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KM -- It's Even in the Furniture

As the industry wrestles to define knowledge management and describe what it includes (or excludes), many have supported the notion that KM is not a technology or set of technologies, but also must comprise an engineered set of processes that facilitate knowledge sharing.

Few have gone so far as one company to suggest that the physical environment also plays a role, to wit, 'How can knowledge be shared when people are locked up in their offices all day?'

Viant, a solutions integrator with a focus on building highly-leveraged e-commerce systems not only utilizes an internal knowledge management system comprised of people, process and technology components, but also has taken stock in the idea that something as basic as the office configuration can either stifle or encourage knowledge sharing.

At Viant, everyone from the CEO on down has no office -- not even a cubicle -- but rather just a simple desk, chair and filing cabinet. And the furniture is on wheels, to allow for re-arranging on-the-fly.

As project teams form, made up of strategists, technologists and creative business analysts, the teams are allowed the option of configuring their office furniture in the fashion which best supports the way they would like to communicate as a team. Sometimes this may involve very close proximity and sometimes isolation, but it always is unique to the project and the team supporting it.

"Knowledge sharing and learning were very strong core values when the company was founded, and it is especially important to our rapid organic growth strategy," stated Diane Hall, Viant's Chief People Officer. "We don't believe that knowledge can really be managed, so we don't call it KM. We determined that knowledge sharing -- as we like to refer to it -- is a result of corporate culture, processes and systems."

Employees at Viant are rewarded not for how much they know, but how well they are able to share knowledge.

One benefit of the open physical environment in the main office space is the opportunity for spontaneous 'cross-pollination' of knowledge between project teams. These 'knowledge accidents' are actually expected and are used as a means to supplement the knowledge sharing process. Of course, there are conference rooms at Viant's eight offices for private meetings with customers or for confidential matters.

Another side benefit (CFOs take note) is that Viant's office space now requires less customization or 'building out' to be ready to occupy, and is therefore less costly. This also allows Viant, just a three-year-old company already with nearly 300 employees, to expand into new markets more quickly

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