soltero et al., 2016). This was evident in an educational KM initiative that measured the shift in trust between teachers and how it affected the perceived usefulness of the KMS as a whole (Wing Chu, 2016). While it is important for the employee to understand the goals of KM, Danilova (2018) found that it is equally important that process owners to understand business goals and strategies. This is top level management not only being actively involved but can see the value of the KMS.

4.6.  Quality of KMS

A quality KMS provides for the needs of its users and in turn allows the organisation to remain in a process of continuous improvement. McCracken and Edwards (2017) demonstrated this with their medical KMS as it provided a holistic view of patient care and contributed heavily to patient satisfaction. In another study, Perez-Soltero et al. (2016) describes the KMS of their study as the ‘cornerstone’ of problem solving. What this leads too is the old adage of ‘if you build it, they will come’. (Xu, 2016). Now in contrast to this evidence, Serenko et al. (2017) shows that IT investment and deployment levels are not all that is needed. The measure of a quality system can be defined by its ability to access KM resources smoothly (Xu, 2016), provide clear benefits for the users (ease of use, reliability, etc) (Perez-Soltero et al., 2016) and most importantly fulfil its potential by being in line with its parent KM strategy (Serenko et al., 2017).

KMSs have been evaluated in multiple contexts and often include customised software to fit the needs of the company and their relevant KM strategies. A common theme is the limited understanding of the KM process by key actors (Burnett and Williams, 2017). What is missing is a single system, tested across multiple companies. A single system that operates a KM process could be used in multiple companies to measure required capabilities and the most successful features. Although this would require an enormous amount of cooperation between companies and researchers, the benefits for this type of study would be substantial. Both the research and the KMS require due care and control (Uden and He, 2017).

5.     Promising research directions

The analysis of the literature collected above has highlighted some promising research directions. While not exhaustive, they do represent interesting lines of research to further expand this discipline (see Table 2).

Area Promising research directions
Formal processes Determine how valuable informal processes can be converted into formal processes. How are these formal processes communicated? How does the level of communication effect these processes?
Company culture Insights into how does the company culture changes over time and how does this effect KM effectiveness. In positive knowledge sharing cultures what are the remaining obstacles?
Top down support A comparison of internal departments with differing levels of top down support. Practical insights into what does effective top down support look like in the work place.
Motivation Insights into how intrinsic or extrinsic rewards effect the level of motivation an employee has to share knowledge. How can a company sustain a high level of motivation?
Clear strategy Further investigation into how a KM strategy can be benchmarked. Insights into effective methods of communication of strategy to the employee.
Quality of KMS Insights into the operation and performance of different KMS in the same context. What are the critical success features for a KMS?

6.     Conclusions

Knowledge management systems (KMS) provide a wealth of opportunity and challenges. This paper focuses on re-examining the most influential factors affecting the implementation of a KMS. Through the synthesis of this review on the literature and case studies published in the past 5 years, this paper has outlined what was well and not well understood in this area and provides a platform for future areas of study. This was achieved through the use of an exhaustive systematic literature review. By using the systematic method described by Jesson (2011), 54 papers were qualitatively analysed. The discovered factors were then grouped into categories. They include: 1) formal processes, 2) company culture, 3) top-down support, 4) motivation, 5) clear goals and 6) quality of KMS. This paper was limited by the journal-based search parameters and its multi-context analysis. This traded off provide a manageable pool of papers for analysis. For more confidence in these results, the search criteria could be expanded. The authors suggest taking this research and applying it directly to generate more primary studies to check the validity of these factors. In conclusion, this research has created a baseline for the further evaluation of KMS’s in the real world, through the use of a SLR.

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8.     Appendix

8.1.  Appendix Table 1

Category Factors Papers
Formal processes Formal processes; Dynamic processes; Daily interactions with KMS; Relationship with customer; Unorganised; 1-6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 15-28, 30-35, 37-43, 46, 47, 49, 52, 53.
Company culture Company Culture; Geographic issues; The value of Knowledge; 1, 2, 6-11, 15, 21-27, 29, 30, 32, 34, 36, 40, 41, 43, 46-48, 50-54.
Top down support Top down support; Knowledge hierarchies; 1, 2, 5, 6, 9-14, 17-19, 21, 27-29, 31, 37, 41, 44, 45, 47, 51.
Motivation Motivation; Incentives; Trust; Knowledge protection; Intellectual property; 4, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 17-19, 22, 30-34, 37, 39, 41, 43, 47-51, 53.
Clear strategy Clear strategy; Clear goals; Performance measures of KMS; Change management; Inter-organisation knowledge sharing; 1-6, 13, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 24, 28-34, 41-45, 47, 48, 50, 51, 53, 54.
Quality of KMS Quality of KMS; Features of KMS; Extracting knowledge; Integrating technology with strategy; Social media; 1, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 23, 25, 30-32, 34-37, 40-42, 44-48, 54.

8.2.  Appendix Table 2

Area Promising research directions
Formal processes Determine how valuable informal processes can be converted into formal processes. How are these formal processes communicated? How does the level of communication effect these processes?
Company culture Insights into how does the company culture changes over time and how does this effect KM effectiveness. In positive knowledge sharing cultures what are the remaining obstacles?
Top down support A comparison of internal departments with differing levels of top down support. Practical insights into what does effective top down support look like in the work place.
Motivation Insights into how intrinsic or extrinsic rewards effect the level of motivation an employee has to share knowledge. How can a company sustain a high level of motivation?
Clear strategy Further investigation into how a KM strategy can be benchmarked. Insights into effective methods of communication of strategy to the employee.
Quality of KMS Insights into the operation and performance of different KMS in the same context. What are the critical success features for a KMS?

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