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What is information management vs. knowledge management?

There are some subtle differences between information management and knowledge management -- one focuses on processes while the other focuses on people.

While people often use the terms information management and knowledge management interchangeably, there are differences between the two.

Information management combines business processes, procedures and technology to organize, secure and access an organization's data regardless of format, including digital data, paper documents, and audio and video files.

Knowledge management, on the other hand, uses processes and tools to pass on wisdom and understanding of different subject matters.

Here are some key components of each approach.

Information management

Information consists of data a user has entered into a computer, processed and put into context. For example, a business may enter dates, names, phone numbers, addresses and invoice numbers into a computer and output it as a spreadsheet detailing customer purchases for the month of September. Because this data now has a context -- monthly purchases -- it is information.

Businesses must then manage this information -- the monthly invoice spreadsheet -- using an enterprise content management system (ECM) such as Box, Microsoft SharePoint or Alfresco; a document management system such as Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive; or other legacy systems.

Information consists of data a user has entered into a computer, processed and put into context.

To be able to find this information, documents must be tagged with metadata, keywords detailing what is within the file. For example, if a business stores its monthly invoice spreadsheet within an ECM system, metadata tags might include "invoice," "September invoice" and "customer purchases."

Another facet of information management is that it must be shared. But not all information is available for just anyone to view. An ECM system, for example, provides businesses with security functions to control user access, enabling only predefined people to access to certain files.

By placing information into a content or document management system, business users can search for and access this information whenever they like.

Knowledge management

When information is put into the context of being used for greater understanding of a subject, it becomes knowledge. And that knowledge assists employees in doing their jobs -- oftentimes making them more efficient. It can also benefit customers of an organization.

Knowledge management involves gathering, organizing and sharing knowledge. This knowledge can be in the form of documents, videos and other resources designed to teach people about a specific subject.

This type of information is typically placed within a knowledge base -- a type of content management system that provides access to short-form content that is more easily digestible than what is typically found in ECM systems.

There are numerous software applications on the market that enable businesses to create knowledge bases, including knowledge management software such as Zendesk and CRM packages such as Salesforce. However, there are also many organizations that choose to create knowledge bases within WordPress.

Knowledge bases can be both customer- and employee-facing. Customer-facing or public knowledge bases typically provide answers to questions, such as:

  • How do I reset my password?
  • What are your business hours?
  • What is your pricing schedule?
  • How do I contact your business?

Employee-facing knowledge bases go a step further. Here, employees may also find training documents and resources for business processes and equipment, and user manuals to help customers troubleshoot products and services.

These internal knowledge bases often provide both explicit and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is easy to write down and share. This includes items such as user manuals, white papers and research reports.

Tacit knowledge is experiential knowledge that provides additional insights a person may not gain from explicit knowledge alone. For example, a knowledge base may contain an employee training document about how to generate sales leads -- explicit knowledge. Within the document, there may be some tips on how to identify when a prospect is ready to hear a sales pitch -- tacit knowledge.

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