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KMWorld Conference 2015 engages, enlightens

This article appears in the issue January 2016, [Volume 25, Issue 1]
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Agile knowledge sharing and innovation were the themes of the KMWorld 2015 Conference held in Washington, D.C., in November and co-located with three tracks on taxonomy, enterprise search and SharePoint. KMWorld 2015 was preceded by a day of workshops on topics ranging from KM 101 through cognitive computing. On the final day, the Knowledge Café provided several hours of interactive mentoring sessions (see sidebar following article or on page 23, KMWorld, Vol 26, Issue 1 ). Dozens of vendors of information access, collaboration and services software provided options for attendees ready to implement knowledge management solutions.

Case studies presented in the sessions provided insights into how to get started with knowledge management initiatives and how to align KM with strategic objectives. For example, KM is increasingly being used to support innovation, both in activities such as R&D and for organizational change. Many sessions highlighted the crucial role of culture change in the success of such initiatives. Three of the case studies are described in this article.

Improvement through disruption

The decision by Toyota to move its North American headquarters from California to Plano, Texas, provided a good opportunity for culture change. Concerned about possible workforce attrition, Toyota Financial Services (TFS, toyotafinancial.com) developed a plan to capture the tacit knowledge of its employees. “We had a lot of information but we did not have a culture of sharing,” said Ann Gallon, manager of business planning & Americas region strategy for Toyota. “We were worried about the ‘single point of failure’ when only one person knows a certain function and wanted to improve the learning curve for new staff.”

All those concerns pointed toward the need for a collaborative knowledgebase. “We found a product called Kaleo that was well aligned with us because it was oriented toward capturing tacit knowledge,” Gallon said. Toyota Financial Services called its application the TFS Answer Portal and assigned a “knowledge concierge” to promote its use, both for asking questions and posting answers. The new system has reduced the amount of time that employees spend searching for answers and produced a dramatic decrease in the number of support calls that the experts need to handle to respond to employee questions.

The transition required culture change. Gallon reports that at first the company had to remind employees regularly to post their questions in the system rather than ask the experts in person or via phone. Incentives for use included a contest during the division’s annual charity fundraising season in which the winner was selected based on usage metrics and given $500 to donate to the charity of his or her choice. Gallon traces the inspiration for the system to her attendance at the KMWorld conference just a year ago, when she saw the potential for an improved method for managing the department’s knowledge.

Military collaboration using SharePoint

More than other sectors of government and industry, the military must balance the goal of sharing with the “need to know.” This was just one of the challenges that the Irish Defence Forces had to overcome in its rapid-fire development of an information sharing system called Information and Knowledge Online (IKON). Like many organizations, the Defence Forces were using file shares to store information, and its information was siloed across numerous departments. One goal was to move from a distributed information system to a centralized cloud. The system was intended to span the Army, Naval Service, Air Corps and International forces.

Commandant Barry Byrne, chief information and KM officer for the Defence Forces, went through a thorough process of creating the business case, engaging stakeholders, designing the system to meet user needs and deploying IKON systematically. “Not enough attention is paid to information architecture,” said Byrne. “It is basic, but often not done.” Built on SharePoint 2013, IKON consolidated innumerable sites that were scattered across the Defence Forces. “We also created a governance structure for the whole organization from top to bottom, which has been hugely beneficial because everyone’s responsibilities are identified,” Byrne added.

The business case relied on calculations showing the savings that would result from just a small decrease in time (two hours per year) that users would experience because of improved information sharing. “This translated into a projected savings of 750,000 euros,” Byrne said, “but in reality the savings has been far greater and the information sharing benefits have been extensive.” Documents can be sent easily to a collaboration space for sharing; a subject matter expert reviews those that are routed to the knowledgebase before they are accepted.

Gamification was part of the incentive to learn how to use IKON. “They had to go through a process to learn how to win,” Byrne said, “and by doing so, they went through the steps of using IKON.” The other part of the incentive for getting buy-in was the “burning platform,” which noted the adverse consequences of the status quo. The combination proved effective. “After people learned to use IKON, we locked the file shares, which completed the transition,” Byrne explained.

Robust KM at non-profit

The Law Society of British Columbia is a nonprofit organization that regulates the legal profession and enforces ethical standards in the Canadian province of British Columbia. In the session, “KM Culture in a Nonprofit,” Thomas Kampioni, IT manager at the Law Society, offered practical advice on how to develop and enhance a knowledge management culture and showed that it can be done by a relatively small organization with resources that are already available.

The motivation for developing a KM and culture change program was to address some key issues that are common in nonprofits, especially the 19 percent turnover rate among staff working in the nonprofit sector, which accounts for more than 10 million employees in the United States. However, 90 percent of those organizations do not have retention programs, succession planning or formal career paths. As a result, nonprofits are at risk of losing knowledge when people leave the organization. Improving employment engagement and capturing existing knowledge should both be high priorities.

The Law Society promoted employee interaction in numerous ways, including organizationwide charity campaigns, an employee council and green-wise committee, staff forums, informal management coffees, “lunch and learn” meetings and CEO breakfasts. It also has many knowledge transfer programs, including job shadowing and skills enrichment programs that are geared toward establishing a high standard of technical literacy among its staff.

On the technology side, Kampioni identified the organization’s tools such as document management, member information database, intranet, wikis, organizational website, knowledge mapping via yellow pages and communities of practice as important to knowledge management, but emphasized that the technology has to work with people and processes.

Often many of those solutions are already in place. The organization just needs to use them more effectively and change the culture. “You would be surprised how many different programs, processes and technology you have within your organization that support a knowledge management culture,” Kampioni said. “Evaluating existing KM infrastructure is an important step in the process. In many cases you just need to relaunch and promote a program or technological platform and get people’s buy-in.”

At the Law Society of British Columbia, the development of a knowledge management culture was carried out in the context of strategic goals, including reducing turnover, retaining critical information and improving the efficiency and productivity of staff. The specific approaches were designed to support those goals. Although the organization does not yet have metrics on the extent to which the program has had an impact on turnover and knowledge retention, employees have been receptive and the culture has clearly begun to change, with minimal new investment in technology and modest but pervasive employee-centric programs.

[Editor’s note: KMWorld 2015 was co-located with the Taxonomy Boot Camp, Enterprise Search & Discovery, and the SharePoint Symposium. For summaries of those tracks, visit kmworld.com.]

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