The professionalization of knowledge Management

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Betsy Van der Veer Martens, Ph.D. and SULIMAN HAWAMDEH, Ph.D.

Knowledge Management Program

School of Library and Information Studies

University of Oklahoma

Schusterman Center, 4502 E. 41st St.

Tulsa, Oklahoma 74135


Although knowledge management is becoming increasingly recognized as a critical component in the operations of both public-sector and private-sector organizations, it has yet to attain the true status of a recognized profession for information and knowledge professionals. In order to determine the emerging boundaries of this potential profession, the authors analyze the roles and responsibilities outlined in descriptions of knowledge management job advertisements. Empirical data concerning the organizations recruiting, the location of position, the qualifications needed, and the position’s role and responsibilities were gathered from 1200 job postings within the United States over the course of 12 months. The content analysis of the job postings and job description are used to identify potential areas specific and significant to knowledge management as an emerging profession. Further suggestions as to potential indicators of the professionalization of knowledge management are offered.

KEYWORDS: content analysis, employment, information and knowledge professionals, job skills, knowledge management, professionalization, professions


The emergence of the global information-rich economy, termed the knowledge economy, can now be considered essentially complete. The ability to create, disseminate, and apply knowledge efficiently is deemed essential to competitiveness at both firm and national levels (Roberts, 2001). Seminal work by Machlup (1962), Bell (1973), and Porat (1977) in identifying the various sectors of the knowledge economy led to the next four decades of scholarly attention to its different aspects, and economists are well aware that this aggregated knowledge has immediate and long-term global impact, both positive and negative (Andersen, Bollerslev, Diebold, & Vega, 2007). As information has become the key driver in the world economy, the creation and management of knowledge remains the new frontier of corporate endeavor (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995).

The borders of organizations in today’s global economy have become porous as a result of dissolving hierarchical structures and the adoption of open systems of horizontal communication (Montgomery & Oliver, 2007). Open systems permit people to communicate both inside and outside the organization, share their knowledge, and expand their knowledge into a variety of fields (Mack, Ravin, & Byrd, 2001). Open system organizations encourage people to increase their overall expertise and to specialize in innovative areas. They also provoke important new ethical questions regarding privacy and property rights in this sharing of knowledge within organizations (Baskerville & Dulipovics, 2006). Thomas, Kellogg & Erikson (2001) refer to this as the “knowledge community” in which people can discover, use, and manipulate knowledge. This chapter will explore the ongoing development of knowledge professionals within the corporate sector of the global knowledge community. It is intended to be useful both to the aspiring knowledge management professional and to those hiring firms planning to make use of knowledge management competencies to help achieve their organizational goals.


The importance of knowledge for the performance of professional work, decision making, and maintaining competitiveness has long been recognized and documented in the literature. This acknowledgement, however, has come well ahead of any recognition of formalized ground rules to establish how one can define, or become, a knowledge professional (Cortada, 1998). Despite the considerable academic and professional attention that has been given to knowledge, the term appears to be used differently across domains with each claiming that its partial understanding represents a definitive articulation of the concept. Baskerville and Dulipovici (2006b) provide an excellent overview of the wide variety of theories from different domains that are forming the theoretical foundations of knowledge management. This continues to be the case as we struggle to find consensus on how knowledge roles should be assigned and classified.

A simple delineation would be to view knowledge management as being cross-disciplinary: comprising the IT Track and the People Track of KM as proposed by Sveiby (1996). The first approach focuses on the management of information. Proponents of this view tend to be researchers and practitioners who come from computer and/or information science backgrounds. In this case knowledge management activities comprise the construction of information management systems, artificial intelligence, data mining and other enabling technologies. Accordingly, knowledge can be be treated as objects that can be identified and handled in information systems. This is in line with the understanding that information is an explicit form of knowledge.In the second approach, proponents adopt a people-centered knowledge management perspective, maintaining that knowledge management is about people. These researchers and practitioners tend to come from domains such as philosophy, psychology, sociology, business, and management. They do not believe that knowledge can be captured, codified and separated from the people who possess such knowledge. The core knowledge management activities encompass assessing, changing and improving human individual skills and/or behaviour. It is a complex set of dynamic skills and know-how that is constantly changing. The assumption that information and knowledge can be treated as separate entities and evolve as a distinct profession is viewed as highly problematic.

This differentiation between the two perspectives is largely due to the confusion surrounding the definition and understanding of these terms. Wiig (1999) defines information as facts and data organized to characterize a particular situation, and knowledge as a set of truths and beliefs, perspectives and concepts, judgments and expectations, methodologies and know-how. Davenport and Prusak (1998, page 5) describe knowledge as a fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information, and expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information. A close examination of these definitions indicates a great degree of overlap in the use of the terms information, know-how and knowledge. This is because the terms information and knowledge are so inter-related that one cannot exist without the other (Al-Hawamdeh, 2002). Therefore, any reference to the information domain must include knowledge and vice-versa, making the argument of which comes first irrelevant. While in this chapter we discuss knowledge management as an emerging field, that does not exclude the information domain and does not in anyway replace or supersede the information profession.

Although some have argued that knowledge management is simply a new name for a variety of well-known information management and business management practices (e.g., Vasconcelos, 2007), others point out that the concept of knowledge management has become increasingly attractive to modern organizations precisely because it suggests the ability to address a wide variety of information opportunities and threats in a comprehensive and collaborative fashion (Jashapara, 2005) as they discover, create and utilize their formal and informal knowledge resources (Hansen, Nohria, & Tierney, 1999). Zack (1999) notes further that the efficient and effective management of knowledge-based resources can differentiate one firm from others. Boisot (1998) observes that knowledge-based resources are often difficult to imitate and reproduce, and, because of that, firms that are able to identify and organize these intellectual assets can produce and sustain a long-term competitive advantage. Empirical evidence is now available to support this assertion (Karaszweski, 2008), while theoretical efforts are underway to identify a “missing link” between superior knowledge management performance and an organization’s bottom line (Holsapple & Wu, 208) There appears to be little doubt at this point that knowledge management is a significant, if far from well-understood, set of organizational phenomena and practices (Vorakulpipat & Rezgui, 2008).

Knowledge management is far from simple. Managing knowledge involves an active knowledge process that is mediated, situated, provisional, pragmatic, and contested within a specific organizational context (Blackler, 1995). While information technology can assist in those processes, it cannot replace them (Kumar & Thondikulam, 2005). Self-styled “learning organizations” are becoming increasingly aware that by increasing their ability to support knowledge activities among their employees they will be able to derive more value from these knowledge management initiatives (Thompson & Walsham, 2004). However, it is becoming apparent that knowledge management practices can incur serious risks and even damage to the organization (Alter, 2006). Knowledge management, therefore, is a complex ongoing process, not a singular event (Alavi & Leidner, 2001). A further complication is that, unlike such broad-gauge efforts as the U.S. government’s knowledge management initiatives in federal agencies and departments, in which it is expected that almost all employees will become competent knowledge management participants regardless of their specific duties (McNabb, 2006), the wide range of private-sector organizations means that not all of them are suited for such an inclusive approach to knowledge management, so a more targeted approach towards selecting knowledge management-oriented employees is necessary.

It is now clear also that knowledge management is developing as a separate field with its own concerns rather than simply being an outgrowth of other information-oriented fields such as librarianship (Rowley, 2003), information science (Zhang & Benjamin, 2007), information technology (Andriole, 2006), management (Seers, 2007), or records management (Choksy, 2006). Knowledge management, however, draws from all of these fields, as well as requiring new competencies (Al-Hawamdeh, 2005; Grossman, 2007; Hawamdeh et al., 2004). Although graduate-level knowledge management programs have now been established across the country at such schools as Dominican University, George Mason University, Kent State University, the University of California at Northridge, the University of Oklahoma, and Rochester Institute of Technology, as Sutton (2007) notes, there is no standardized curriculum upon which all these schools agree, and there is no officially recognized association that accredits knowledge management degrees in general.

As there is no single recognized educational credential that qualifies someone for a knowledge management position within a firm, it is especially useful to study a variety of job descriptions to determine what exactly firms are looking for in these positions. This approach has previously been employed successfully in such fields as management information systems (Lee, Trauth & Farwell, 1995) and systems analysis (Lee, 2005). The analysis described below, therefore, assists in the effort to identify the composition and structure of the emerging knowledge management field by first grounding itself in actual job posting requirements.


There have been many attempts to define a set of competencies for information and knowledge professionals, yet emerging trends in the job market and the variety of knowledge management job titles makes it difficult to peg one specific set of skills. In an attempt to provide a baseline for further research on occupational education for knowledge management, this study identified a large, diverse sample of KM-oriented positions over a span of twelve months to collect a broad set of job positions and skills. Specifics of the content analysis methodology employed are fully described in Thompson, Van der Veer Martens, and Hawamdeh (2008).

1200 job postings from 135 organizations in the U.S. were collected from career placement and corporate websites over the course of 12 months. A variaety of industries were represented: however, the dominant industry by far was that of information technology, representing knowledge management’s origins. However, ten other industries were also represented: aerospace, consulting, design, engineering, finance, health care, law, management, manufacturing, and strategy/planning, indicating that knowledge management has now diffused into many other areas.

Knowledge management still does not have a clear set of specific job titles, as it is not a single field of expertise, but rather a combination of essential skills. The job titles for knowledge professionals vary, as some are titled specifically for knowledge workers and some are defined for a particular specialty. The words “knowledge management” are not always indicated in the job title. Because of this, the job title alone was not sufficient enough to identify knowledge management jobs, so a more detailed analysis was undertaken. This variety of titles is a result of the emerging nature of the field. Examples of specific job titles are listed in Table 1.

Table 1 Sample Job Titles Listed in KM Professional Advertisements


Job Titles

Business/ Competitive Intelligence

Business Intelligence Analyst

Competitive Intelligence Manager

Business Development

Business Development Manager

Strategic Development

Client Relationship Management

Client Relationship Manager

CRM Implementation Consultant

Content Management

Content Manager - Senior Consultant

Knowledge Management Content Manager

Data Management

Data Analyst

Database Architect

Document & Records Management

Certified Records Manager

Records Management Coordinator

Information Architectures

Application Architect

Information Architect

Information Security

Security Information Specialist

Security Specialist

Information Systems

Principal Systems Analyst

Systems Implementation Director

Knowledge Management Practices

Knowledge Management Business Analyst

Knowledge Management Specialist

Knowledge Management Processes

Knowledge Engineer
Knowledge Support Systems Manager

Project Management

Global KM Project Manager

Project Information Management

Risk Management

Business Risk Services Manager

Risk Manager


Business Technology Analyst

Systems Engineer

The job titles of knowledge workers reflect a need for professionals with experience, aptitude, and senior level authority. They demonstrate the value and importance organizations place on knowledge professionals. The exact job title varied from company to company, though certain words occurred frequently in a variety of titles. The word “Management” occurred in over 25% of the jobs, which indicates that knowledge professionals are expected to have skills in leadership and communication. Knowledge professionals should also possess broad business skills in analysis, consultancy, and project management. The words “Risk,” “Content,” and “Intelligence” were not extremely common, but their frequency shows a growing trend towards incorporating risk management, content management, and competitive intelligence into knowledge management jobs. The most frequently used terms in KM job titles were as follows:

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