Over the last several decades, many firms have attempted to use information systems (IS) to capture, retain, and reuse the knowledge of their firms-a practice referred to as Knowledge Management (KM). These companies have taken advantage of advanced technologies, such as database tools and web-based applications, to effectively manage knowledge. Technologies such as shared databases, web-based portals, and search engines have also been frequent staples of KM initiatives. However, it was often the case that firms engaged in significant and costly IS implementation to manage knowledge, but have been unsuccessful in their efforts or have been unable to appropriately or effectively use their firm’s knowledge.
The Southern California Knowledge Management Conference
On December 12 and 13, 2007, Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management will team up with four firms from the Southern California Aerospace Knowledge Management Forum (NASA-JPL, Northrop Grumman, Pratt-Whitney Rocketdyne, and Raytheon) to host the Southern California Knowledge Management Conference. They have invited firms from across the Southern California area to participate in one of the first conferences of its kind. Visit their website for more information.
The objective of the conference is to facilitate a unique, highly interactive, and professionally challenging environment that attendees will find very helpful to discuss, share, and learn different perspectives and ideas on KM. Attendees will learn of the KM efforts neighboring firms are undertaking, engage in networking opportunities, and build a community of practice on the topic of KM, specifically aimed at people living and working in Southern California. This conference is open to any company that has operations in the Southern California area.
We asked a few of our conference speakers to provide some insight into:
- A key KM challenge that their firm has faced, and
- To provide one strategy that they would recommend to our readers when addressing these KM challenges.
1. The biggest knowledge management challenge at Pratt-Whitney Rocketdyne was preserving the knowledge and skills of its aging workforce. Given the proportion of employees available for retirement, the firm had to ensure that it protected its most valuable asset-the knowledge of its employees. Pratt & Whitney Rocket started its KM program in late 1990 and its KM program has become the company’s official process that many employees are gaining benefits from. With a relatively minor investment to develop a KM infrastructure, the KM team has developed processes and enablers for employees to take advantage of utilizing available knowledge.
2. Firms need to create a culture where employees are encouraged to share knowledge with everyone in the organization and to develop an infrastructure that supports and enables these employees. Companies also need to establish a council so that the cross-functional organization can also benefit. Consider adopting a five-step process for identifying, addressing, and managing the KM needs of the firm: 1) the start-up of a KM program, 2) the development of a KM process for long-term planning, 3) the development of KM enablers, 4) the alignment of the KM process with the company’s daily operation, and 5) the identification of KM as the company’s long-range business plan.
1. The biggest knowledge-related challenge is the retention of “know-how” as the result of the combined effects of (a) a maturing aerospace and defense industry workforce dominated demographically by baby boomers, (b) relatively high attrition rates in new hires (especially college hires), and (c) generational differences-driven issues.
An example of the latter can be observed when considering the differences between baby boomers and millennials in light of such aspects as information technology expectations and adoption, career expectations and work-life viewpoints. The main point here is that as baby boomers retire, firms such as those in the aerospace and defense industry, must refresh their workforce through new hires-predominately from the millennial generation. At the same time, they must also find ways to ensure that “know-how” built over career lifetimes is effectively transferred to the new hires. This challenge must be addressed from a systems viewpoint as retirements, new hires, and generational differences-driven issues are interrelated.
2. To address this challenge, an organization needs to first understand how workforce demographics are impacting the firm along with potential future impacts. While there is no single solution, there are a host of actions that can be taken. These range from capturing key knowledge (usually best started well ahead of any potential knowledge loss) to creating hiring goals to balance out organizational demographic risks, such as gaps in mid-level managers or junior level employees. Furthermore, there are knowledge management solutions that can be taken to aid the flow of knowledge including communities of practice.
1. The challenges we typically see in organizations looking to implement knowledge management do not lie within the processes and the tools they install, but primarily with their ability to overcome the people issues they will face. Whether it is resolving the semantic differences that inevitably arise during these efforts or finding a way to transform the culture of the organization by encouraging and rewarding appropriate behavior, the ability to institutionalize knowledge management almost always depends on the commitment to a flexible and adaptable approach.
2. Organizations that are planning on taking advantage of knowledge management, at either the company or department level, need to approach the effort as an evolutionary process. Begin with a vision of the end state in mind, but plan to accomplish the vision through a series of incremental stages and prepare for course corrections along the way. It is critical that any tools or systems supporting knowledge management be designed such that they can quickly adapt to changes based on usage patterns and organizational behavior.
1. Aviana is a consulting company that specializes in implementing business intelligence and analytical solutions that provide actionable insights to our clients, which enable them to use information as a strategic asset. The biggest knowledge management challenge we face today is how best to share the key insights gained in one specific client engagement throughout the organization so that it may be leveraged in another situation. How can we take domain-specific knowledge and the key insights from our best performers and apply these consistently in similar situations elsewhere? That is our challenge. We realize that an effective and shareable knowledge base is critical for us to share best practices, tips, and techniques between our internationally dispersed consulting teams as it empowers us to provide the greatest “value-add” to our clients and also allows us to command a justifiable premium price for our services. We are constantly figuring out how best to capture the tribal knowledge and applied know-how that is fragmented and geographically dispersed into a shared repository that is easy to access and search as and when needed, while we also maintain our service level and solution delivery commitments to our clients and avoid burning out our team with excess work. Without effective mechanisms in place to capture the knowledge of our experienced consultants, we would be doomed to make costly mistakes or have to pay again for knowledge we already have!
2. Whatever methodology you adopt to implement a knowledge management solution, make sure that it is integrated into your processes and workflow and also ingrained into every employee’s work in a seamless manner. If your employees have to go through many additional, and potentially laborious, steps to provide their input into your knowledge management system, or to access available knowledge in your repository, it is more than likely that it will not happen! All knowledge management systems involve the explicit and systematic management of vital knowledge and its associated processes of creating, gathering, organizing, dissemination, usage, and exploitation. In order to work effectively, all of these steps must fit into the intended target users’ activities in a seamless manner. Not only must it be easy to get information into the knowledge base, it must also be easy to get at the information you are looking for when you need it-text mining, data mining, and other sophisticated techniques to effectively classify and organize the knowledge base is equally as important as the need to capture the information in the first place! As Leif Edvinsson, a Swedish guru of Intellectual Capital said, “…the changing nature of competitive advantage is not based on market position, size and power as in times past, but on the incorporation of knowledge into all of an organization’s activities.”
1. At Xerox we are discovering that the social media paradigm for knowledge management is different from earlier paradigms in several key ways. Not only is the underlying technology-including wikis and blogs-more sophisticated, the sociology of collaborative work around these tools is also very different. By using these tools to integrate both expert and “wisdom of crowds” knowledge into living documents, we can manage knowledge far more effectively than was previously possible.
2. In the old paradigm of knowledge management, document repositories were the places where knowledge went to gather entropy and die. In the new paradigm, online communities are where knowledge goes to live. We are moving from an approach focused on archiving and preserving static knowledge to an approach focused on nurturing live, evolving knowledge bases.
1. The knowledge of our senior Subject Matter Experts. The performance of Fluor’s knowledge communities relies heavily on the exchange of expertise from our senior Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) out to entry-level and mid-level employees who are seeking answers and advice. As senior SMEs retire, there has to be a succession plan in place so their vast experience can be formally captured, and so they can be kept semi-active in some capacity.
2. Senior experts bring a wealth of experience to a particular subject matter area. It is important that this experience is transferred to employees with less experience but a strong desire to learn about a particular area. To assist in this ongoing transfer, an Associate Expert Mentor Program should be developed.