Social Networks And Knowledge Management In Banking


Social media is one of the current hot topics in the business world. Furthermore most people are a consumer of this phenomenon one way or another. Nevertheless, the set of technologies that underpins this concept provide further possibilities and go beyond the widely known and used online communities such as Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, etc. With this regard, increasingly more firms are realizing the possibilities of these tools and are trying to harness its full potential accordingly.

The social media universe is vast and provides solutions for many organizational challenges. Marketing for example, is one field that is greatly benefiting from an array of new ways to communicate with customers.

Knowledge management is another subject identified where it is believed these technologies can provide a great leap forward. This is a field that organizations have struggled to master as there are a number of social-cultural barriers above technology hard to break.

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Therefore, the primary goal of this research is to deepen the knowledge on the use of these technologies for organizational purposes such as the creation, gathering and share of knowledge as well as on the issues firms face when implementing knowledge management initiatives. This will cover, what can be achieved by using these solutions and an actionable plan to implement them overcoming the likely pitfalls and barriers.

Businesses need to measure the success of these initiatives. There is no clear answer to this as different measures and frameworks are currently being used. It has been argued that it might be impossible to quantify financially the intangible value created by IT (Kaplan & Norton 2004) but some guidelines are required to justify its use against costs associated.

The banking sector in the UK is the industry context for this piece of research. There are two reasons supporting this choice. On the one hand, the importance of this sector for the UK economy and the high number of knowledge workers present on this industry. On the other hand, my professional expertise resides in helping financial institutions overcome challenges to fully harness technologies being used in the industry.

Hence based on the goals and motivations outlined, the set of research questions and objectives are as follows:

What can new collaborative tools bring to financial institutions? The importance of creating, locating, gathering and sharing knowledge for these organizations and how the array of collaborative tools available can help companies achieve it

What are the cultural challenges to embrace these technologies? Main cultural barriers to implement these technologies. Review the support required from managers to make this work. Provide an actionable plan and recommendations to overcome pitfalls and get these initiatives right

Is it possible to quantify financial benefits from these initiatives? To what extent this can be quantifiable and the level of justification required for firms with this regard


The philosophy for this research is going to be in line with the realism strand, being a mixture of positivist and interpretivist principles when used for business and management research (Saunders 2000). Given the nature of this research, there will probably not be a magic formula that can be applied for every situation. Therefore it is important in this instance to understand the specific details and context of different cases. I recognise the risk of this approach is the difficulty to generate a universal theory or generalization but the purpose is aimed to find out a common reality working behind the different circumstances.

The initial idea was to develop a theory as data was gathered and analysed, ultimately leading to a set of recommendations. Nonetheless, given the time constraints of the research and in order to focus from the outset, a deductive approach is being used which is outlined below.

Classic models for knowledge management have not been successful since there are a number of pitfalls - social-cultural and technological - that companies must overcome. What can social media tools bring to this field? Do these tools suffice to break the existing barriers? Is there enough support in firms towards these measures? The research hypothesis holds that albeit previous technologies did not help the development of knowledge management initiatives and Web 2.0 tools can provide a new edge, technology is not the only answer. Should organizations want to seize these initiatives they first need to remove power, political and cultural issues from knowledge processes.

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Allied with above choices a number of research strategies will be utilized namely surveys, structured interviews and building theory. The study will be cross-sectional as the social media phenomenon for knowledge management purposes will be studied at a particular time.

Primary Data

The collection of primary data will be based on semi-structured interviews and surveys. Interviews will be used to study particular cases and deepen knowledge of barriers and challenges faced and imposed by managers. On the contrary, surveys will be aimed to collect generic data on employees' attitude and experiences on social media and knowledge management initiatives. Another approach can entail focus groups to complement and cross-check employees' views with survey results.

In order to experience the collaborative power of social networks some data will be collected by making use of them. The idea is to post threads on knowledge management and web 2.0 in places where professionals gather to discuss strategic issues online i.e. LinkedIn.

It will be interesting as well to explore the attitude and existing awareness of the likely managers in the years to come - MBA cohorts. This targets the perspective of future managers from the so-called generation Y - digital natives - to see if they are aware of the possibilities Web 2.0 tools can bring.

Secondary Data

Use of secondary data will encompass an extensive literature review on knowledge management, social networks, organizational behaviour and strategy. Given the richness of the research theme, I will draw on different subjects from the MBA course such as Information Management, Organization Behaviour, Strategy and Finance.

Literature Review

The literature review starts with the book "Enterprise 2.0" by Andrew McAfee a reference book on social media tools for collaborative purposes. From that starting point, bibliography references in the book and articles published in leading thought publications - HBR, McKinsey quarterly, etc. - will be reviewed along with some case studies. Specialized blogs and websites on social media will be part of the study as well.

Knowledge management is a vast topic and there are many books available in the market. "Knowledge Management in organizations" by Donald Hislop presents an orderly introduction to this subject with many references to leading articles and authors. This will be consulted allied with specific material on this field about the banking industry available in specialized journals.

Throughout the document it will be emphasize that knowledge is vital for any organization and as such its impact on organizations needs to be reviewed. It will be of importance to draw relationships between learning organizations and competitive advantages in line with the resource based view theory of strategy.

Finally, in regards to how companies can quantify the value generated through IT, works on valuation on intangibles and the different frameworks used by different companies to assess success on social media will be looked through.


The acknowledgement of risks upfront is another important part of the research design. This is done to facilitate overcome these issues if they were to appear.

Firstly, data collection can be hindered by inability to access people within banks to discuss the research key questions. This is being mitigated by a number of informal contacts carried out before the actual research starts to measure feasibility and people's willingness to provide information.

Secondly, the research findings need to be credible. There is a tendency on social networks books and papers to be either overoptimistic or too pessimistic hence the difficulty to find balance views and arguments. Research findings will have to be based on the proper analysis of data and the validity and reliability of data collected. Furthermore, I need to be aware that technology may not just be the only solution as there are other barriers with a bigger impact hence the benefits of social media tools are not overemphasized.

Lastly, the study must be explanatory to have relevance. The research is being designed to avoid a descriptive outcome and to provide an explanatory study with solid recommendations and conclusions for the specific contexts researched. The choice of a deductive approach for the research will facilitate me this task at the expense of losing flexibility and adding data gathering biases such as anchoring and confirmation.

Literature Review

Knowledge Management

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The importance of knowledge is undeniable and it is widely acknowledged in management literature. A number of renowned authors in management namely Drucker, Bell, Arrow, Reich or Winter affirm that we are living in an Information Age where knowledge has become the organization's principal asset (Spender & Scherer 2007, p.6). Moreover, systematic knowledge management has been linked with gaining and sustaining competitive advantage (Bogner & Bansal 2007, pp.165-6).

Accordingly to the above factors the academic interest on the subject has increased dramatically in the last decade. This can be seen in the vast number of articles exploring the topic of knowledge management. Furthermore, conferences and journals specialized in learning and knowledge has arisen - i.e. Annual European Conference on Knowledge Management, Journal of Knowledge Management and Knowledge Management: Research and Practice.

This trend has been reflected as well in the amount of initiatives organizations around the world have been implementing in order to capture and share knowledge. A series of surveys carried out by KPMG between 1998 and 2003 underscore an ever increasing importance of these measures amongst the top 500 companies in Europe which can be clearly seen in the following key findings (KPMG 2003, p.8).

80% of correspondents recognise knowledge as a strategic asset and 51% indicate board involvement is increasing

78% of companies believe they are missing important opportunities by unsuccessfully avail knowledge. This was estimated as 6% revenue being missed

Overall the firms surveyed report the cost of KM is relatively low and it is an investment with a positive return. It brings financial and non-financial benefits such as quality improvement, increased teamwork and better decision making to name a few albeit 64% report ROI is unknown

A number of key assumptions underpin the majority of the knowledge management literature which need to be presented. The realization of knowledge at the end of the twentieth century as a key asset for organizations and a primary source of competitive advantage are two assumptions already introduced. There is another premise relating to the fact that the nature of work has changed significantly, with the importance of intellectual work increasing significantly (Hislop 2009, p.3).

//Post-industrial society concept + Post-industrial society critique

There are different perspectives on knowledge and knowledge management that can be found in academic literature. One of the key distinctions in the knowledge management literature relates to Epistemology - Philosophy addressing the nature of knowledge. It is concerned with questions such as: is knowledge objective and measurable? Can knowledge be acquired or is it experienced? What is regarded as valid knowledge, and why? (Hislop 2009, p.16) - being the objectivist perspective and the practice-based perspective the most relevant.

Objectivist Epistemology

The term objectivist is used as opposed to other terms used by other writers (see Table 1 below) since it includes two of this strand fundamental assumptions: much organizational knowledge is considered objective in character and that such knowledge can be separated from people and be codified as explicit knowledge. The character of knowledge under this epistemology is based on the following points: (Hislop 2009, p.19)

Knowledge is an entity or object

Based on a positivistic philosophy: knowledge considered objective facts

Explicit knowledge (objective) is favoured over tacit knowledge (subjective)

Knowledge is a cognitive process

Sharing of knowledge from an objectivist perspective is represented by the transmitter/receiver model. This model entails the transfer of explicit, codified knowledge from an isolated sender, to a separate receiver. Using the posting of a letter as an analogy of knowledge sharing is thus appropriate (Hislop 2009, p.26).

In terms of knowledge management processes, the starting point is what (Nonaka & Takeuchi 1995) call externalization - process of codifying knowledge, converting tacit to explicit knowledge. It is acknowledge that much organization knowledge may be tacit, but under this perspective it is believed that it is possible to convert much of this knowledge to an explicit form. Therefore technology plays a key role in the collection and storage of knowledge in central repositories (Hislop 2009, p.27).

Practice-Based Epistemology

This perspective highlights the extent to which knowledge it is embedded and inseparable from work activities or practices rather than interpret it as a codifiable entity (Hislop 2009, p.33). This school was labelled as 'epistemology of practice' because of the centrality of human activity to its idea of knowledge by (Cook & Brown 1999). This stream

Differing Views

//Nonaka and the emphasis that needs to be put into tacit knowledge

//KM discourses based on Schultze and Stabell 2x2 matrix (Schultze & Stabell 2004): New variable added which refers to the extent to which existing social relations are regarded as consensual and unproblematic (Hislop 2009, p.9). // Important insight from this framework is the fact in which most literature ignores the issues of conflict, power and disagreement as the consensus-based perspective on social order predominates. // Knowledge based view of the firm dominant theory which adopts the objectivist perspective on knowledge

Types of Knowledge

Pages 23-24 from Knowledge Management in organizations by Donald Hislop

Competitive Advantages // IT and HRM implications

Barriers and Roadmap

Banking Context

Knowledge Management Tools

Model 1 versus Model 2

Enterprise 2.0 Collaborative Tools

Barriers and Roadmap

Intangible Valuation






Knowledge worker

Online communities

Generation Y