By Corey Brown
Understanding the distinction between document management and knowledge management is vital to operational excellence. Although the terms can sometimes be used interchangeably, understanding their differences couldn’t be more relevant to the shifting industrial workforce.
What is document management?
Document management systems provide essential records and archives for explicit company information. In other words, these systems are information and data management tools that track and store a wide variety of documents. Like digital file cabinets, the content of these file systems is broad and contain current and archived versions.
As a result, document management systems act as comprehensive data storage and shared-file systems. In a compliance context, they are most commonly used for ISO certification, OSHA, or FDA compliance, and assume that the worker already knows which document will address their needs or has the background knowledge to navigate the system.
Personnel who interact with these systems the most are quality control managers, auditors, and HR representatives. Frontline employees looking to solve a real-time problem likely won’t benefit from these tools because they aren’t designed to retrieve information quickly.
What is knowledge management?
An effective knowledge management strategy not only stores and organizes documents, but it also focuses on the distribution and discovery of information relevant to any role. It is a discipline that allows employees to perform better work and solve problems through access to organizational knowledge.
A knowledge management strategy provides a variety of tools and resources to help employees find information and share knowledge. Unlike document management, there are many approaches and technologies that can assist in the capture, organization, and transfer of knowledge.
Knowledge management also encompasses two distinct categories:
- Explicit knowledge, which includes core process, standard operating procedures, and records that are easy to write down and document; these are commonly associated with document management systems.
- Implicit (tacit) knowledge, which is the informal know-how and experience of your workforce. Knowledge such as troubleshooting techniques and undocumented process improvements are more difficult to capture but far more valuable for operational excellence.
Knowledge management is about making use of both experience and information to create insight, solve problems, and continuously improve. These assets are then distributed across the frontline workforce.
Without proper management, companies will be reliant on the expertise of a few individuals rather than leveraging the entirety of their workforce. Knowledge management strategies create real-time benefits by supporting both employee performance and operational excellence.
What this means for manufacturers
As manufacturers face mass retirements in the workforce, they need to evolve beyond document management and implement an effective knowledge management strategy.
Companies are currently failing to capture the knowledge and expertise of their workforce while being hit with a wave of retirements, also known as the “silver tsunami.” A recent survey found that 57 percent of baby boomers have shared less than half of the knowledge needed to perform their jobs when they retire.
Prioritizing knowledge management is essential for manufacturers to survive current industry challenges by bridging the skills gap and transferring vital information to the next generation. Learning to capture and leverage the expertise of your workforce will not only enable you to survive this generational transition, but also improve quality, reduce waste, and boost employee performance.
About the author
Corey Brown is the lead researcher and editor for manufacturing resources on Dozuki.com. With a background in engineering and technical communication, Corey specializes in quality management, standard work, and lean manufacturing.