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With the advent of globalisation, SMEs are increasingly being forced to operate in a highly competitive environment. Small firms are constrained by their lack of resources and cannot compete with large companies in terms of tangible resources, such as capital, labour, equipment and physical commodities. However, an intangible asset such as knowledge is an invaluable resource that can be utilised by small firms.
Knowledge, if properly harnessed by SMEs, will enable them to stand out in the competition and outperform their rivals, and thus maintain a competitive edge.

Despite this pressing need, it is widely acknowledged that small companies - even the most knowledge-intensive ones - are characterised by a lack of uptake of knowledge management initiatives, while at the same time many of their larger counterparts are effectively practising knowledge management. This virtual lack of organisational knowledge management in European knowledge-intensive SMEs can have serious consequences on their efficiency, productivity and competitiveness compared with global corporations.

Small knowledge-intensive companies seem to present specific characteristics that act as a barrier to the implementation of current formal and comprehensive knowledge management systems and methodologies:

  • lack of resources to acquire, implement and maintain complex knowledge management systems
  • practice of informal person-to-person communication and ad hoc people-centric operations
  • lack of budget for customised training and widespread educational programs.
These characteristics make it necessary to deploy a new breed of digital environment for generating, sharing and refining organisational knowledge. The characteristics of enterprise social software, such as lightweight deployment and intuitive use, largely unstructured and easily traced content, emergent and self-organising knowledge structures and dependence on social-organisational aspects, rather than technical ones, can significantly facilitate the management of knowledge in the idiosyncratic environments of small European knowledge-based firms.

While the bottom-up approach of enterprise social software can advance the management of knowledge, it can also present specific hindrances regarding knowledge representation and retrieval processes. It is vital for an SME-focused KM system to demonstrate immediate and profound evidence of its benefits in order for knowledge workers to accept it and use it in everyday activities.

For this reason, the enhancement of enterprise social software with Semantic Web technologies represents a rather promising direction to pursue, since it would enable intelligent information processing with dramatic improvements in the usability and effectiveness of enterprise social software. Semantic interoperability can support high-level, context-sensitive information integration across heterogeneous social software resources.

By leveraging enterprise social software applications with semantic information processing capabilities and contextual awareness, we can manage content and knowledge while allowing for informal, people-centred and ad hoc everyday procedures to be employed, on which small knowledge-intensive companies are heavily reliant.