Strategic Knowledge Management Plan

Executive Summary

“Knowledge is power”. Today companies compete not just on price and quality of service but also on other unique attributes commonly termed as core competencies. In fact, today, knowledge is considered a core competency by many industries and companies. There is an intricate relationship between knowledge and power and as we move into a knowledge-based economy ability to define, capture, manage, and apply knowledge becomes a matter of competitive survival (Jashapara, 2004).

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The ultimate goal of implementing knowledge management is increased revenue through improved productivity and higher efficiency. The recommended approach is to take the bottom-up approach with executive support. The proposed solution is to introduce the idea of knowledge management in smaller steps rather than take a “big bang” approach, which will be executed by defining knowledge, selecting a pilot, implementing the pilot, and finally rolling out.

The benefit of implementing this knowledge management strategy is to give employees the ability to create business value through collaboration and partnership. Other benefits include faster completion of projects through collaboration, avoiding reinventing the wheel by reusing solutions, and creativity in resolving issues that affect everyone.

There are definite positive impacts of implementing KM such as faster product development and change in organizational culture. The main challenges are in changing existing organizational behaviour and management attitude.

The estimated cost of this project is USD 10,000 to USD 30,000 and the expected timeline to implement a pilot is between six to eight months.

Introduction

The telecommunication industry is cluttered with companies providing similar products and services like ours to the same target consumers at varying costs. We need to improve productivity and differentiate ourselves from the competition by focusing on our fundamental processes also known as core competencies. Today’s economy is a knowledge-based economy and the core competencies of any organization include collective corporate knowledge and experience of our people.

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Our organization has people with various skills and abilities and we need to be able to effectively tap into these vast resources. We also should be able to identify staff and benefit from their skills through partnership, which means establishing relationships that are collaborative in nature. Collaboration is the basis for bringing together the knowledge, experience, and skills of multiple team members to contribute to the development of a new product more effectively (Crow, 2008). So important is collaboration for teamwork that they are used almost synonymously.

To foster collaboration we need to create a culture where team members can learn to appreciate diverse viewpoints as well as express their own to seek a win-win outcome (Mead, 2005).

The knowledge we have gained over many years of serving and understanding customer preferences is an important asset, which we propose to capture and share through consistent documentation, training, and use of at least one centralized repository such as “Wiki”. Moreover, we also need to capture tacit knowledge that cannot be written down or verbalized and is usually gained through direct hands-on experience. Especially because tacit knowledge is much harder to document, copy, and distribute, it can be a sustainable source of our competitive advantage (Kotelnikov). This kind of knowledge is usually shared while having coffee or dining with colleagues in a very casual setting among trusted people.

Company Background

Our company has been in telecommunication business for almost 20 years. Over the years we have seen how the demographics of the market have changed, technology has evolved, new segments are created within our markets and competition has increased.

The company currently employs 500 employees dedicated to meet customer satisfaction. The company believes that success requires good corporate citizenship towards both the customers and employees. The company comprises departments which are summarized below in Table 1, which also details the kind of knowledge they possess. Carefully analysing the activities of the various departments makes it clear that each team, depending on their function and interactions has developed knowledge that is unique to their department. By analysing the interactions column, we can also see some interdependence between departments and how knowledge gained by one team can be effectively used by another. For example, the product department can use knowledge from sales and engineering to develop products that meet customer requirements, rather than creating products that customers don’t need or are not yet ready to use.

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Table 1: Summary of Functions

Department Function Interactions Kind of Knowledge
Call centre agents Answers customer calls about billing, product specifications, delivery complaints etc. Customers Customer complaints and general queries
Business Office (BO) Field Technicians provision network access to customers. Customers, engineering and sales Customer queries specific to types of network access
Sales staff Sell products and services to a customer. Customers, marketing, and product Understanding of customer needs
Product Create products and services to meet customer needs. Sales, marketing, engineering Product and Service knowledge
Marketing Promote the company, products and services to customers through advertising Sales, product Knowledge of market segments, customer preferences, and competition.
Engineering Develop, design and implement solutions. Customer, sales, product, business office Customer requirements, trends in technology, customer evolution
Project Management Selection and execution of projects. Customer, engineering, sales, BO, and vendors Customer expectations and satisfaction
Preferred vendors Product and Service delivery Customer, engineering, sales, business office Customer satisfaction levels

Strategic Planning

As mentioned before, the ultimate goal of implementing Knowledge Management (KM) is to be able to add and create business value through collaboration and partnership. This is only possible through the creation of an organizational environment that fosters a free flow of ideas and a culture of trust. Before getting into the solution and implementation mode, it is important to ensure the KM strategy is aligned with the overall corporate strategy. While there can be a top-down or bottom-up approach, we will recommend the bottom-up approach in implementing KM, as front-line employees gain the most knowledge from their interactions with customers, peers, and markets.

Critical Success Factors (CSF)

Every organization has CSF that is unique to itself and for us to meet our objectives and successfully implement KM strategy the following factors are determined to be crucial.

  • Leadership – Although we take a bottom-up approach, we need leaders to champion the KM strategy, both in words and actions. Since knowledge is of strategic importance to the organization, executive and broad support is crucial (Williams, 2008). It is more effective if executives show commitment and seriousness to the KM, by allocating funds.
  • Culture – This is the single most important success factor to KM and also the most difficult to change because it is ingrained into our human nature. There are several reasons people do not want to share knowledge, which include “lack of trust, lack of perceived value, or simple knowledge hoarding” (Williams, 2008). Communicating a culture of knowledge sharing, rewarding employees who participate, creating communities of practice, and creating “best practices” can help overcome these barriers (Jennex and Zakharova, 2005).
  • Organizational Structure – There should be some sort of governance that sets guidelines, policies, and procedures and helps define what knowledge is for the company. This can usually be done through an executive council or a steering committee with executive involvement.
  • IT Infrastructure – IT infrastructure is not KM but only an enabler to the KM initiative. It is important to use a user-friendly IT platform that is able to consolidate information and disseminate it to members of the organization at the right time.
  • Measurement – There should be a reliable way to measure the effectiveness of the KM initiative. The goal of implementing knowledge management is increased revenue and KM should eventually be tied to a business outcome.

Current Situation

Currently, the various departments mentioned above work in silos. Front line customer-facing staff including call centre agents, customer support, sales, and engineering has no platform to document their experiences. If they require information, such as the latest changes to product specifications or how to handle a certain issue, they use point-to-point communication by sending emails to each other and relying on the memory of their colleagues. Moreover, there is no platform where staff can get information on corporate policies on how to deal with customer complaints, information on product knowledge, return and processing of damaged goods, although some information is available on the corporate website.

Target Situation

The target situation of the KM initiative is to eventually transform our company into a learning organization that encourages learning of all members and continuously evolving to meet market demands (Pedler et al, 1991). To enable this, we need to accomplish three main objectives. First, we need to transform our company into a community built upon mutual trust, respect, and regard for knowledge earned. Secondly, explicit information will be captured through the systematic use of documentation. We need a single repository in the form of a webpage where all corporate knowledge is available upon demand with an easy click of a mouse. This repository will allow users to post information that will be reviewed by the review council and upon approval posted on the website. Thirdly, an online social networking site will be developed and implemented that will allow the company to capture implicit or tacit knowledge. This will be synthesised and shared through training using tools such as face-to-face meetings, teleconferencing, and web conferencing.

Proposed Solution

As mentioned before, instead of taking a “big bang” approach, the proposed solution is to take a “phased” or “stepped” approach. This solution will take the form of a phased approach starting with defining knowledge management, identifying key staff group, selecting a pilot, conducting a requirements analysis, implementing the pilot, and finally rolling out. The advantage of implementing a phased approach is because KM is still an emerging field and initial setbacks would not derail the corporate KM strategy but rather allow for learning from failure. It is important to remember that it is not just about sharing information but using this collective information for improving productivity by encouraging self-management or empowerment and self-motivation.

Characterises

Knowledge Management is heavily dependent on the people who work in the company and is all about capturing the knowledge they have gained over years of interacting with customers, suppliers, and vendors under different situations. There are certain unique characteristics of KM which must be understood before implementing a strategy to capture knowledge:

  1. People-Oriented – KM is about capturing both explicit and implicit knowledge from the people working in the company. It starts with a change in the culture of the organization, encouraging an environment of collaboration and sharing of knowledge.
  2. Interactive – Knowledge management strategy allows users to share knowledge and interact with each other. This proactive sharing of what is being learned on a daily basis is important and helps build trust within the organization.
  3. Community focussed – As mentioned above when a sense of community is created, people willingly contribute as they understand and it is this sharing of knowledge within the context of a community that actually adds value.
  4. Relationships – Sometimes a simple pat of appreciation from a colleague for helping him or her sell a product to a customer is all it takes to make one’s day. This can come from reading about a simple technique posted by a colleague on the corporate website. KM helps build meaningful relationships which should ultimately result in achieving a business objective.

Areas of Application

The goal of KM is to help the company grow and increase revenue and there are several areas where KM can be gainfully applied. It should be noted that KM unleashes potential of the minds by allowing the staff from across the organization to contribute to the growth of the organization. Some other application areas are:

  1. Innovation – Innovation provides the company an ability to create new wealth, which is possible when a new product is accepted by the public. If KM is used strategically, it can foster a sense of innovation by encouraging staff to provide feedback on new products or services. This feedback can be used to develop the product or service before it is sold to the customer.
  2. Collaboration –Team members can share ideas informally which can help each other accomplish daily tasks. A trick one employee has used consistently and successfully used in a certain situation can be used by all members of the group which will improve the performance of the whole team.
  3. Projects – Project teams can be a complex mix of cross-functional departments, sometimes with conflicts of interest. KM can help break down barriers and allow team members to focus on the overall corporate objectives rather than personal or departmental goals.
  4. Marketing – KM is not just pushing information but also pulling information from employees. A carefully planned KM strategy with associated IT tools can be a great marketing tool for new products.

Benefits

KM is still evolving and may sound like a buzzword but there are industry examples that show that a solid KM strategy can truly translate into real benefits for the employees and the company. For example, the World Bank uses knowledge-management technologies to fight poverty and disease in developing nations (McCormick, 2007).

The benefit of implementing this knowledge management strategy is increased revenue through improved productivity and higher efficiency. Other benefits are collaboration which allows employees to share information and complete projects faster, avoiding re-inventing the wheel because organizational problems that occur in one location may already have a ready solution available at another location, and creativity in resolving issues that affect everyone by encouraging employees to look for solutions that will improve productivity.

Joe Cleveland, CIO and President at Lockheed Martin believes the new generation of workers who have joined the workforce are very comfortable with being online and like bouncing ideas off one another. According to Cleveland, he has already seen positive results from using social networking because the information is passed on in real-time which has reflected in reduced project cycle times (Mathews, 2007).

Impact

While there are benefits to implementing KM through “wiki” and social networking sites there are also potential impacts that need to be thoroughly studied. Social networking encourages innovation and idea generation. Ideas can be invited and filtered and new prototypes can be created in a shorter timeframe. Employees can be encouraged to provide feedback after they have tested the prototypes. This will allow products to be created faster and more economically thus helping to improve ROI.

In a corporate setting, hierarchy plays an important role, and depending on the culture, subordinates may not always be comfortable in challenging their superiors. This builds barriers and may hinder the flow of knowledge that benefits the organization. Using KM effectively can help break these barriers and aid in the transfer of tacit knowledge and help build a community.

Implementation Strategy

The objective of this implementation strategy is to develop a methodology and apply it on a pilot site. Possible challenges and recommendations are identified later in the document, which will ensure that this implementation strategy is as successful as possible. The outcome of the methodology will be studied and measured against the business objectives using a business scorecard and will be further refined if required before implementing it for the entire organization.

Step 1 – Timeline (Estimated 4 weeks): Defining Knowledge: Knowledge means many things to people and currently knowledge management has several definitions. The objective of implementing KM is to capture the collective knowledge of the employees gained over years of experience and employ it gainfully across the organization to compete, grow, and increase revenue. Therefore, we need to define what knowledge is to us and ensure all employees have a common understanding of what knowledge management means for the company. For example, a trick a sales person has consistently used successfully to upsell, or a technique a support staff has used to calm an irate customer can be termed as knowledge.

To achieve this, we need to form an executive committee consisting of employees from a cross-section of the company, including an executive-level employee. The objective of this committee is mainly to brainstorm and identify and define what knowledge means for the company. The functions of this committee will be to set guidelines, review knowledge submissions, identify two technology tools, develop performance indicators, measure the outcome of this implementation, submit a report to high-level management, and make further recommendations.

Step 2 – Timeline (Estimated 3 weeks): Identifying Key staff groups: The various departments identified in Table 1, follow a workflow when a customer order has been received. For example, when a sale is made, the salesperson passes the order to the project manager who in turn engages the various departments such as engineering and BO and prepares a project plan. These workflows need to be mapped and groups that add the most business value should be identified. This step will help select a pilot site to which the methodology detailed in this implementation strategy will be applied.

Step 3 – Timeline (Estimated 2 weeks): Identifying a pilot: Our phased approach will start by applying this strategy to the selected pilot site. To be able to select a suitable pilot site, we use the workflow that was mapped earlier and use the information from Table 1 to see which team has knowledge that is most important and of the highest importance to the company. For example, if the solution developed by the engineering team does not meet the customer’s needs or if the requirements are properly understood, hours spent developing the solution are wasted. Factors like these could be used in selecting the pilot site.

Step 4 – Timeline (Estimated 4-5 weeks): Requirements Analysis: Requirements analysis tries to identify the needs of the employees and things that matter to them most. By understanding the needs of the employees in the pilot or target group some understanding of the needs and the extent to which the needs vary within the organization can be gauged and a suitable implementation strategy can be developed (Robertson, 2004). It is important to remember that culture is an important critical success factor and requirements analysis helps in understanding what motivates and discourages employees from sharing knowledge. Some techniques to gather requirements include focus groups, staff interviews, online surveys, or plain simple workplace observations. During this phase, two technology tools should be identified and a feasibility study provided for review.

Step 5 – Timeline (Estimated 6 weeks): Implementing the pilot: Once the above four steps have been completed, we have a better understanding of what is involved and are in a better position to implement the pilot project. One member of the committee should be assigned the task of the project manager (PM) who will prepare a project plan, develop an implementation timeline and metrics against which performance should be measured. This PM will also implement the technology tool based on the suggestions and recommendations of the review performed in step 4. After the implementation, the PM will continually monitor the progress for two quarters (6 months) and document results, which will include the amount of new knowledge generated, main contributing members, impact on productivity, customer satisfaction, reuse of knowledge, and other important factors that the company needs to improve.

Phases Description of phases Start End
Phase 1 Defining Knowledge 01-Dec-09 29-Dec-09
Phase 2 Identifying Key staff groups 03-Jan-10 24-Jan-10
Phase 3 Identifying a pilot 29-Jan-10 12-Feb-10
Phase 4 Requirements Analysis 17-Feb-10 17-Mar-10
Phase 5 Implementing the pilot 22-Mar-10 03-May-10
Estimated project timelines
Figure 1: Estimated project timelines

Challenges

As mentioned before, KM will break down many barriers and encourage a bottom-up approach. Like most organizations, our employees are from various age groups and older members may see KM as a “waste of time” or may even see it as a threat to their jobs. Once a technology solution has been chosen, security is a major challenge that needs to be looked at carefully because the knowledge may leak out to competitors, especially since our company sees knowledge as a competitive advantage. As more and more employees join in sharing their knowledge a huge amount of information is generated and the company should decide whether it wants to host this site internally or externally. It is important to remember that these websites can be used as a repository of ideas which is proprietary and many need to be protected from malicious users. Decisions on how long to store the information, how to safely discard them, and the costs associated with storing data need to be carefully evaluated.

Recommendations

Implementing KM requires an intimate knowledge of the company, its corporate objectives, the culture, management structure, roles, and responsibilities of the employees. Based on our preliminary assessments following are some recommendations.

  • Our recommendation is to use the engineering team as a pilot site. Based on an initial assessment and historical mapping available today, the most value-add seems to be with the engineering team. The engineering team meets with the customer to understand their needs and then uses several products to develop a solution. They have knowledge of customer needs and requirements of one customer can be used to sell as options to other customers by the sales person. This team also has the greatest number of employees from different age groups and ethnic backgrounds. Overcoming challenges here would make it easier to deploy KM across the organization.
  • Human resources will need to develop a scheme that will reward employees who contribute knowledge that will add business value. For example, an idea to sell a product that has proved effective or ideas to upsell to existing customers.
  • Executive involvement should be visible. A Senior Vice President (SVP) should champion the KM initiative and this should be announced on the corporate website. According to Hasanali (2002), at The World Bank, the Presidents support led to the promotion and growth of communities of practice (CoPs) used throughout the world, which in turn has helped to sustain the KM initiative.
  • To encourage sharing of information and collaboration, technology such as social networking should be investigated. This will allow online networking and sharing of information. Companies such as FedEx have used social networking sites successfully to empower their employees and help them resolve day-to-day issues. Ainsworth, the director of IT innovation at FedEX, who has a team of 40 members with 4 dedicated to social networking says, “Ideally, I’d like to have to Face Net—and social networking in general—become an accepted part of doing business at FedEx,” (Mathews, 2007).
  • Knowledge is power and it is important to empower the employees so they feel responsible and accountable towards improving the outcome of actions. Delegating certain management functions to employees will allow managers to focus on more important issues.

Conclusion

Implementing knowledge management will need a change in attitude in management and employees. There are definite benefits to implementing KM in terms of improving productivity, reuse of information, faster project cycles which have a direct impact on the business performance. Managers should be trained on the advantages and disadvantages of technology and to view this tool as a business tool for the transfer of ideas and knowledge. Management may also need to delegate and empower certain individuals or teams with decision-making powers so that they can enable change. Corporate policy, such as acceptable use policy, needs to be in place to guide employees on what they can and cannot do using these technology tools. KM is still emerging and the company should have a solid business case to implement the KM initiative.

References

Crow, K., 2008. COLLABORATION. Web.

Hasanali, F., (2002), Critical Success Factors of Knowledge Management. Web.

Jennex, M. E. and Zakharova, I., 2005, Knowledge Management Critical Success. Web.

Jashapara, A (2004) Knowledge Management: An Integrated Approach, Peason Education Limited, England.

Kotelnikov, V., Tacit Knowledge as a Source of Competitive Advantage. Web.

McCormick, J., 2007, 5 Big Companies That Got Knowledge Management Right. Web.

Mathews, C., 2007. Discovering the Power of Social Networking Sites. Web.

Mead, S., 2005. Collaboration: An Important Leadership Development Skill. Web.

Pedler, M, Burgoyne, J and Boydell, T (1991) The Learning Company: A Strategy for Sustainable Development, McGraw-Hill, London.

Robertson, J.,2004, Developing a knowledge management strategy Web.

Williams, R., 2008. Critical Success Factors When Building a Knowledge Management System. Web.

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