Introducing Organizational Knowledge in ISO 9001:2015

ISO 9001: 2015, scheduled to be published by the end of the year will introduce the term ‘organizational knowledge’ as a requirement. When I first read about it here, I was in two minds. I wondered; should I get excited at the prospect of the discipline being embedded in a standard followed by thousands of organizations around the world or should I become concerned that it would get engulfed in the complicated world of compliance.

Thanks to ISO DIS 9001 2015, I was able to find out the actual expectations from the requirement (at least the draft version of it). Under Section 7: Support and subsection 7.1: Support your QMS by providing the necessary resources, the requirement is spelt out via five short and sweet bullet points:
• Determine the knowledge that your organization needs to have
• Acquire the knowledge that your organization needs to have
• Make organizational knowledge available to the extent necessary
• Monitor relevant trends and changes in knowledge and information
• Maintain the organizational knowledge that has been acquired

Sounds great, isn’t it? The way forward for a Knowledge Management programme is pretty much charted via these five bullet points! And more over it would have the blessing of the global standard. Considering these, Knowledge Management professionals should be in great demand! So, why am I worried then?

Under Section 7: Support, there are six subsections and 21 bullet points that an organization would need to comply with to put a tick against the checklist. Not to forget the other nine sections and innumerable bullet points that gets added to the bigger picture. Considering the wide canvas, how much time would be sanctioned to the short and sweet five bullet points? Who would be responsible for the execution? And where (i.e. which part of the organization) would the Knowledge Management team reside? Should it be part of the Quality team henceforth?

It is probably too early to expect answers for these questions but it is certainly early enough for us, Knowledge Management professionals, to make the most out of this opportunity.

A close analysis of the five bullet points reveals that the emphasis is on internal insights. It reinstates the need to extract ‘need to have’ knowledge from available sources like intellectual property and lessons learned among others. The ‘need to have’ knowledge, which would vary among organizations based on their needs, would also need to maintain a fine balance between internal and external sources. Knowledge hitherto undocumented and residing exclusively with the experts, who have developed their expertise over years would be critical for an organization to innovate and create that crucial market differentiator. This would need to be complemented by the knowledge acquired from customers, providers, competitors etc.

By no means are these new and being told via the standard for the first time. A quick look at the presentations made in the 2015 APQC Knowledge Management conference would highlight that the bullet points are already being addressed by many organizations.
Where the standard is likely to help Knowledge Management as a discipline is that, going forward, the vagueness that still surrounds the discipline i.e. what it should cover and how it would make a tangible impact would be answered in a concrete manner. That, in itself, should be a key takeaway for Knowledge Management professionals.

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