What is knowledge transfer (KT), and how does it relate to an organization? Why should a business such as a management consulting firm be concerned with it? Quinn (1992) maintains that most successful firms today can be considered "intelligent enterprises" because they transform intellectual assets from human input into product and service outputs. In both the service and manufacturing industries, most of the processes that contribute value to these outputs develop from knowledge-based activities (especially KT). Although KT is necessary for all organizations, it is especially critical for the functioning of a management consulting firm, because knowledge is the cornerstone of the services such a firm offers its clients.
Porter's (1985) work on organizational competitive advantage relates to this line of reasoning. He identified three general strategies for a company to establish an edge over its competitors in the marketplace:
* cost--providing products and/or services at the lowest price in the industry;
* differentiation--providing products and/or services uniquely related to a particular attribute (or multiple attributes) that customers value, which enables the firm to receive a premium dollar amount from its customers; and
* focus--meeting the needs of a select industry segment while omitting other segments.
A firm's competitive advantage comes from the value it can develop for its customers--value that emanates from the knowledge of its employees. As Tobin (1998) pointed out, employee knowledge is really what helps distinguish a firm from its competitors. Used via Porter's strategies, it determines a firm's competitive edge. This is especially true for a consulting firm, because its sustained success depends on the solutions its consultants provide to their clients. More specifically, its sustained success is driven by the knowledge of its consultants, which is used to develop and deliver the service solutions to its clients. In discussing knowledge as well as how it is managed and transferred, we shall offer a case example of a consulting firm that relies on KT as an integral part of its functioning. In doing so, we aim to provide a starting point for addressing future issues related to KT, such as research and the refinement of consulting services.
A number of philosophers, researchers, and practitioners have attempted to define the concept of knowledge. Polanyi (1966) believed that knowledge, or the process of knowing, is personal and related to the individual. It can be viewed as a type of "intellectual capital" that has the ability to change how individuals and organizations view and create the world around them. Quinn, Anderson, and Finkelstein (1996) believe that the "intellect of an organization, in order of increasing importance, includes: (a) know what, (b) know how, (c) know why, and (d) care why." Liang (1994) has identified knowledge as one of four entities in a theoretical model of information processing. A data element is the most basic entity, because it "conveys only a single value and is indivisible."
Information is relevant data organized into a single message. Knowledge is created by combining related pieces of information over a period of time. Wisdom is...