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Competition fosters innovation

This article appears in the issue June 1999 [Volume 8, Issue 6]

With 6,000 employees in 50 offices worldwide, J.D. Edwards (www.jdedwards.com) is a prime example of a distributed organization that must embrace connectedness to thrive in a competitive marketplace. To answer the demands of competitive pressure and to ensure that all employees have access to comprehensive product and market information, the software developer focused its talents inward. The result was an enterprisewide intranet-based employee communication tool, the Knowledge Garden.

That achievement earns J.D. Edwards the KMWorld Best Practice Award for "Gaining Competitive Edge."

The impetus to improve communication methods grew from one fundamental problem: the lack of a central online repository and delivery system to ensure accurate and timely dissemination of company information. Paper-based distribution of corporate and product materials bred discrepancies and delays.

Compounding factors included the challenges of how to provide a growing list of partner organizations worldwide with access to product information, a rapidly growing staff with pressure to ramp up quickly, and the need to shorten lengthy sales cycles. Perhaps the greatest motivation was to unite the 6,000 employees, geographically distributed in more than 100 countries, by providing uniform and instantly available product and support information.

The solution came in a Microsoft (www.microsoft. com) Internet Explorer-enabled application, which was created internally, named Knowledge Garden, and went online in January 1997.

The impact has been undeniably positive, as Alden Globe, Knowledge Garden program manager, explained. "We have succeeded in raising the bar for our IT, marketing, training and sales organizations," he said. "People are agreeing with the concept of building modular sets of knowledge-related functionality that can be reused around the enterprise."

Reinventing information dissemination

The initiative began with a relatively simple call: "The original directive from CEO Ed McVaney was to put the employee handbook online. That was it. The vision of the project team drove all further development and evangelism, as well as tool selection," said Globe.

An interdisciplinary "Knowledge Resource Strategies Group," initially based in marketing and comprised of a manager, interface designer, multimedia specialist and four Web developer/project managers, assembled to accomplish the task. The team, led by Wayne Applehans, knowledge consulting manager, and Buffy Collison, VP of worldwide marketing, set three goals: be easy to partner with, shorten sales cycles and help new employees come up to speed quickly on a complex product line.

From those seemingly humble beginnings, a solution that continues to evolve and increase in value emerged. All relevant product, positioning and support information is available from one location now, forming the backbone of J.D. Edwards’ competitive intelligence strategy.

In an effort to narrow the technical footprint as much as possible, the team chose Microsoft as the main vendor, since the Microsoft platform was already successfully in operation across the J.D. Edwards enterprise. Internet Explorer provides the infrastructure for Knowledge Garden.

"We are standardized on NT, IIS and Site Server 3.0 on our Web servers. This supports an internal deployment of IE Version 4.0 on desktops worldwide, along with Office97, Outlook and NT," said Globe.

Tangible acceptance and success

Today, 100% of the staff has access to the nearly 1 million live files that exist in the system, consisting of more than 800,000 SAR (software action request) files, about 70,000 analyst reports, plus thousands of more general documents.

On average, 95% of employees use the Knowledge Garden for approximately 10 minutes each day.

Although updated ROI figures are being calculated as part of a project reassessment, Globe was able to say with confidence that savings from increased employee efficiency and decreased paper costs ($990,000 savings annually) have skyrocketed beyond the $4.2 million seen in 1997.

The most tangible result is immediate access to standardized operating information, which has meant that the 14-month sales cycle of the pre-Knowledge Garden era has been cut nearly in half, and is now at eight months.

The integration of the Knowledge Garden with corporate culture went smoothly. Globe commented: "We recognized early on that our KM efforts were tightly coupled with our online brand strategy, product strategy and business partner strategy. When people saw the size of the vision-to construct an enterprise knowledge architecture-they invariably wanted to get on board. Today, the Knowledge Garden is probably the most visible vehicle supporting the culture worldwide."

Distribution of ownership

To accompany the intranet system, J.D. Edwards created a professional staff comprised of 50 new positions to address the management of intellectual capital. Those individuals are knowledge resource coordinators, knowledge resource analysts and knowledge authors-each with specific responsibilities.

Knowledge resource coordinators assume the overall responsibility for ensuring easy access to information. That is achieved by first developing conceptual designs based on the profiles of users’ critical information needs, and then coordinating with the Internet team, IT and MIS to translate them into technical realities.

The development of Web pages, technical support and the cataloging of all online metadata to ensure effective access to knowledge assets is done by knowledge authors.

A tool for competitive advantage

Knowledge Garden encourages the capture and reuse of once-tacit employee knowledge to maintain a competitive edge. For example, the Competitive Intelligence Team interviews sales representatives about won and lost deals. A summary document is created, added to a synthesized document entitled "How To Beat XYZ Company" and indexed by the search engine.

Other competitive information includes multivendor comparisons, Meta Group (www.metagroup.com) and GartnerGroup (www.gartner.com) reports, industry and market news, product analysis by the knowledge resource analysts and a weekly E-mail alert highlighting current competitor information.

Globe said of the system, "We acknowledge you won’t find all the answers you need in a document. You’re probably going to have questions after you read, so knowing whom to call is critical. One of our design standards is that the document owner’s name is on every single page, along with the date and security classification."

Two large groups who drive revenue-pre- and post-sales staffs-are using those resources to streamline presentation preparation and sales cycles. The pre-sales staff is responsible for taking a prospect from a qualified lead to a closed sale. As such, their task revolves around positioning J.D. Edwards against its competitors, and relies on four overall information types: positioning, alliances, schedules and win/loss analysis.

The customer support, or post-sales, personnel-such as client managers, technical and application consultants, and install-base representatives-require information that helps them install, deploy and modify J.D. Edwards’ software to the customer’s specifications. Schedules and updates and how-to information are their primary interest areas.

Access to that dynamically presented information, thanks to taxonomies, content stores, search capabilities, Web-based access and discussion groups, has changed the way people work.

Far-reaching effects

J.D. Edwards’ 5,000 customers and 6,000 partners have reaped the benefits of the Knowledge Garden as well. "We now have a successful online customer solution center where customers can perform problem resolution, download patches, get Tips and Techniques and Hot Bulletins. Business partners have been using the system for two years to access pretty much the same information the employees get, minus the HR content," said Globe.

The center is receiving thousands of visitors per month. In February 1999, 6,856 user sessions were recorded, each lasting an average of 13.54 minutes. Presumably, many of those people found what they needed and did not have to place a call to obtain the information.

According to Globe, continued improvement to the system promises to "help customers improve business decision making by bringing together the success of the entire knowledge network with the structured data we provide through our own supply chain software and our organizational methodology."

"With these three prongs, plus other work and partnerships," he added, "we can deliver to our customers a compelling solution that brings together the structured, unstructured and Internet content customers need to make better, faster and more informed decisions in their own companies."

Scheduled for release in May 1999, Version 2.3 of Knowledge Garden, makes big strides in improving access for business partners, plus standardizing publishing and security models. J.D. Edwards now treats the entire knowledge network-jdedwards.com, internal Knowledge Garden, business partner and customer Knowledge Garden and international Web sites-as a versioned application, and has created a solution development discipline to speed projects along with standardized quality testing, team management and roles.

From a simple directive, the transition to dynamic information exchange has given J.D. Edwards an entirely new approach to knowledge sharing, and a means to constantly improve its competitive edge.

Asked for the secret to success, Globe said, "What it boils down to is this: understanding the long-range plan for the company, profiling information needs of people who drive revenue, mapping existing knowledge and who owns it worldwide, evangelizing the solution, narrowing the technical footprint, building an editorial infrastructure, delivering through the browser, and communicating like crazy with everyone involved across many traditional departmental borders."


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