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Leibowitz, J. (2002). The Role of the Chief Knowledge Officer in organisations, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, 10(2), 2-15.

The Role of the Chief Knowledge Officer in organisations

Dr. Jay Liebowitz


As knowledge management is permeating many organisations, the Chief Knowledge Officer’s position is evolving and is playing a critical role in transforming the organisation into a “learning organisation”. Building a knowledge sharing culture is an important part towards the realisation of knowledge management in the organisation. This paper takes a comprehensive look at the Chief Knowledge Officer to help other organisations better understand this new role.

A Glimpse at the Chief Knowledge Officer

In many organisations, a new position has emerged in recent years that will significantly affect the knowledge management activities in the firm. The title of this position is the Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO). Many of the Fortune 500 companies already have a Chief Knowledge Officer or knowledge management teams in place. The CKO has also been referred to as the Director of Competitive Learning, Chief Learning Officer, VP of Learning, Director of Organisational Learning, Knowledge Management Director, Knowledge Strategies Director, Director of Intangible Assets, Corporate Director of Intellectual Capital, and Head of Knowledge Management Development.

The CKO, according to TFPL, Inc. (an international consulting firm that conducts CKO Summits), acts in four ways [TFPL, 2002]: first, as a “cartographer” in mapping expertise and making connections; second, as a “geologist” in drilling into specific areas and applying tools; third, as a “spark plug” in igniting an awareness of the need to change; and last, as an “architect” in designing the physical and cultural environment. The typical CKO finds a means to utilise corporate knowledge to help corporate growth, understands the skills and competencies of knowledge teams, creates powerful corporate cultures that recognize common values, enables the effective flow of information, and communicates the meaning of information and knowledge.

The CKO has to win cooperation and “buy-in” from all levels of the organisation; must identify and utilise a diverse set of skills and expertise; and demonstrate the value of knowledge management (KM) to the business. In many organisations, like The World Bank in Washington, D.C., the Chairman of The World Bank has made knowledge management part of its strategic mission. As such, knowledge management activities like capturing and putting knowledge on-line as global help desks, and developing and nurturing online communities of practice (called thematic groups at The World Bank) are being conducted.

According to Tom Davenport, of Accenture and Babson College, the CKO [Davenport and Prusak, 1998]:

The CKO assumes responsibility for knowledge and unstructured information and is in charge of managing those assets. These assets are often referred to as “intellectual capital”, “knowledge assets”, or “intangible assets”.

Robert Neilson, from the National Defence University who chairs the Role of the CKO Working Group for the US Federal CIO Council’s Subcommittee on Knowledge Management [] believes that the following competencies make a successful CKO – communications (storyteller—avid communicator), strategic thinking, tools and technology, personal behaviour, personal knowledge and cognitive capability, and leadership and management. Specifically, he feels that a CKO must have passion, patience, persistence, sensitivity, organisational savvy, intelligence, wisdom, life long learning capabilities, depth and breadth of knowledge, and be thick skinned and an integrator. The CKO typically measures outcomes, promotes best practices and processes, creates a knowledge-sharing culture, champions communities of practice, uses incentives and rewards, provides tools and technology, champions education, creates and uses taxonomy (common language), secures resources, and provides leadership and strategy.

Michael Earl (1999) of the London Business School performed a study to examine what is a CKO. Some of his findings indicated that those CKOs who emphasised explicit knowledge tended to promote the use of technology to enable knowledge distribution and sharing. Those CKOs who emphasised tacit or implicit knowledge spent a great deal of their time enabling, facilitating, and promoting informal dialogues. Richard Herschel and Hamid Nemati (1999) at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro concurred with these findings.

Bob Guns of Probe Consulting and Price Waterhouse Coopers, studied 52 of the top CKOs in the US (Daffy, 1998) and found that CKO’s generally had a broad base of experience within a business, and most had experience in a wide range of functions. The ability to withstand a myriad of pressures was generally acknowledged as an important trait among the CKOs. This study had similar results to Earl’s work and showed that the CKOs have strong nurturing qualities and are “influencers”. David Skyrme Associates (1997) that CKOs are good at conceptual thinking, advocacy, project and people management, communications, leadership, team working, influencing, and interpersonal skills.

The CKO Summit

TFPL, Inc. has organised several CKO Summits whereby Chief Knowledge Officers are typically invited for conversations and discussions over a two day period to share their experiences of knowledge management. One of the CKO Summits was held in October 2000 in Dublin and had CKO from ABN Amro Bank (Netherlands), the Boston Consulting Group (USA), British Telecom (UK), Clarica Life Insurance (Canada), Deloitte & Touche (USA), Ericsson (Sweden), Fortune (USA), ICL (UK), Johnson and Johnson (USA), KPMG International (USA), Linklaters & Alliance (UK), Morgan Stanley Dean Witter (USA), Motorola (USA), Nestle (Switzerland), Pfizer (UK), Philips Electronics (Netherlands), and Siemens (Germany). This Summit, along with the previous CKO Summit, produced the following results [TFPL, 2000]:

Where should the CKO position be placed in the organisation? Some organisations have placed the CKO within the information systems or human resources departments. Others have positioned the CKO comparable to a VP position or a staff position reporting directly to the CEO. In order for knowledge management to succeed, the CKO should be placed in a position that commands authority and responsibility in the upper echelon of management. Since knowledge management is typically a “strategic” function. Of course, the overriding consideration is that the knowledge management activities put into place should blend in well with the organisation’s corporate culture.

Why is a CKO needed in an organisation? In the same manner that the University of California at Berkeley has established a Professorship of Knowledge, organisations should also realise the strategic importance of knowledge as the competitive edge for their organisation. This is happening by means of creation of CKO positions and company resources being expended towards developing knowledge management systems in the organisation. Knowledge management involves creating, securing, combining, distributing, and retrieving knowledge. Being able to develop and maintain the knowledge repositories in the organisation, as part of these knowledge management systems is a critical element, which needs to be coordinated (and possibly managed) by the CKO and his/her staff. The CKO also needs to work closely with the human resources managers to ensure that incentives and other forms of encouragement are provided to employees to stimulate their knowledge sharing.

The CKO Job Description

To help understand the role of a CKO a knowledge profile or job description for the CKO may be illuminating. Appendix 1 at the end of the paper illustrates the duties and responsibilities of CKOs in the General Services Administration and the US Navy [].

According to TFPL Inc. [2000, 2002], the CKO should lead in the development of corporate culture, processes, infrastructure and information resources to facilitate the creation and utilisation of corporate knowledge, expertise, and information to create competitive advantage and support creativity.

The CKO and the CIO: Should They Be the Same?

A number of organisations feel that their Chief Information Officer (CIO) can handle the duties of a Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO). This belief is probably the wrong approach for a number of reasons. First, the CIO typically has a technology-oriented focus and may develop a knowledge management strategy that concentrates mostly on technology, rather than on the people and culture aspects of knowledge management. Second, the CKO needs to possess a different skill set than the typical CIO. Michael Earl’s (1999) study of twenty CKOs in North America and Europe, found that CKOs have distinct functions that are different from those of CIOs. The CIO is typically involved with IT strategy, IT operations, and managing the IT function, and has not taken on the full range of knowledge management activities. Earl’s study of CKOs found that the CKO typically has a breadth of career experience and familiarity with the organisation, is a good influencer, highly motivated, even tempered, deals with stress well, is extroverted, and can vary his/her behaviours to meet the demands of a situation, is social, goal oriented and interested in change. Last, the CIO typically has a large staff whereas the CKO normally has small staff of 3-12 people working mainly as specialist consultants.

The CIO’s role, however, has been changing somewhat over the years. In a survey of 340 CIOs in the U.S., England, Germany, and France conducted by Korn/Ferry, The Financial Times, and the CIO Executive Research Centre, the following key trends were uncovered:

In some organisations, like the General Services Administration (GSA) in the US government, some CIOs have successfully transitioned into the role of CKOs. Dr. Shereen Remez, GSA’s CIO, was selected to be the agency’s first CKO. She now serves as the CKO at the American Association for Retired Persons. According to Federal Computer Week (June 14, 1999), Dr. Remez as CKO is responsible for leading the agency’s use of knowledge management practices. However, Dr. Remez had a unique set of skills that vary from the typical CIO, a Ph.D. in the human resources/education area, which made her a perfect fit for a CKO.

Davenport (1996) believes that CKOs have three critical responsibilities – creating a knowledge management infrastructure, building a knowledge culture, and making it all pay off economically. A good CKO should combine an orientation to structured, explicit knowledge with an intuitive feel for the influence of cultural and behavioural factors on the leveraging of knowledge in an enterprise.

John Sviokla (2001) of Diamond Cluster International suggested that CIOs must redefine knowledge management in terms that focus on what is most valuable to a business. He stated the CIO needs to focus the knowledge management people on the goal of lowering asset intensity and improving the cash collection cycle. In the same issue of CIO Magazine, the CIO for Warner Music Group, Jim Noble, suggested that a CIO needs to connect with everyone and adds that the CIO has to engage the “hearts and minds” of the executive team. Mony Group’s CIO, E.P. Rogers, indicates that his role as ClO has changed over the years. He used to spend 90 percent of his time on IT, but today he probably spends 80 percent of his time on corporate business projects. He adds that with new technologies, new skills, and a more collaborative style, IS has evolved into an organisation much more attuned to the business. EDS’ CIO, Terry Milholland, says that there are higher expectations from business leaders – they have to react in days not months!

Tom Koulopoulos, President of The Delphi Group, feels that the primary purpose of having someone in charge of leveraging knowledge inside an organisation is to search for opportunities (Brown, 1999). Koulopoulos indicates that the best CKOs, no matter what they’re called, are “nomads” or “bounty hunters”, browsing the entire company searching for opportunities. A knowledge leader, like the CKO, must also be adept at traversing the information technology communities, which are part of the corporation, and must understand the basic principles behind intellectual capital. Koulopoulos points out that the critical success factor for a CKO is being incredibly competent and serving as a conduit or “super facilitator” for creating knowledge, not merely acting as “knowledge czars”.

Ogden Forbes, who has served as Chief Knowledge and Research Officer at, indicates that “CIOs are charged with implementing technology; I assist them as the eyes and ears of what strategies to follow while they also remind me of what can be done” (Carrillo, 1997). According to Wayne Toms of the Delphi Consulting Group, the CKO’s role is expected to grow, because companies are focusing more on employees than on technology. David Jones of Xerox says that the CKO’s role is mostly concerned with cultural change.

Weinstein (1998), a Knowledge Officer of an online retail store, described his job as increasing the knowledge base of the company’s workers so that better decisions are made and assisting the ClO in implementing technology. Additionally, the CKO may also be in charge of managing intellectual property. Typically the CKO should have a broad mix of personal, corporate, and technical skills. Sue Gilly, the Chief Knowledge Officer at Cavanaugh Leahy & Company, feels that the core of her work as CKO is how people collaborate and learn.

So the question remains – can a CIO be the CKO in most organisations? In the view of this author, these two positions should be separate unless the organisation has an exceptional individual with the necessary skill sets for serving as both CIO and CKO. The two positions should be closely aligned; however, if knowledge management is to fruly succeed, and a CKO should be appointed in the organisation to develop and implement a knowledge management strategy in the organisation and to spearhead these knowledge management initiatives.

Developing Knowledge Sharing Proficiencies

One of the basic tenets of knowledge management is to build a supportive culture for knowledge sharing (Liebowitz, 2000; Liebowitz, 2001; Liebowitz & Chen, 2001). The adage “knowledge is power” needs to be replaced by the motto “sharing knowledge is power” for organisations to truly maximise their intellectual capital (Neches et al., 1991). Very little research in the knowledge management field has focused on determining how effective knowledge sharing is occurring in organisations. As organisations start to incorporate learning and knowledge sharing proficiencies as part of their annual job performance evaluations (The World Bank, Gemini Consulting, and Accenture), it becomes necessary to establish criteria for such proficiencies or competencies and then to measure how well people are doing with respect to these knowledge sharing factors.

Companies are already realising that knowledge sharing gives them their competitive edge by leading to accelerated learning and innovation (Hickins, 1999). Xerox’s reputation as a leading knowledge company has been built on a strong knowledge sharing culture (Hickins, 1999). Xerox claims that knowledge sharing is going to become part of a fabric inside the company for all employees. Similarly, Dow Corning has expressed its commitment to team building and knowledge sharing. At Dow Corning Europe there are various professional clubs that share common aims such as to improve the understanding of fundamental concepts, raise awareness of techniques available in Dow Corning and elsewhere; to learn by example how to interpret the results of measurements and relate them to applications; to identify gaps in Dow’s overall understanding and to formulate ways to fill those gaps, share experiences, problems, failures, successes, provide a forum for the peer review of ideas, theories, and the interpretation of test data (Easton & Parbhoo, 1998). Lockheed-Martin’s, key to knowledge sharing is matching the type of knowledge with the right transfer method (Dixon, 2000). Three factors – whether the task is routine or non routine; whether the knowledge related to it is tacit or explicit; and the similarity between the originator and the receiver of the information – determine the method through which the knowledge can be most effectively transferred (Dixon, 2000).

To help build a knowledge sharing culture, various knowledge sharing proficiencies should be developed and integrated into the performance system of the organisation. A number of organisations like CapitalWorks in Williamstown (Massachusetts) have developed learning effectiveness inventories, since learning is at the core of human capital performance and knowledge creation in the new economy. CapitalWorks, for example, has a Learning Value Analysis where learning is assessed across multiple dimensions by the indicators:

Other organisations like Human Synergistic and the Centre for Applied Research Inc. have developed an Organisational Effectiveness Inventory to provide information about itself, its effectiveness, and its impact on members.

In order to create knowledge sharing roles and a nurturing knowledge management culture, the American Society for Interior Designers under the Chief Knowledge Leader, Dr. Michael Berens, has worked on various knowledge competencies with Jay Liebowitz as applied to ASID. The following table indicates such competencies:

Knowledge Competencies Directors Professional Administrative
(Senior Management/ Executive Office/ Team Leaders) (Middle Management/ Pro-grammatic Personnel) (Staff)
Knowledge Identification & Capture
Identity & conceptualise complementary knowledge processes and knowledge assets across departments and other silos XXXX XXXX
Oversee creation of integrated comprehensive knowledge capture arid transfer prcgramme (e.g., key SMEJknow-how, proven practices) XXXX XXXX
Establish knowledge requirements for quality work and capture lessons learned from each major project (make them available on the intranet) XXXX XXXX XXXX
Establish poticies on how to manage knowledge, arid build infrastructures to support management of knowledge XXXX XXXX
Knowledge Sharing
Create knowledge-related capabilities shared across enterprise XXXX
Support enterprise strategy end direction by facilitating effective communication to all XXXX XXXX XXXX
Institute incentives to motivate personal knowledge sharing, creation, end use XXXX
Manage (and facilitate) corporate memory, web site, intranet, threadeddiscussions, and communities ofprsctioel chat rooms XXXX XXXX XXXX
Knowledge Application
Align knowledge strategies and tactics with enterprise direction XXXX XXXX
Facilitate and monitcr kncwledge management-related activities and programmes XXXX XXXX
Encourage cross-functicnsl team collaboration XXXX XXXX XXXX
Develop and maintain an expertise locator directory on the intranet and web site XXXX XXXX
Knowledge Creation
Build and maintain content knowledge XXXX XXXX
Develop new intellectual capital XXXX XXXX XXXX
Generate new products or services for the ID professiort’ community XXXX XXXX XXXX

Other possible knowledge sharing proficiencies could include:

Building High Performance Organisations Through Knowledge Management

Organisations are engaging in knowledge management for a number of key reasons: to increase innovation and creativity; to better leverage knowledge internally and externally for improved worker productivity and customer relations; to capture and preserve knowledge for building the institutional memory of the organisation; and to improve efficiency and effectiveness of decision making. If an organisation is to be high performance organisation, knowledge management plays a critical role in transforming it into a well oiled, thriving business.

What does it mean to be high performance mean? Many analysts feel that an organisation needs to be quickly adaptable to changes in the marketplace, and knowledge management offers a way to do this. According to Lawton (2001), knowledge management’s key underpinning technologies enable content and workflow management which categorize knowledge and direct it to workers who can benefit from it; search functionality, to let users look for relevant knowledge; and collaboration, to help workers share knowledge. Through the use of “intelligent” agents, knowledge management systems should be able to push relevant lessons learned to appropriate individuals in the organisation who can best benefit from them in order to build the organisational intelligence of the firm. “Data and text mining” can also be used to develop user profiles to push relevant information and knowledge from repositories to employees and customers.

High-performance organisations generally have a high organisational intelligence. Liebowitz (1999, 2000) views organisational intelligence as the collection of all intelligence that contributes toward building a shared vision, a renewal process, and a direction for the entity. Organisational intelligence involves the following knowledge functions - transforming information into knowledge; identifying and verifying knowledge; capturing and securing knowledge; organizing knowledge; retrieving and applying knowledge; combining knowledge; creating knowledge; learning knowledge; and distributing/selling knowledge.

In order to promote and build a high performance organisation, knowledge exchange a basic tenet of knowledge management is a critical element. In some interesting work on electronic communities of practice McClure-Wasko and Faraj (2000), found that for increasing knowledge exchange, organisations should consider using knowledge management systems that connect members to open-membership electronic communities of practice, and that organisations should establish a cultural norm that encourages people to participate and share knowledge by acknowledging the reputation and status of organisational members actively engaged in their electronic community. They found that extrinsic (versus intrinsic) reward systems may not be the best approach to use for increasing knowledge exchange but rather that, successful communities have members that act out of community interest (intrinsic value) rather than self-interest (extrinsic rewards promote self interest). Increased knowledge exchanges hopefully leads to increased knowledge flows and innovation within the community and the organisation.

Ryder System Inc., the transportation and logistics firm based in Miami, has developed a knowledge centre using Lotus Notes, QuickPlace, Same-time, and Prevail Solutions Suite. According to Knowledge Management (2000), the Ryder executives and others in the organisation have embraced knowledge management and the knowledge centre supports various internal communities and provides a way to produce better and quicker business proposals. This type of knowledge management activity helps in having Ryder as a high performance organisation.

If organisations are to be adaptable, flexible, and innovative, knowledge management needs to be an essential part of the organisation’s strategy. In today’s rapidly changing and competitive environment, those organisations that are high performance are most likely the ones that will survive. Creating knowledge through knowledge management initiatives will help to produce high performance organisations, and the “double-loop” learning effect should increase an organisation’s innovation and adaptability.

What’s Beyond Knowledge Management?

Authors such as Davenport and Beck (2001) have indicated that “attention management” will compliment knowledge management, involving the application of intelligent agents and other software programming techniques to browse and prioritise the CEO’s daily email, news, voice mail, and digitised documentation and to determine what should attract their attention. Others indicate that E-CRM (Electronic-Customer Relations Management), E-Business, and specialised niche markets will continue to grow in emphasis and usage by businesses, and will be the prevailing trend after knowledge management. Others predict that wireless communications and mobile computing will dominate applications in the business world beyond knowledge management. Still others predict that hard coding ‘knowledge on chips’ will be commonplace in the years ahead. Certainly, improved user interfaces to knowledge management systems, such as through speech and natural language understanding, will be developed in the near term to enhance the collection, access, and usage of these systems.

If these predictions come true, how should businesses better position themselves to compete in the marketplace beyond knowledge management? First, in the same vein as using knowledge management to better leverage knowledge internally and externally, companies will probably need to merge and acquire other companies in related businesses to leverage their know how and create new products and services. Synergy will ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Namely, taking the best from complementary businesses will hopefully produce more competitive products or services, and should also stimulate creativity and innovation.

Second, companies should take advantage of developing, selling, or buying “knowledge full” products. These types of products will capture the expertise and experience of a company’s knowledgeable employees and encode this knowledge in the forms of web based and intranet based expert systems, hard coded “knowledge” chips, or in wireless knowledge repositories. In this manner, the institutional memory of the organisation can be built as critical, core competency knowledge and expertise are preserved.

Third, developing niche markets in the Internet and e-business age will offer new opportunities, especially for companies. Whether developing intelligent agents to profile customers and to push relevant information to them or to create online “community” software or the like, businesses in the coming years will continue to find new ways of improving existing processes.

Last, companies will need to get the products to market even faster via the internet age. Product development times and entry-to-market times will be greatly reduced in order for companies to maintain their competitive edge. In all these areas, knowledge management and the CKO can greatly move the organisation towards being a “high performance, knowledge organisation.”


Dr. Jay Liebowitz
Graduate Division of Business and Management
Johns Hopkins University
9601 Medical Centre Drive
Rockville, Maryland 20850


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Chief Knowledge Officer, Office of Knowledge Management, GSA (USA):


CKO Job Description for the US Department of Navy Knowledge Management Career Area []: