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Smart Organizations and the Role of KM: Charting a New Destiny for KM

This is the era of smartness! Everything around us is becoming smart. We have smartphones, smart cars, smart house, smart workplace, smart cities etc; then, why not Smart Organizations? The Gartners and Forresters of the world, who have been rushing to make things smart, somehow ignored smartness in organizations. The digital transformation bandwagon is also largely ignoring this. A quick search in Google with the keyword “Smart Organizations”, will land you with around 90,000 results, which is definitely very low as compared to what you get for other ‘Smart things’. So the question is, can’t organizations be smart? Yes, they can be, but the question is what is smart?

Smartness typically is defined with reference to a ‘point of interest’, with a smartphone being smart because of its ability to provide different kinds of information in a useful way. A home becomes a smart home when it allows appliances and systems to be monitored and managed remotely through IOT. Smartness as a concept has entered organizations in the form of Smart Workplace and Digital Workplace.

Organizations become smart by leveraging technology and the right approach to the way they work. Smart organizations are not a new concept and there are books and articles on it with an attempt to define it. However, we are yet to properly define Smart Organizations clearly.

Sharing two relevant explanations that were found on the internet:

  • Able to adapt to new organizational challenges rapidly, and sufficiently agile to create and exploit knowledge in response to opportunities of the digital age (Filos, 2005)
  • Smart organizations have a clear strategic vision that has been communicated throughout. They have a culture of meritocracy that respects each individual’s ideas and incentive programs that support the vision and culture. (Schafer, 2009)

Based on literature and culling from ‘smartness’ concept, here are suggestions on a few characteristics that smart organizations can have:

  1. Engages machines to perform most of its operational tasks, with humans performing the complex activities.
  2. Provide information and knowledge so that fast and correct actions can be taken by machines and humans.
  3. Ability to constantly learn, adopt that learning and grow fast (basically being agile, flexible and innovative).
  4. Leverage data and be data-driven to build insights

Why is Knowledge management important?

Organizations become smart because of the way they perform their tasks and improve upon on it regularly. Underlying this ability to work smartly, is the ability to leverage knowledge. Some of the key contributions of KM towards making organizations smart:

  • Bringing down complexity in the way tasks are performed by enabling learning and embedding those learning – Lessons learned and Standardization
  • Enabling automation through continuous improvement – Embedding knowledge
  • Mapping and ensuring all relevant knowledge is easily available for employees (both from internal and external sources) – Content management
  • Supplying/pushing actionable knowledge to employees based on the context of their work – Knowledge sharing, community building

Do note that most of the operational tasks related to KM like Knowledge sharing, Content management will be taken over by machines in a short time and KM as a function itself will start working smartly.

Smart organizations are not very far away. Organizations are in for a big change in the way they work in the next few years. Initial indicators are already there with concepts like Industry 4.0, Digital workplace, Smart workplace, Virtual Assistants, Data-driven. With emerging technologies related to Artificial Intelligence like machine learning, deep learning, analytics, NLP, augmented reality, virtual reality and IOT getting applied to work and the way it is done, organizations will be able to work in an intelligent manner, with a higher level of adaptability to changes in the market, agility and flexibility. Organizations will be able to be more ‘Organic’ in the way they work and stay out of the bureaucratic way of working, into which they get entangled naturally.

So the question is, Is your organization smart?


Erastos Filos; Smart Organizations in the Digital Age; 2006;

Mark A. Schafer; Organizational IQ: Characteristics Common to Smart Organizations and Applicability to the U.S. Military; 2009;

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