It is generally accepted that the creation of added value requires collaboration inside and between organizations. Collaboration requires sharing knowledge (e.g., a shared understanding of business processes) between trading partners and between colleagues. It is on the (unique) knowledge that is shared between and created by colleagues that organizations build their competitive advantage. To take full advantage of this knowledge, it should be disseminated as widely as possible within an organization. Nonaka distinguished tacit knowledge, which is personal, context specific, and not so easy to communicate (e.g., intuitions, unarticulated mental models, embodied technological skills), from explicit knowledge, which is meaningful information articulated in clear language, including numbers and diagrams.
Tacit knowledge can be disseminated through socialization (e.g., face-to-face communication, sharing experiences), which implies a reduced dissemination speed, or can be externalized , which is the conversion of tacit into explicit knowledge. Although explicit knowledge can take many forms (e.g., business (process) models, manuals), this chapter focuses on ontologies, which are versatile knowledge artifacts created through externalization, with the power to fuel Nonaka’s knowledge spiral. Nonaka’s knowledge spiral visualizes how a body of unique corporate knowledge, and hence a competitive advantage, is developed through a collaborative and iterative knowledge creation process that involves iterative cycles of externalization, combination, and internalization. When corporate knowledge is documented with ontology, a knowledge spiral leads to ontology evolution.