What is a knowledge supply chain? When the concept of supply chains comes to mind, one thinks of the ‘physical’ aspect- the raw materials, trucks, and warehouses. However, there’s more to supply chains than processing of raw materials and moving things from one place to another- there’s also the ‘knowledge supply chain.’
Knowledge workers are workers whose tasks involve ‘planning, acquiring, searching, analyzing, organizing, storing, programming, distributing, marketing, or otherwise contributing to the conversion and trade of information.’ Knowledge workers are workers who make use of the knowledge they gain and produce.

A  recent TechZone 360 article about the future of work demonstrates that in the United States alone there exists about sixty-million knowledge workers and they also have a supply chain – the ‘knowledge supply chain.’ The Knowledge Supply Chain does not necessarily convert physical raw materials into finished goods or products that are ready to be consumed by consumers, but that does not mean it holds no value.

Below, three elements of supply chain management: Raw Material Managements, Quality Assurance and, Inventory and Continuity, will be briefly explained. Key differences/similarities between the traditional idea of a supply chain and the knowledge supply chain will also be pointed out.

1 – Raw Material Management

  • Traditional supply chains focus on processing, and assembling of materials. On the other hand, knowledge supply chains focus on converting the ‘raw’ talent and skills of knowledge workers and continuously improving their working capability.
  • When a product is in demand-in the traditional supply chain- it is usually sold at a higher price. The same law of supply and demand is applicable in the knowledge supply chain, knowledge workers are trained (refined) and the most qualified and experienced workers are selected for the best jobs or projects.
  • Without realizing it, larger organizations create internal knowledge supply chains- the same way traditional supply chains makes time to produce products/services. Larger organizations create and maintain top-level talent, staff them in at various positions when the time is right and immediately start training and preparing the next set of (less experienced and qualified) workers to also fill certain positions when the time is right.

2 – Quality Assurance

  • In the physical/ traditional supply chain, quality is managed through regular inspections but in the knowledge supply chain, quality is a question of accuracy- for example, when conducting quantitative research, the methodological approach should be very accurate especially where numerical comparisons and statistical inferences are concerned.
  • Traceability is important in both supply chains. In a physical/traditional supply chain, RFID (Radio frequency Identification) tags can be used to keep track of goods as they are being distributed. In a knowledge supply chain, there should be a difference between an organization’s Intellectual property (IP) and a reference to external IP.

3 – Inventory and Continuity

  • Managers should have a record of the (physical) products produced. They can apply the (LIFO) Last In Last Out method- under this method, the most recent cost of purchased (or produced) products are the first costs expensed as the cost of goods that have been sold. A second method that can be used is the (FIFO) First in First Out method- which is the opposite to the LIFO method. The same is applicable to knowledge supply chain, managers can use either method to keep a track record of workers’ progression of intelligence.
  • The continuity of any organization is important. The managers of knowledge supply chains have a dual opportunity to ensure continuity in their organizations. The first way is through a ‘proactive talent management strategy’ which ensures the objectives of the organization are achieved and the enterprise grows continuously. The second way is through looking at the lessons of ‘physical inventory management’ to consolidate knowledge and intellectual property and make it continuously accessible throughout the company.
  • Companies want to generate the greatest sustained (ROI) Return On Investment. Companies must therefore be aware of the investments made and ensure that -in traditional supply chains- client engagements cover the immediate costs of delivery and- in knowledge supply chains- there is a preservation and progression of knowledge over a long period of time.

Concluding Thoughts

Several parallels can be drawn between the traditional supply chains and the knowledge supply chains. There is an increase in the number of individuals, industries, and companies that now focus on knowledge work rather than only manufacturing and applying traditional supply chain management practices.

Do you have a better understating of a knowledge supply chain?