The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

Exploring and Exploiting Knowledge. Research on Knowledge Processes in Knowledge-Intensive Organizations

Eerikki Mäki

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Science in Technology to be presented with due permission of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management for public examination and debate in Auditorium TU2 at Helsinki University of Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 10th of January, 2008, at 12 noon.

Dissertation in PDF format (ISBN 978-951-22-9116-8)   [1948 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 978-951-22-9115-1)


Knowledge, and how it is utilized, is the most important source of competitive advantage for a growing number of companies and organizations. Knowledge workers predominantly work from knowledge, with knowledge, and for knowledge. This study explores how employees in knowledge-intensive organizations actually utilize information and knowledge. The study has three research questions: 1) How do employees in knowledge-intensive organizations operate with information and knowledge? 2) How are organizational practices and technological tools related to the flow of information and knowledge? 3) How do different knowledge processes generate a knowledge flow? Based on the literature and a pilot study, a model of knowledge processes constituting a knowledge flow is used for focusing the research.

The empirical research consists of four case studies where altogether 68 interviews were conducted. Additional data includes case-specific company documents (e.g., process and organizational charts) and open-ended survey questionnaires. The studied cases represent knowledge work, where information and knowledge are the main inputs and outcomes of the work. The studied companies produced complex knowledge-based products or services. The work involved combining dispersed and fragmented knowledge and expertise in order to reach the desired outcome. The data were analyzed by applying theory-based reasoning and using content analysis for examining the interview transcriptions.

Value is added to knowledge by exploration and exploitation. While such operations as storing and transferring knowledge do not add value to knowledge as such, they are important for making knowledge available to those members of an organization who need it. Results show that knowledge work is complex, and several challenges can be encountered when operating with information and knowledge. Knowledge processes that connect dispersed knowledge and make knowledge available to the members of an organization are highly interlinked. The studied organizations operated with many types of knowledge (e.g., embodied and encoded knowledge), which needed to be managed differently. All the studied organizations had recognized the importance and value of encoded information and knowledge in making knowledge collectively available. Based on this, the studied companies tried to increase the amount and quality of codified knowledge. This aimed at improving the availability and reuse of information and knowledge. Related to that, the studied organizations aimed at more routinized and formalized processes for managing knowledge. Even though a technology-based approach for managing encoded knowledge can be seen easier than a human interaction-based approach, the studied companies had several problems in managing encoded information and knowledge. The problems were not usually related to technology itself, but to how it was used and applied in the organizations.

Modern IT applications have not been able to replace the quality, or need, of face-to-face interaction in collaborative knowledge work. Compatible skills and knowledge, and the ability to interact with other employees were important in knowledge exploration and exploitation. Members of an organization learn skills for interaction through collective efforts. In a new context, and with new collaborative partners, knowledge workers may lack compatible skills and knowledge for successful knowledge exploration and exploitation. This study contributes to our understanding of knowledge work and helps to analyze and explain how organizations can manage information and knowledge.

Keywords: knowledge processes, knowledge flow, knowledge exploitation and exploration, knowledge-intensive organizations

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© 2008 Helsinki University of Technology

Last update 2011-05-26