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Issue of February 2005 

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Knowledge Management

Collecting and sharing knowledge

Although knowledge management is no longer considered to be vapourware, it is far from popular. Is this because enterprises are not clear about KM or is there no value in the concept? by Deepali Gupta

M D Agrawal
GM IS Refinery Systems, BPCL

Knowledge Management (KM) is a concept that has been around for a long time. Like any new concept, it has gone through the proof of concept and hype phase. However, as KM is more a concept than a technology, it has not been fully understood by the CIO community. In the absence of evangelical efforts on part of top vendors to hardsell the KM concept, it has failed to gain mindshare.

Defining KM

Arun O. Gupta, Senior Director Business Technology, Pfizer Ltd describes KM as a practice that addresses the need for information that is required for making effective decisions. If this information is structured, the same can be translated into knowledge by applying a set of predefined rules. For example, comments on discussion boards can be converted into useful FAQs.

The perception of KM differs from one industry vertical to another. In software service companies, knowledge management can be a highly effective practice as it helps capture knowledge across different skill sets. For instance, information regarding common queries about specific technologies (if captured on the Intranet) can help solve common problems. This, in turn, boosts productivity. As Indian software service organisations employ software professionals in thousands, employee inputs can be extremely useful for organisational growth.

Satish Joshi, Senior VP, Patni Computer Systems Limited says "For us, KM is a set of processes and tools which give us the ability to leverage and combine the collective abilities of our knowledge workers."

Simply put, a KM practice should let an organisation provide relevant information to each and every user. As Sunil Kapoor, Head IT, Fortis Healthcare says, "KM is nothing but having customised information tailored to the needs of each user." As a KM practice provides a structured way of capturing knowledge that exists within the organisation, it gives an organisation the ability to improve the productivity and knowledge of its employees by means of knowledge sharing.

"A KM practice that encompasses end-to-end processes owned by a department can go a long way toward boosting productivity," says M D Agrawal, GM IS Refinery Systems, BPCL.

Does anybody really care?

Satish Joshi
Senior VP, Patni Computer Systems Limited

KM can be a highly effective tool for organisations that have geographically dispersed teams. They can derive great value from a common knowledge-sharing platform. KM can also prove effective in organisations suffering from high employee turnover. In such cases, a KM practice can help bring new inductees up to speed with the history of ongoing projects. For example, in software companies such as Patni Computer Systems Limited, where development teams are spread across the world, KM is an efficient method for every employee to develop upon existing ideas rather than reinvent the wheel.

So far, KM vendors have predominantly found takers for their wares in the BPO, software healthcare and pharmaceutical industry segments. "The pharmaceutical industry cannot live without it. We may try out a small proof of concept in the last quarter of 2005," says Kapoor. He adds the caveat that KM has to mature before it gains widespread acceptance.

A proper flow of information is essential for the growth of every organisation. In this situation, KM will be play an essential role, and those organisations that deploy it early on will have an edge. Uma Ganesh of Kalzoom Technologies cites the example of Tata Steel that initiated a pilot implementation of KM. The KM practice proved so useful that the company is now considering incorporating the best practices of the KM implementation in the Tata Business Excellence Model (a model that governs the way every Tata enterprise should function).

As Indian organisations go global, it becomes imperative for Indian CIOs to look at a KM practice to capture knowledge beyond local boundaries. Agrawal agrees, "KM will go beyond the boundaries of individual corporations to provide a global rather than a local picture." For companies like TCS and Infosys that operate in dozens of countries, KM can give them an edge in the competitive software services market.

KM is not just a technology

Arun O. Gupta
Senior Director Business Technology, Pfizer Ltd

KM is more about best practices and procedures rather than pure technology. Consequently, it requires support from employees and effective use can happen only when all of them are actively involved. Therefore, a big bang approach will not work. An interview published in Darwin Magazine, in September 2004, quotes Jim McGee, currently director of Huron Consulting Group, recalling that his worst mistake was the implementation of a video-based knowledge management system. The concept failed simply because nobody used the system. In October, CIO Magazine published a case study of a successful KM implementation at Children's Hospital in Boston, USA. The hospital succeeded because it took time to involve every user by taking things slow and steady rather than going in for a big bang approach.

This probably explains the cautious approach Indian CIOs are taking when it comes to KM. Says Gupta of Pfizer, "We at Pfizer India have embarked on two initiatives that will gradually evolve into a KM framework. The first one involves capturing documents and creating a context sensitive repository. The second initiative focuses on converting unstructured data into structured data and warehousing the same. Together, these initiatives will provide us with key metrics and information that will assist decision making"

In conclusion, while there are a few successful cases of KM in India, the average Indian enterprise is not ready for it. For now, it remains a distant dream.

India Inc's KM successes

Patni Computer Systems, India's sixth largest software services exporter is one of the few organisations that makes extensive use of KM. The company has created a knowledge centre, which allows its employees to learn about new technologies, have discussions, get technical queries answered and even draft quick sales proposals.

For Patni, this system has led to a reduction in training time and a boost in productivity due to better sharing of knowledge among its employees.

Here are some of the features of the knowledge centre:

  • The knowledge centre contains information about the quality management system, information related to different projects, related best practices and lessons learned, technology related white papers and tutorials.
  • A searchable repository of reusable software components
  • As it is based upon a Web based model, information is accessible from all Patni offices
  • Classification of content according to industry verticals and technologies
  • A discussion forum for exchange of ideas and solutions
  • A helpdesk for facilitating process consulting to projects
  • A marketing centre which holds frequently asked questions by customers (the same is used by employees in sales and marketing). Additionally, case studies and templates for proposals and newsletters are also captured in the knowledge centre.
  • A role based access privilege model that ensures that every user has access only to information pertaining to his department.

Deepali Gupta can be reached

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