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One sure source of a lasting competitive advantage among businesses and organisations is knowledge, most especially in an economy where the only certainty is uncertainty (Nonaka, 1991; Sharratt and Usoro, 2003 and Martinez-Canas et al 2011). In the same perspective, Alvis and Hartmann (2008) recognize knowledge as a key source of competitive advantage. However, Dasgupta and Gupta (2007); Sandhawalia and Dalcher (2011) argue that it is not the existing knowledge in a firm that is the source of competitive advantage, but rather the ability to apply that knowledge effectively to create new knowledge. Similarly, Alavi and Leidner (2001) are of the opinion that the right combination and application of knowledge generates the desired outcome of knowledge. Knowledge of the market environment, product/brands or the targeted customers is required for an organisation to succeed. There has been a growing discussion on the importance of knowledge management within the society (Nonaka, 1991 and Martensson, 2000). For an organisation to take the lead and maintain a competitive edge, it has to effectively manage, develop, retain and utilize its employees' knowledge capabilities (Rowley, 1999 and Martensson, 2000).
Organisations are gradually recognizing that technology based competitive advantages are temporary, and the only sustainable competitive advantages they have are their employees (Martensson, 2010; Sandhawalia and Dalcher 2011). Dimattia and Oder (1997) as cited in Martensson (2000) argue that downsizing and technological development are the two main fundamental shift responsible for the growth in the field of knowledge management. This is supported by Delen and Al-Hawamdeh (2009) who are also of the opinion that the increasing interest in knowledge discovery, transfer and management can be credited to factors which include technological advancement (Chen et al, 2010), anticipated significant loss in the workforce; as some employees get to the retirement age and the necessity for an organisation to effectively utilize their intellectual capital to stay ahead of the competition. Lack of ability to capture and integrate information residing in diverse source, some which are internal and external to the organisation are some of the major problems that organisation faces today (Delen and Al-Hawamdeh, 2009).
Previous studies have examined knowledge acquisition among SMEs in countries such as Japan, UK, India and China (Anthony et al, 2001; Gils and Zwart, 2004; Chawla and Joshi, 2011), but a few in Africa and even fewer published article in Nigeria. This research places special emphasises on investigating the barriers to IT-based knowledge acquisition among SMEs in Nigeria.
Knowledge acquisition in SMEs is an important aspect to be studied as SMEs are considered backbone of many economies around the world (Apulu and Latham, 2009), and also possess great flexibility to adapt to changes due to their size (Cantu et al, 2009)
Research Aim and objectives
The aim of this thesis is to investigate the barriers to IT-based knowledge acquisition in Nigerian SMEs. The Objectives to help carry out this aim is as follows:
To identify the factors limiting IT based knowledge acquisition in Nigerian SMEs
To understand the importance of IT in knowledge acquisition in Nigerian SMEs
What is Knowledge management?
Knowledge is an unquantifiable resource that can be located in the mind of the owner (Sharrat and Usoro, 2003). Knowledge that is not used in the right context is just mere information (Davenport et al, 1998) on the other hand, information develops into knowledge if it is interpreted properly and given the right context (Nonaka et al, 2000). Botha (2003) described knowledge management as a management operation that creates and manages the flow of knowledge within an organisation to ensure that knowledge is efficiently and effectively used for both the short term and long term of an organisation. In the same perspective, Rowley (1999, pp. 418) describe knowledge management as the exploitation and development of knowledge assets of an organisation with a view of furthering organisation objectives. Similarly, Dasgupta and Gupta (2007, pp. 208) define knowledge management as a system that promotes collaboration, environment for capturing and sharing existing knowledge, creates opportunities to generate new knowledge and provides the tools and approaches needed to apply what the organisation knows and its effort to meet its strategic goals. An organisation needs to identify the most valuable knowledge among the employees and create ways to increase and manage it. For any organisation to succeed in managing knowledge, knowledge generation, codification and transfer has to be a major aspect for the organisation.
Knowledge generation refers to organisational procedures to increase the knowledge stock of the organisation (Davenport and Prusak, 1998). Knowledge generation consist of acquisition, fusion, adaptation, dedication and building knowledge networks (Choo, 2002). These ranges from hiring individuals with valuable knowledge, dedicating resources for knowledge acquisition, adapting to changing environment condition and finally locating people who share the same work interest in and outside the organisation which also link with 'hiring individuals with valuable knowledge' as stated above.
Knowledge codification generally involves locating someone with the required knowledge and also finding someone who is interested in what knowledge the codifier has (Choo, 2002). This can be seen in some organisations in Nigeria tagged 'mentor' and 'mentee' program.
Knowledge transfer is mostly done in an unstructured manner which is majorly achieved via personal conversation with colleagues and friends (Cantu et al, 2009). Places such as coffee stations, talk rooms, knowledge fairs and bars have become a place for knowledge sharing and transfer (Choo, 2002)
One of the ways to minimize knowledge loss is to enhance knowledge capture and re use within the organisation.
Types of Knowledge
Nonaka (1991) identified two types of knowledge, namely 'tacit' and 'explicit' knowledge. Tacit knowledge is seen as a type of knowledge that is hard to formalize and therefore difficult to communicate to others. Similarly, Armstrong and Mahmud (2008) described tacit knowledge as a result of learning from experience that affects performance in real-world settings. However, Joina and Lemos (2010) argue that before tacit knowledge will be an effective source of competitive advantage, it must be shared and transferable within an organisation, While explicit knowledge is seen as formal and systematic, therefore, it can be easily communicated, learned and shared with others (Rowley (1999); Joia and Lemos (2010) and Martinez-Canas et al, 2011). There are four basic principles of knowledge creation in any organisation, which are 'tacit to tacit, explicit to explicit, tacit to explicit and explicit to tacit' (Nonaka, 1991). Which can be further categorized as 'socialization', 'externalization', 'combination' and 'internalization' (Joia and Lemos, 2010). With these being said, it brings up to what knowledge acquisition is.
What is Knowledge Acquisition?
Knowledge acquisition is an aspect of knowledge management which consist of buying another organisation, hiring individuals and leasing external knowledge (Joia and Lemos, 2010). One significant challenge in knowledge management is how to effectively and efficiently acquire the required information (Nemani, 2010). Knowledge acquisition is the process of extracting relevant knowledge from experts and organizing this knowledge into a readable form for everyone who has access to it to understand (Feliciano, 2007). Tacit knowledge can be acquired via imitation, practices and observation. This then leads us to the concept of how knowledge is acquired.
How is knowledge acquired?
Through collaboration and social process, knowledge is created, acquired, maintain and shared in an organisation (Alavi and Leidner, 2001). Joia and Lemos (2010), propose two procedures in knowledge acquisition, which are the conversion of tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge and the transfer of knowledge from the individual level to the group, organisational and inter-organisational levels. Knowledge can be acquired in different ways. Knowledge is acquired through interactions from both tacit and explicit knowledge and not from either tacit or explicit alone (Alwis and Hartmann, 2008). This can be seen in what Nonaka (1991, pp. 98) termed 'the spiral of knowledge' which are 'tacit-to-tacit', 'tacit-to-explicit', 'explicit-to-explicit' and 'explicit-to-tacit'.
How is it managed?
IT-based knowledge management
Information technology has transformed the world tremendously in recent years with new ideas and innovations springing out constantly (Dasgupta and Gupta, 2007). If information technology is used and managed properly by an organisation, it may increase productivity, quality, improve the communication link between customers and suppliers and also help managed the overall workflow of an organisation.
Barriers to IT-based knowledge management in Nigeria
Despite all the talk about 'brainpower' and 'intellectual capital' (REF) few managers understands the idea of knowledge-creating company let alone know how to manage it (Nonaka, 1991)
Merits and Demerit of knowledge management in Nigeria
Knowledge acquisition in Nigeria SMEs
The main aim of this research is to investigate the barriers to IT based knowledge acquisition in Nigerian SMEs. Therefore, the researcher will adopt a mixed method approach to help achieve the aim and objectives of this thesis (Saunders et al, 2009). The mixed method consists of both qualitative and quantitative by adopting questionnaire and the interview method. SPSS will be used to analyse and interpret the data (Saunders et al, 2008; 2009).
While it is important to consider ethical issues when carrying out a research, so as to avoid legal implications or infringing on other's privacy, the researcher shall seek permission from the individuals or organisations as the case may be before approaching them for information, they shall be given opportunity to opt out if they wish and also where necessary, opportunity to claim anonymity if and when needed (Creswell, 2003).