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Treasures within ourselves

You can capture the knowledge of your workers into a data repository and publish it on an Intranet. This can enhance your company's knowledge and help you derive the most from employee potential. by M.D. Agrawal

A big challenge in today's business is how to leverage explicit and implicit corporate knowledge. Dr Peter Drucker said, "The world is becoming not labour intensive, not materials intensive, not energy intensive, but knowledge intensive. Knowledge and learning of organizations is increasingly holding an important factor in generating business values. The future is held in an organization's learning."

Business success depends on the quantum of knowledge rather than on physical assets and book profits. IT has emerged as a crucial enabling factor that can be used by a strategist and CIO for harnessing the power of knowledge.

In this article I will touch upon the networking strategies, processes, and methodology that can be used to capture tacit knowledge of employees, and will discuss a case study with British Petroleum, where knowledge sharing and networking introduced huge savings.

Harvard Business Review, March 2001, has a success story of a 'human portal' at work in British Petroleum (BP). The 'human portal' is an Intranet system that enabled a network among 10,000-odd employees for sharing their rich technical and professional experience. The portal was able to establish a network community. Many other companies like HP, Microsoft, and Chevron also use a similar Intranet to leverage on the value of its networks.

There are currently two trends in KM (Knowledge Management) software. The first and most prevalent trend focuses on the capture of unstructured knowledge into repositories. Search engines can be run on these repositories and the results can be layered in categories in a Web-based portal. If we step back to the idea of collaboration, e-mail and other collaboration technologies become the first line of opportunity prior to deploying knowledge-specific solutions. The second trend involves the discovery of expertise from documents or from the interaction of people with information environments

There is a strong need to co-relate and integrate repositories of implicit/tacit knowledge with explicit information to leverage a BI (Business Intelligence) value system. Most of the time we use our IT resources to capture, mine and warehouse structured data, documents and information. But we also need to harness the implicit information that comes from knowledge in a worker's mind.

Value of an Intranet
One of the finest values of an Intranet and the Web is that it facilitates collaboration and community working. This may be considered a starting point for capturing tacit knowledge and making a 'human portal.' Imagine having employees in one office meeting peers in a remote office, to brainstorm or resolve problems without incurring any travel expenses. Imagine having geographically remote companies performing application sharing, having virtual whiteboard sessions, and sharing video and audio. Imagine having the same level of collaboration with your customers, suppliers, and partners.

BP's KM initiative went like this:

  • BP took a bottom-up approach, to develop a knowledge directory that gained the support of the staff. The product was known as 'Connect'.
  • Connect took the form of a searchable Intranet repository, through which all staff could search for people with relevant knowledge and experience. Additionally, they could easily create a personal home page rich in content, which in turn would be accessible to anyone with network access.

Vision for Sharing
BP strove for an environment where all employees could easily search for people with a particular expertise. All of them could create and maintain a personal home page on the Intranet.

Since, the transfer of knowledge is all about people and relationships rather than projects and resources, the environments to support knowledge management and people relationships play important roles.

Methods and processes used in knowledge networking

People - who enjoy defined knowledge management roles and accountabilities.

Process - simple effective activities and business processes.

Technology - standard groupware technology.

Culture - Knowledge management is a culture change process

Basics
The knowledge networking, mining and management process has four distinct steps. They are knowledge creation, knowledge capture, knowledge application, and knowledge measurement. While knowledge creation can result in either tacit or explicit knowledge, it is the process of capturing and sharing this knowledge that makes it available across the enterprise.

Knowledge Community
Content mapping and creation: Based on the understanding of process dynamics and knowledge cycle, one can unearth the hidden treasure of corporate-wide knowledge and information. Using Intranet and e-mail, BP established 'Connect' with its technical staff. Using tenets of the above methodology, employees across the globe voluntarily shared information through simple home pages. The pages had to be filled with information like name, job title, team business unit, structured taxonomy of 'areas of expertise', and languages spoken. Employees were also asked to share their internal and external contacts and favourite Web links (internal and external).

The data collection process was made enjoyable and interesting by asking people to upload their favourite photograph, resume, audio clip, membership of networks, communities of practice, and basic contact information like telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. They were asked to respond to questions like: What are you currently working on? What areas have you worked on in the past? What subjects might you like to be contacted about? What do you enjoy doing? Is there any help that you need?

Using this information, a 'Yellow Page' directory on the Intranet about employees experiences, categorized in different subjects and technical disciplines was conceived. BP is experimenting with a variety of approaches to make knowledge sharing easier. Videos are made that can be seen on the network; electronic yellow pages can be searched in a variety of ways; people are encouraged to list interests, expertise, and experiences. This creates a virtual team and builds Intranet value. There are 35,000-odd PCs on this Intranet. The corporate philosophy is 'let a thousand, or a million home pages bloom.'

Steps for capturing and recycling learning
The six components of capturing learning

1) Learning before activity
2) Learning during activity
3) Learning after activity
4) Creation of knowledge assets to store what we know
5) The creation and empowerment of communities of practice
6) The creation of accountable knowledge roles

Content capturing
An invitation was made to all employees of BP to ask them to participate in the data collection drive through e-mail. The information was categorized into repositories of different communities of interest like health, entertainment, computers, and environmental pollution. Relationship and mentoring contacts among community members ensured that the information was updated.

A three tier approach of technology, relationship, and networking through personal meetings was used to build a community of corporate 'Connect' of employees knowledge.

Application and derived Benefits
The Intranet community members at BP regularly use the repository to get in touch with employees with the right experience. They can use e-mail in the beginning and video conference later, if deemed necessary to consult personally.

The exercise has saved BP billions of dollars worldwide. The intangible value is the corporate knowledge you have gained.

Think how much more powerful your company will be:

  • When you avoid making the same mistake twice.
  • When you don't re-invent the wheel.
  • When all successes are repeatable and sustainable.
  • When you shorten the learning cycle.
  • When every decision at every level is made in light of the full knowledge base of the organization.

So why wait? Leverage Intranet technology for generating value out of your corporate hidden treasure of tacit and implicit information and leverage profits without any capital investment. You require zeal, a strategy with support from top management, and a clear understanding of unearthing hidden treasure.

Strategy at work
You can unlock the value hidden in your operational knowledge in a three-step process.

  • Step 1 - Strategy develop-ment and implementation planning:

The development of a strategy and implementation plan allows you to chart a road map to deliver the hidden value of what you already know and apply that operational knowledge to transform your business.

  • Step 2 - Introductory training sessions:

The techniques of knowledge-enabled performance are simple, inexpensive and do not need any special software or hardware. Focused introductory training

sessions allow professionals in your organization to develop the skills and capabilities of KM, enabling you to create internal competence.

  • Step 3 - Professional empowerment:

Using experienced staff as coaches, mentors, and advisors, your own professionals can integrate the principles of knowledge-enabled performance in your organization. You can apply KM tools and techniques to focus projects and transform your business.

M.D. Agrawal is Chief Manager,IS Refinery System, Bharat Petroleum Corporation, Ltd.

 
     
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