Knowledge Owners usually are within the support functions. The support functions support the business and, in a matrix organisation, cross-cut the business structure. For example, in a manufacturing business there may be manufacturing operations going on around the world, reporting through the business line. There may also be a manufacturing function, with a chief manufacturing engineer and a small team of experts providing support to those manufacturing units. Or in a construction company there may be construction projects happening all round the world, reporting through the line of business. There may also be a Head of Construction in head office, with a team of experts who provide construction expertise to the projects. This is a common model; a model of corporate functional departments or teams providing support and expertise to the business. In a structure like this, the function has two accountabilities when it comes to knowledge management.
Firstly they are accountable for managing subject matter knowledge on behalf of the organisation. So the chief manufacturing engineer and his function are accountable for managing the company's knowledge about manufacturing subjects; for making sure that this knowledge is up to date, accessible and available for the engineers within the business. Similarly the head of construction and her function are accountable for managing the company's construction knowledge, making sure that the company knows how to construct; that they have the knowledge they need, when they need it, in order to construct to the required standard. They will do this through appointing knowledge owners.
Secondly, they are accountable for building and maintaining the communities of practice through which this knowledge can be shared.
Knowledge Owners are therefore individuals who have the role of managing or stewarding company knowledge in one specific topic area. They are experts in their topic, within the functional department. So the head of construction may appoint a Knowledge Owner for poured concrete, a Knowledge Owner for steelwork, a Knowledge Owner for foundations and so on.
The accountability that goes with this role is to keep the knowledge base up to date in this topic, so that people in the business who need this knowledge can find it easily, and can know that it is valid, up to date, and presented in a usable format. They often maintain a Knowledge Asset on their topic. They may provide internal consultancy on the topic, although their role is not to keep hold of the knowledge themselves, their role is to share it and to make it widely available. They monitor the state of knowledge of the topic, they build and maintain the knowledge base; constructing the wikis or reference sites and keeping them up to date. They validate and broadcast new knowledge. They make sure training in the topic is available and up to date. They are the go-to people for their topic.