The growing interest towards organizational knowledge is the reflection of the entry into a knowledge economy. Interest in the field of knowledge management has been shown by both practitioners and academics for several years. On a practical level, the recurring concern of companies has been to link their knowledge management practices to their performance improvement ; while, academic researchers have been improving their understanding of the organization as a "system of knowledge" (Tsoukas, 1996). Much research deals with knowledge management as a whole, but now, there is a need to better investigate and understand the various steps constituting this process and to get inside the black box of knowledge management.
In our research, we choose to focus on the notion of knowledge integration. We define knowledge integration as the process of social interactions between individuals leading to the combination of existing knowledge and the creation of new shared organizational knowledge. Until now, only a limited amount of research has focused on knowledge integration. However integration constitutes an important process in knowledge management, especially in project based-organizations. Thus, the empirical investigation carried out during this research analyses two information systems projects and highlights the important features of knowledge integration in this context.
In our research, we mobilize the perspective of the firm as a socially efficient community for knowledge creation and transfer (Kogut and Zander, 1992, 1996 ; Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995 ; Spender, 1996), generating a competitive advantage. According to this perspective, knowledge integration is a current and daily activity and constitutes one of the objectives of the organization (Grant, 1996). We focus on a specific context of knowledge integration which is a project team work. Our objective is to analyse the knowledge integration process during cross-functional organizational projects.
A first question to come out of this research is : How does the knowledge integration process operate during a project ? The research of Newell, Tansley and Huang (2004) provides an initial answer : it underlines the influence of social capital in the knowledge integration process. Following this research, we adopt an original approach to the knowledge integration process. The second aspect of our research focuses on the real influence of social capital on the integration process. Hence a second question : What are the role and the influence of social capital on the knowledge integration process during a project ?
The first part of the paper presents the conceptual framework : we define the concept of knowledge integration and we propose a conceptual model to analyse this process. In the second part, we define the concept of social capital and its role in knowledge management. This literature review leads us to formulate several research propositions. In the third part, the empirical study details two case studies of information system projects and concludes our research.