The ISO 30401 knowledge management systems standard – a new framework for value creation and research?

Published date04 March 2021
Date04 March 2021
Subject MatterInformation & knowledge management,Knowledge management,HR & organizational behaviour,Organizational structure/dynamics,Accounting & finance,Accounting/accountancy,Behavioural accounting
AuthorPeter Pawlowsky,Nina S. Pflugfelder,Maik H. Wagner
The ISO 30401 knowledge
management systems standard
a new framework for value creation
and research?
Peter Pawlowsky and Nina S. Pflugfelder
Chemnitz University of Technology, Chemnitz, Germany, and
Maik H. Wagner
MW Wissenskommunikation, Frankfurt am Main, Germany and
Institut f
ur Wissens
okonomie, Dortmund, Germany
Purpose The article reviews major developments in the literature on knowledge management and
intellectual capital management. It provides a description and visualization of the structure and content of the
ISO 30401 and critically benchmarks its clauses against comprehensive taxonomies from the literature.
Design/methodology/approach 2018 saw the releaseof the ISO 30401 Knowledge Management Systems
Standard,a type A regulation whichmay serve as a basis for certification.It builds on and integratesa broad and
conceptuallydiverse literature on knowledgeresources (e.g. intellectualcapital theory, knowledgemanagement
theory).This articleaims to show how the managementsystems standardrelates to the literatureit is built onand
provides directionsfor its further operationalizationby certification bodies and implementation by managers.
Findings The ISO 30401 successfully integrates a diverse body of literature in a broadly applicable cross-
industry standard. To operationalize and implement it, certification bodies and managers should build on
empirical evidence of what works,taking into account market characteristics as well as organizational
properties. Further research should support the implementation of the standard by developing KM
measurement frameworks and context-specific studies of KM tools and methods.
Originality/value This article is the firstto systematically compare the ISO 30401 to the underlying theory.
This paper uncovers avenues for research and makes suggestions for the standards operationalization in
Keywords Performance, Intellectual capital management, Knowledge management systems, Knowledge
management, ISO 30401
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
In the past 40 years, management theory has come a long way toward explaining how value
can be created from knowledge. Building on the Resource-based View (RbV) (Penrose, 1959),
the disciplines of intellectual capital (IC) theory and knowledge management (KM) theory
have thoroughly theorized the links between knowledge and firm value. On this basis,
countless management initiatives have been devised and empirically examined.
Against this backdrop, the International Standards Organization (ISO) released a
Management Standard on Knowledge Management Systems (KMS), which aims to support
organizations to develop a management system that effectively promotes and enables value-
creation through k nowledge(Section 0.1, ISO 30401). The ISO 30401 Knowledge
Management Systems Requirements is based on the intention to create a common
denominator of an international KM development history and implementation guide.
The authors would like to thank Christiane Hellmanzik for her fruitfull suggestions and discussions in
connection with the preparation of the text. The authors thank Kristina Dimitrova for research
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 30 July 2020
Revised 3 November 2020
5 December 2020
15 January 2021
Accepted 19 January 2021
Journal of Intellectual Capital
Vol. 22 No. 3, 2021
pp. 506-527
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JIC-07-2020-0256
As some experts of the ISO working group responsible for the drafting process of the 30401
argue, we recognized the proposed standard as an opportunity to create a common language
for global conversations about KM that just might help organizations manage knowledge
more effectively(Payne et al., 2018). One may add that the standard can also support KM
scholars in agreeing on a joint theoretical and conceptual basis for future research and
teaching. However, this requires a theoretical foundation.
To date, the ISO 30401 has been examined at a general level, with the analysis focusing on
advantages of and criticisms to the overall structure and content of the standard (Milton and
Lambe, 2016;Corney, 2018;Maximo et al., 2020). There have also been some publications on
specific narrow aspects of the ISO 30401, such as its implications for risk management
(Herdmann, 2020), controlling (Bressler et al., 2020) or enterprise architecture models
(Kudryavtsev and Sadykova, 2019). The standard has, however, not yet been systematically
linked to the theoretical literature it is derived from and relates to.
To fill this gap, this paper aims to answer the following questions:
(1) In how far does the ISO 30401 Knowledge Management Systems Requirements
build on and incorporate the development of Knowledge Management and
Intellectual Capital Theory?
(2) What should managers, auditors and researchers do in order to maximize value when
implementing the ISO 30401?
Two steps were taken to answer the research questions. First, the main theoretical
cornerstones of Knowledge Management and Intellectual Capital Theory were roughly
outlined. The aims of this review were to map major milestones in the development of this
literature, to summarize the key theoretical concepts of the field, and in order to derive
essential theory paths with which a theory foundation of the ISO 30401 can be evaluated.
For this step a summative, thematic review methodology was chosen (Cooper, 1988).
Second, the ISO was coded in order to make the main dimensions of this standard visible
and comparable to the theoretical dimensions outlined above. Using a qualitative content
analysis approach, the ISO 30401 was coded three times. To start with, structural coding
na, 2013) was used to identify the main components of a KMS according to the ISO
30401. These main structural elements were then visualized in Figure 1. In a second coding
cycle, the text of the Management Systems Standard (MSS) was coded inductively along the
categories emerging from the first coding cycle, in order to identify text passages relating to
each of the main elements of the KMS. Finally, the text was coded deductively according to
the categories of major taxonomies emerging from the literature review. Building on this
simultaneous coding procedure (Salda~
na, 2013), the overlap of codes referring to KMS
components with the codes regarding key concepts from the literature were visualized with
the Code Relations Browser of MAXQDA, a software for qualitative data analysis. The key
results of this analysis are summarized in Figures 2 and 3.These steps enable us to revisit the
theoretical foundations of the new ISO standard and show possible shortcomings.
In summary, this article seeks to contribute to the literature in several ways. First, by
outlining how the ISO 30401 relates to the theoretical origins of KM and IC research, it
specifies approaches for the further operationalization of the standard and points out
research questions that should be answered before it can validly be applied in practice.
Second, this publication theorizes how the ISO 30401 industry standard and certification may
contribute to value creation, pointing to possible management initiatives to realize value
Consequently, the structure of this article starts with a short overview of the theoretical
KM/IC background (2), then outlines the structure and content of the ISO 30401 (3) before
ISO 30401
systems standard

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