KM at Work: A Look at How Organizations Maximize Knowledge to Deliver Results

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Collaborative Management as KM

Collaborative management is part of the expanding universe of what can now be considered KM. Traction Software, Inc.'s product Traction TeamPage is a collaborative workspace using wikis and a searchable issues-tracking system. Greg Lloyd, Traction's CEO, says his product was conceived as a KM system from the start. "Today, what people are perceiving is that through issue tracking augmented with team spaces, tags, ratings, etc., we can now mine that data for lessons learned, find experts and capture insights based upon the learning, making daily life easier."

Traction TeamPage was implemented at manufacturing robotics systems manufacturer KUKA Systems in the enterprise applications department. This instance of Traction TeamPage is geared toward
continuous process improvement. By deeply analyzing a process path, and finding a way to provide the right information at the right time to speed the process, the system achieves a return on investment by reducing cycle times to close issues in software development companywide. Throughout the process, the system is continuously logging the actions of all the users so that continuous improvement of that process can be
possible by knowing about and avoiding mistakes made in the past.

In this instance, Kuka Systems achieved many of the primary goals of a typical KM project without ever deploying a significant centralized KM effort. Work was completed, issues were resolved, and information was transferred all without a "chief knowledge officer" in charge of masterminding the flow. The initiatives at KUKA Systems, rather than being knowledge-driven, were based on business goals, and the knowledge management system worked to serve these goals in the most streamlined way possible.

There is a fierce debate in the KM community between the old-school KM people and the collaborative technology/ Web 2.0 folks as to whether a wiki or message board constitutes knowledge management. Fuze CEO Chuck Van Court says, "Integrating a forum or other community technology with a knowledgebase can provide a valuable source of new knowledgebase content, but it will do absolutely nothing to evolve existing content."

There are compelling arguments on both sides; however, one example provides excellent insight into how a wiki can enable powerful knowledge sharing: It was a wiki that opened up communication between the 16 different U.S. intelligence agencies given a post-9/11 mandate to share knowledge. In 2005, Thomas Fingar, the head of analysis for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), an organization designed to combine the knowledge of the community of intelligence agencies, and Mike Wertheimer, his CTO, decided to look at wikis as a solution to getting all the spies to talk with one another. In the fall of 2005, the ODNI, working with the CIA, launched a prototype of Intellipedia, a wiki that any intelligence employee with classified clearance could read and contribute to.

Intellipedia proved itself only a year later when a small, two-seat plane crashed into a Manhattan building. An analyst created a page within 20 minutes, and 80 comments were posted within 2 hours by members of nine different agencies. Together, they concluded that the crash was not a terrorist act. The basic premise of the system is that a few thousand amateur spy bloggers freely commenting online will be more intelligent than a sealed room with five elite überspies.

The solution-while by no means comprehensive-is certainly cost-effective. According to Andrew Mcafee, a principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business in the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology's Sloan School of Management, "The budget for all of the [ODNI's] 2.0 technologies has been described to me as ‘rounding error' when compared to the IT budget of any single, intelligence agency."

The ROI of KM

Carla O'Dell, CEO of APQC (formerly the American Productivity and Quality Center), says that ROI is a major sticking point for most organizations-one that she feels can be easily surmounted. O'Dell, co-author of If Only We Knew What We Know, explains that CEOs are looking at three types of metrics to measure the effectiveness of their KM systems.

The first are general participation metrics that cover content downloading, rating, and tagging. She points out that it is "hard to tie these metrics to a business outcome."

Second, there are anecdotal success stories bandied about. In some cases companies collect survey data and attempt to quantify the savings that KM generates. O'Dell says that "Conoco-Phillips constantly surveys employees and ... by proactively top-down gathering data, claim to come up with a billion or two a year in the savings impact of KM."

O'Dell cautions against trying to quantify the intangibles. "There are so many beautiful intangibles that result from knowledge sharing, [such as a] sense of affiliation [and the] ability to feel like an expert. So we just call it a halo and quantify what we can quantify."

The third area of ROI in KM, asserts O'Dell, uses the scientific method, in which, "You tie behavioral activity to an outcome." Using this type of analysis at Best Buy Corp., the company determined, among other things, that salespeople who had access to a knowledgebase at the moment of sale sold more cameras. The study concluded that this was because they were able to answer more questions that required judgment regarding issues not printed in the product specs but that were available in a knowledge forum.

APQC is doing what it can to spread the word on KM and other topics; as a not-for-profit dedicated to disseminating benchmarking knowledge to corporations, it has a vast store of knowledge and commissioned studies on best practices across all business areas. For KM, APQC developed a framework called the APQC stages of Knowledge Management Maturity. O'Dell explains that the framework, inspired by CMMI (a maturity model for software development invented by the Department of Defense more than 30 years ago), gives enterprises objective measures as to where their KM efforts stand.

APQC's newly installed system, masterminded by Qusai Mahesri, managing director of XPEDIANT Solutions, a technology consulting firm, began with about 2,000 artifacts back in 2002. Mahesri says the goal was "to do a high-end web application system that has a portal framework, a content management framework, and an industrial strength search engine ... because I knew the content was going to grow rapidly." The company chose ATG for the portal, Interwoven for the content management, and Verity for the search engine. Mahesri adds that "APQC is currently looking at moving to a service-oriented architecture using open source and social media software."

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