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.
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?
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
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.
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
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
- 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
- A helpdesk for facilitating process consulting
- 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 at:firstname.lastname@example.org