This paper provides a systematic review of the literature on knowledge management (KM) in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and SME networks. The main objective is to highlight the state-of-the-art of KM from the management point of view in order to identify relevant research gaps. The review highlights that in recent years the trend of papers on the topic is growing and involves a variety of approaches, methodologies and models from different research areas. The vast majority of papers analysed focus on the topic of KM in the SME while there are only few papers analysing KM in networks populated by SMEs. The content analysis of the papers highlights six areas of investigation from which were derived ten research questions concerning three perspectives: the factors affecting KM; the impact of KM on firm’s performance; the knowledge management systems.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
Similar content being viewed by others
Alegre J, Sengupta K and Lapiedra R (2011) Knowledge management and innovation performance in a high-tech SMEs industry. International Small Business Journal 31 (4), 454–470.
Al-Mutawah K, Lee V and Cheung Y (2009) A new multi-agent system framework for tacit knowledge management in manufacturing supply chains. Journal of Intelligent Manufacturing 20 (5), 593–610.
Ambrosini V and Bowman C (2008) Surfacing tacit sources of success. International Small Business Journal 26 (4), 403–431.
Anand A, Kant R and Singh MD (2013) Knowledge sharing in SMEs: modelling the barriers. International Journal of Management and Enterprise Development 12 (4–6), 385–410.
Bagnoli C and Vedovato M (2012) The impact of knowledge management and strategy configuration coherence on SME performance. Journal of Management & Governance 16 (4), 1–33.
Beck M and Schenker-Wicki A (2014) Cooperating with external partners: the importance of diversity for innovation performance. European Journal of International Management 8 (5), 548–569.
Beylier C, Pourroy F, Villeneuve F and Mille A (2009) A collaboration-centred approach to manage engineering knowledge: a case study of an engineering SME. Journal of Engineering Design 20 (6), 523–542.
Bocquet R and Mothe C (2010) Knowledge governance within clusters: the case of small firms. Knowledge Management Research & Practice 8 (3), 229–239.
Boden A, Avram G, Bannon L and Wulf V (2012) Knowledge sharing practices and the impact of cultural factors: reflections on two case studies of offshoring in SME. Journal of Software: Evolution and Process 24 (2), 139–152.
Briscoe G, Dainty ARJ and Millett S (2001) Construction supply chain partnerships: skills, knowledge and attitudinal requirements. European Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management 7 (4), 243–255.
Cagnazzo L, Tiacci L and Rossi V (2014) Knowledge management system in SMEs within stable enterprise networks. WSEAS Transactions on Business and Economics 11 (1), 155–174.
Cappellin R (2003) Territorial knowledge management: towards a metrics of the cognitive dimension of agglomeration economies. International Journal of Technology Management 26 (2–4), 303–325.
Chang CW, Chiang DM and Pai FY (2012) Cooperative strategy in supply chain networks. Industrial Marketing Management 41 (7), 1114–1124.
Chen CW, Chang ML and Tseng CP (2012) Human factors of knowledge-sharing intention among Taiwanese enterprises: a model of hypotheses. Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing & Service Industries 22 (4), 362–371.
Chen CW, Chang ML, Tseng CP, Chen BC and Chang YYC (2013) Critical human factor evaluation of knowledge sharing intention in Taiwanese enterprises. Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing & Service Industries 23 (2), 95–106.
Chong CW, Chong SC and Gan GC (2011) Inter-organizational knowledge transfer needs among small and medium enterprises. Library Review 60 (1), 37–52.
Choudhary AK, Harding J, Camarinha-Matos LM, Lenny Koh SC and Tiwar MK (2013) Knowledge management and supporting tools for collaborative networks. International Journal of Production Research 51 (7), 1953–1957.
Corso M, Martini A, Pellegrini L and Paolucci E (2003) Technological and organizational tools for knowledge management: in search of configurations. Small Business Economics 21 (4), 397–408.
Daud S and Yusoff WFW (2011) How intellectual capital mediates the relationship between knowledge management processes and organizational performance? African Journal of Business Management 5 (7), 2607–2617.
Davenport S (2005) Exploring the role of proximity in SME knowledge-acquisition. Research Policy 34 (5), 683–701.
Delen D, Zaim H, Kuzey C and Zaim S (2013) A comparative analysis of machine learning systems for measuring the impact of knowledge management practices. Decision Support Systems 54 (2), 1150–1160.
Deng PS (2008) Applying a market-based approach to the development of a sharing-enabled KM model for knowledge-intensive small firms. Information Systems Management 25 (2), 174–187.
De Saá-Pérez P, Díaz-Díaz NL and Ballesteros-Rodríguez JL (2012) The role of training to innovate in SMEs. Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice 14 (2), 218–230.
Desouza KC and Awazu Y (2006) Knowledge management at SMEs: five peculiarities. Journal of Knowledge Management 10 (1), 32–43.
Dotsika F and Patrick K (2013) Collaborative KM for SMEs: a framework evaluation study. Information Technology & People 26 (4), 368–382.
du Plessis M (2008) The strategic drivers and objectives of communities of practice as vehicles for knowledge management in small and medium enterprises. International Journal of Information Management 28 (1), 61–67.
Durst S and Edvardsson IR (2012) Knowledge management in SMEs: a literature review. Journal of Knowledge Management 16 (6), 879–903.
Durst S and Wilhelm S (2011) Knowledge management in practice: insights into a medium sized enterprise’s exposure to knowledge loss. Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation 29 (1), 23–38.
Durst S and Wilhelm S (2012) Knowledge management and succession planning in SMEs. Journal of Knowledge Management 16 (4), 637–649.
Dyer JH and Hatch NW (2006) Relation-specific capabilities and barriers to knowledge transfers: creating advantage through network relationships. Strategic Management Journal 27 (8), 701–719.
Edvardsson IR (2009) Is knowledge management losing ground? Developments among Icelandic SMEs. Knowledge Management Research & Practice 7 (1), 91–99.
Edwards T (2007) A critical account of knowledge management: agentic orientation and SME innovation. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research 13 (2), 64–81.
Egbu CO, Hari S and Renukappa SH (2005) Knowledge management for sustainable competitiveness in small and medium surveying practices. Structural Survey 23 (1), 7–21.
Esper TL, Ellinger AE, Stank TP, Flint DJ and Moon M (2010) Demand and supply integration: a conceptual framework of value creation through knowledge management. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 38 (1), 5–18.
Esposito E and Passaro R (1997) Material requirement planning and supply chain at Alenia Aircraft. European Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management 3 (1), 43–51.
Esposito E and Raffa M (1994) The evolution of Italian subcontracting firms: empirical evidence. European Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management 1 (2), 67–76.
Eze UC, Goh GGG, Goh CY and Tan TL (2013) Perspectives of SMEs on knowledge sharing. VINE 43 (2), 210–236.
Filippini R, Guttel WH and Nosella A (2012) Dynamic capabilities and the evolution of knowledge management projects in SMEs. International Journal Technology Management 60 (3–4), 203–219.
Fink K and Ploder C (2009) Knowledge management toolkit for SMEs. International Journal of Knowledge Management 5 (1), 46–60.
Frey RS (2001) Knowledge management, proposal development, and small businesses. The Journal of Management Development 20 (1), 38–54.
Genovese A, Lenny Koh SC and Acquaye A (2013) Energy efficiency retrofitting services supply chains: evidence about stakeholders and configurations from the Yorskhire and Humber region case. International Journal of Production Economics 144 (1), 20–43.
Gholami MH, Asli MN, Nazari- Shirkouhi S and Noruzy A (2013) Investigating the influence of knowledge management practices on organizational performance: an empirical study. Acta Polytechnica Hungarica 10 (2), 205–216.
Gholipour R, Jandaghi G and Hosseinzadeh SAA (2010) Explanation of knowledge management enabler as a latent variable: a case study of SMEs in Iran. African Journal of Business Management 4 (9), 1863–1872.
Grace TPL (2009) Wikis as a knowledge management tool. Journal of Knowledge Management 13 (4), 64–74.
Gresty M (2013) What role do information systems play in the knowledge management activities of SMEs? Business Information Review 30 (3), 144–151.
Gunasekaran A and Ngai EWT (2007) Knowledge management in 21st century manufacturing. International Journal of Production Research 45 (11), 2391–2418.
Gupta NA, Jaiswal MPA and Pardasani RB (2014) Teaching case: managing knowledge and going global at FragraAroma. Management Decision 52 (9), 1630–1648.
Heavin CA and Adam FB (2014) From knowledge activities to knowledge scenarios: Cases in five Irish software SMEs. International Journal of Management and Enterprise Development 13 (1), 37–61.
Hong PA, Park YWB, Choi SBC and Shin GCD (2014) Achieving knowledge management excellence for competitive advantage: an integrative model for empirical research. International Journal of Knowledge Management Studies 5 (3–4), 285–303.
Hsu RG, Lawson D and Liang TP (2007) Factors affecting knowledge management adoption of Taiwan small and medium-sized enterprises. International Journal Management and Enterprise Development 4 (1), 31–51.
Hussain I, Xiaoyu YU, Wang L, Si S and Ahmed S (2011) Organizational knowledge management capabilities and knowledge management success (KMS) in small and medium enterprises (SMEs). African Journal of Business Management 5 (22), 8971–8979.
Hutchinson V and Quintas P (2008) Do SMEs do knowledge management? Or simply manage what they know? International Small Business Journal 26 (2), 131–154.
Jones O, Macpherson A and Thorpe R (2010) Learning in owner-managed small firms: mediating artefacts and strategic space. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development 22 (7–8), 649–673.
Joshi Y, Parmer S and Chandrawat SS (2012) Knowledge sharing in organizations: modeling the barriers, an interpretive structural modeling approach. International Journal of Engineering and Innovative Technology 2 (3), 207–214.
Kolbe RH and Burnett MS (1991) Content-analysis research: an examination of applications with directives for improving research reliability and objectivity. Journal of Consumer Research 18 (2), 243–250.
Lakshman C and Parente RC (2008) Supplier-focused knowledge management in the automobile industry and its implications for product performance. Journal of Management Studies 45 (2), 317–342.
Lee AHI, Wang WM and Lin TY (2010) An evaluation framework for technology transfer of new equipment in high technology industry. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 77 (1), 135–150.
Lee MR and Lan YC (2011) Toward a unified knowledge management model for SMEs. Expert Systems with Applications 38 (1), 729–735.
Levy M, Loebbecke C and Powell P (2003) SMEs, co-opetition and knowledge sharing: the role of information systems. European Journal of Information Systems 12 (1), 3–17.
Li T and Cavusgil ST (1995) A classification and assessment of research streams in international marketing. International Business Review 4 (3), 251–277.
Lin I, Seidel R, Shekar A, Shahbazpour M and Howell D (2012) Knowledge sharing differences between engineering functional teams: an empirical investigation. Journal of Information & Knowledge Management 11 (3), 1–14.
Lin HF (2014) Contextual factors affecting knowledge management diffusion in SMEs. Industrial Management and Data Systems 114 (9), 1415–1437.
Lisanti Y and Luhukay D (2014) The design of knowledge management system model for SME (UKM). Journal of Theoretical and Applied Information Technology 64 (3), 746–755.
Liu Y and Abdalla AN (2013) Evaluating the managerial behavior of managing knowledge in Chinese SMEs. Information Technology and Management 14 (2), 159–165.
Lockett N, Cave F, Kerr R and Robinson S (2009) The influence of co-location in higher education institutions on small firms’ perspectives of knowledge transfer. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development 21 (3), 265–283.
Lopez-Nicolas C and Soto-Acosta P (2010) Analyzing ICT adoption and use effects on knowledge creation: an empirical investigation in SMEs. International Journal of Information Management 30 (6), 521–528.
Martinez-Costa M and Jimenez-Jimenez D (2009) The effectiveness of TQM: the key role of organizational learning in small businesses. International Small Business Journal 27 (1), 98–125.
Massa S and Testa S (2011) Knowledge domain and innovation behaviour. VINE 41 (4), 483–454.
McAdam R and Reid R (2001) SMEs and large organisation perceptions of knowledge management: comparisons and contrasts. Journal of Knowledge Management 5 (3), 231–241.
Migdadi M (2008) Knowledge management enablers and outcomes in the small-and-medium sized enterprises. Industrial Management & Data Systems 109 (6), 840–858.
Milosz M and Milosz E (2010) Critical success factors and barriers to implementation of knowledge management systems at Polish SMEs. Actual Problems of Economics 6 (108), 309–315.
Moffett S and McAdam R (2006) The effects of organizational size on knowledge management implementation: opportunities for small firms? Total Quality Management 17 (2), 221–241.
Mohannak K (2014) Challenges of knowledge integration in small and medium enterprises. Knowledge Management and E-Learning 6 (1), 66–82.
Montequín VR, Fernández FO, Cabal VA and Gutierrez NR (2006) An integrated framework for intellectual capital measurement and knowledge management implementation in small and medium-sized enterprises. Journal of Information Science 32 (6), 525–538.
Navarro JGC, Dewhurst FW and Eldridge S (2010) Linking chief knowledge officers with customer capital through knowledge management practices in the Spanish construction industry. The International Journal of Human Resource Management 21 (3), 389–404.
Noblet JP and Simon E (2012) The role of disseminative capacity in knowledge sharing: which model can be applied to SMEs? Problems and Perspectives in Management 10 (3), 57–66.
Nonaka I (1994) A dynamic theory of organizational knowledge creation. Organization Science 5 (1), 14–37.
Nunes MP, Annansingh F and Eaglestone B (2006) Knowledge management issues in knowledge-intensive SMEs. Journal of Documentation 62 (1), 101–119.
Omerzel DG and Antončič B (2008) Critical entrepreneur knowledge dimensions for the SME performance. Industrial Management & Data Systems 108 (9), 1182–1199.
Patalas-Maliszewska J and Hochmeister M (2011) Modeling strategic-knowledge-resource management based on individual competencies in SMEs. Contemporary Economics 5 (2), 72–79.
Perez-Araos A, Barber KD, Munive-Hernandez JE and Eldridge S (2007) Designing a knowledge management tool to support knowledge sharing networks. Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management 18 (2), 153–168.
Pillania RK (2006) Leveraging knowledge for sustainable competitiveness in SMEs. International Journal of Globalisation and Small Business 1 (4), 393–406.
Pillania RK (2008a) Creation and categorization of knowledge in automotive components SMEs in India. Management Decision 46 (10), 1452–1464.
Pillania RK (2008b) Strategic issues in knowledge management in small and medium enterprises. Knowledge Management Research & Practice 6 (4), 334–338.
Pool JKA, Asadi AA, Forte PB and Ansari MRA (2014) The effect of organisational culture on attitude and intention toward knowledge sharing: a study of Iranian SMEs. International Journal of Management and Decision Making 13 (3), 286–301.
Purcarea I, del Mar Benavides Espinosa M and Apetrei A (2013) Innovation and knowledge creation: perspectives on the SMEs sector. Management Decision 51 (5), 1096–1107.
Razmerita L and Kirchner K (2011) How wikis can be used to manage knowledge in SMEs: a case study. Business Information Review 28 (3), 175–178.
Rosu SM, Dragoi G and Guran M (2009) A knowledge management scenario to support knowledge applications development in small and medium enterprises. Advances in Electrical and Computer Engineering 9 (1), 8–15.
Roxas BA, Battisti MB and Deakins DB (2014) Learning, innovation and firm performance: knowledge management in small firms. Knowledge Management Research and Practice 12 (4), 443–453.
Roy MJ and Therin F (2008) Knowledge acquisition and environmental commitment in SMEs. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management 15 (5), 249–259.
Salojärvi S, Furu P and Sveiby KE (2005) Knowledge management and growth in Finnish SMEs. Journal of Knowledge Management 9 (2), 103–122.
Saxena A and Wadhwa S (2009) Flexible configuration for seamless supply chains: directions towards decision knowledge sharing. Robotics and Computer-Integrated Manufacturing 25 (4-5), 839–852.
Samuel KE, Goury ML, Gunasekaran A and Spalanzani A (2011) Knowledge management in supply chain: an empirical study from France. Journal of Strategic Information Systems 20 (3), 283–306.
Soon TT and Zainol FA (2011) Knowledge management enablers, process and organizational performance: evidence from Malaysian enterprises. Asian Social Science 7 (8), 186–202.
Soto-Acosta PA, Colomo-Palacios RB and Popa SA (2014) Web knowledge sharing and its effect on innovation: an empirical investigation in SMEs. Knowledge Management Research and Practice 12 (1), 103–113.
Sparrow J (2001) Knowledge management in small firms. Knowledge and Process Management 8 (1), 3–16.
Spraggon M and Bodolica V (2008) Knowledge creation processes in small innovative hi-tech firms. Management Research News 31 (11), 879–894.
Talebi K and Tajeddin M (2011) The adoption of new and innovative knowledge by small and medium enterprises of Iran: opportunities and constraints for growth. African Journal of Business Management 5 (1), 39–49.
Tan B and Hung H (2006) A knowledge management system introduction model for small- and medium-sized enterprises. International Journal Management and Enterprise Development 3 (1–2), 53–69.
Thorpe R, Holt R, Macpherson A and Pittaway L (2005) Using knowledge within small and medium-sized firms: a systematic review of the evidence. International Journal of Management Reviews 7 (4), 257–281.
Tseng CP, Chang ML and Chen CW (2012) Human factors of knowledge sharing intention among Taiwanese enterprises: a preliminary study. Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing & Service Industries 22 (4), 328–339.
Vajjhala NRA and Baghurst TB (2014) Influence of cultural factors on knowledge sharing in medium-sized enterprises within transition economies. International Journal of Knowledge Management Studies 5 (3–4), 304–321.
Valmohammadi C (2010) Investigation and assessment of critical success factors of knowledge management implementation in Iranian small-to-medium sized enterprises. Journal of Applied Sciences 10 (19), 2290–2296.
Wee JCN and Chua AYK (2013) The peculiarities of knowledge management processes in SMEs: the case of Singapore. Journal of Knowledge Management 17 (6), 958–972.
Wei CC, Choy CS and Chew GG (2011) The KM processes in Malaysian SMEs: an empirical validation. Knowledge Management Research & Practice 9 (2), 185–196.
Whyte G and Classen S (2012) Using storytelling to elicit tacit knowledge from SMEs. Journal of Knowledge Management 16 (6), 950–962.
Wong KY and Aspinwall E (2005) An empirical study of the important factors for knowledge-management adoption in the SME sector. Journal of Knowledge Management 9 (3), 64–82.
Wong KY (2005) Critical success factors for implementing knowledge management in small and medium enterprises. Industrial Management & Data Systems 105 (3), 261–279.
Yao L, Othman A, Abdalla AN and Jing W (2011) A novel sense-making model of effective knowledge management within SMEs. African Journal of Business Management 5 (11), 4423–4431.
Zapata Cantù L, Criado JR and Criado AR (2009) Generation and transfer of knowledge in IT-related SMEs. Journal of Knowledge Management 13 (5), 243–256.
Zieba M and Zieba K (2014) Knowledge management critical success factors and the innovativeness of KIBS companies. Engineering Economics 25 (4), 458–465.
Zhou Y, Zhan H and Zhang Y (2014) Design and development of knowledge management platform for SMEs. Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research 6 (7), 1035–1041.
About this article
Cite this article
Cerchione, R., Esposito, E. & Spadaro, M. A literature review on knowledge management in SMEs. Knowl Manage Res Pract 14, 169–177 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1057/kmrp.2015.12