Organizations compete on the basis of resources which are rare, difficult to imitate and difficult to substitute. Knowledge present in an organization has always had the potential to be such a resource supporting an organization's sustainable competitive advantage. So has a cultural macro-environment on the outside of an organization which allows the organization to recruit highly trained staff and to make use of existing educational facilities and high quality communication. While the introduction of information technology served to accentuate knowledge-based advantages of organizations which knew how to optimize the fit of IT to their strategies, it is the advent of web-based connectivity which positions the management of organizational knowledge center-stage. Essentially, this is so because the mentioned advantages from favorable knowledge-intensive locations tend to be reduced by web-based connectivity. Locations become virtual, such as when an organization decides in favor of joining a portal, or decides against some web-based business model. Whereas formerly the organization chose a geographical location (and a cognitive location in the minds of customers thru brand identity), now the organization is faced with the need to adjust its virtual location flexibly so as not to suffer from disintermediation.
As a consequence, the organization of collaboration undergoes changes from the need to reduce time to market where business models are to be defended. To be able to set up an online shop of a new product line within a few weeks of the appearance of a competitor market entrant with this product line requires people's flexible availability, and requires the instantaneous constitution of teams functioning as task forces. Traditional models of project management, with their typical time horizons in the order of 6 to 12 months, are out of place here. Members of these task forces have to sacrifice the safe and secure framework of a project Gantt chart to the naked goal-orientation communicated by or negotiated with management. The challenge to the mental availability of people is considerable. So is the challenge to HRM in this context. There are limits to the integration of knowledge work into ERP-style best practice solutions integrating HRM, production, and this kind of knowledge work. There is a need for a culture of knowledge-sharing and a requirement for HRM to produce incentive designs that do not undermine the exchange of knowledge between people.
The focus on people, however, never is the only focus. Knowledge can be in people, as brainware, but it can also be embedded in hardware, i.e. in the way machines are installed, or in the way their use is outsourced. Knowledge can be in the software, with the organization either drawing a competitive advantage from self-produced programs or from a unique use of applications provided by the market. Knowledge can be in the orgware, the division of labor and the collaborative practices reversing this division, as in concurrent engineering designing products and processes simultaneously, with competitive advantages from different professions bridging informational divides.
The authors of this volume have each looked into one organization, researching the way knowledge is shared by the members of the organization and how the members of the organization take up the knowledge present in the organization and develop it further to achieve the agreed goals of their organization while at the same time profiting as organizational members from a personal accumulation of knowledge and competencies. The examples researched reach from organizational learning during an international merger of two manufacturing companies to several traditional charitable non-profit organizations being faced with the need to react to deregulating landscapes, conflicting value systems, and high demands on quality control. The contributions to the volume are in German, with summaries in English included in the English introduction given by the editor.