Knowledge management in its most basic format is the exchange of information. But within that exchange are two distinct, but deeply connected, approaches: supply side and demand side knowledge management. Traditionally, the corporate or professional structure has operated under the supply side, but today, with the shift in workforce demographics, the growth of knowledge management tools, and a greater emphasis being placed on innovation and collaboration, organizations have begun to incorporate demand-side knowledge management into the structure as well. This next generation approach to knowledge management thrives on the balance between supply and demand, rather than prioritizing one over the other.
Supply-side knowledge management very closely parallels the traditional corporate structure. It consists of ensuring that the necessary knowledge is supplied to the right people when needed, and relies on a top-down method of information dissemination. One of the reasons that supply-side knowledge management is so prevalent is that it has methodologies devoted to it, if not so much in name, then in practice. Supply-side knowledge management is well-suited to the practices of academic inquiry and information dissemination, and as a result the idea that knowledge must come from an authoritative source at the top to be shared down the ladder naturally has a strong grip within organizations. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach to knowledge sharing and management, but in today’s professional setting, more and more organizations are working to create a culture of collaboration, which is a foundational aspect of demand-side knowledge sharing.
Demand-side knowledge management, while not necessarily the opposite of supply-side, has characteristics that fill in some of the knowledge sharing gaps that exist in the more traditional structures. The approach values the creation of new knowledge and the growth of that knowledge from the bottom up. It prizes collaboration and innovation. It is more reflective of the socially-oriented society that has taken root with a younger generational workforce. Where a supply-side approach might place high value on something akin to the “lone intellectual,” the demand-side approach finds equal importance in the ability to collaborate and combine and share knowledge to create innovative solutions.
Striking a Balance
A key strength of finding a balance between supply- and demand-side knowledge sharing is that organizations can use the collaborative facets of demand-side sharing to anticipate informational needs. Because supply-side knowledge sharing focuses more on the capture and dissemination of existing information, it can be easy to overlook the need for creating new knowledge. A component of creating new knowledge is anticipating the needs of those who will ultimately be supplied with the information. In professional settings, anticipating needs and understanding the flow of shared knowledge can lead to a more flexible, action-oriented organization.
Ultimately, there is no need to say that one approach is superior to the other. There will always be a need for subject matter experts, and management teams must be able to supply the necessary information at the right times. With this, however, is also a need for a diversification of problem solving and knowledge creation methodology built on collaborative tenets. Finding a balance within any organization is the key to the new generation of knowledge management.