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Behind the scenes at Wipro: How a KM vision became reality

[Editor's Note: Each year, KMWorld presents two awards—one to a vendor for KM Promise and one to a practitioner for KM Reality. This article focuses on the 2002 KM Reality Award winner, Wipro Technologies.]

By Judith Lamont, KMWorld senior writer

Wipro Technologies' knowledge management initiative has its roots in a quality assurance system that the company developed over a decade ago. Although relatively new to the IT business at the time, Wipro sought to benchmark its performance against top international standards.

“All of these standards required a continuous improvement process,” says Wipro’s chief quality officer, Sambuddha Deb. Recognizing early on that a substantial portion of corporate knowledge resulted from its project work, the company set up a system to capture and use that knowledge.

Wipro is the technology services division of Wipro Ltd., which was founded in 1945 and manufactured a variety of consumer and electronics products. In 1980, Wipro Ltd. entered the information technology field. Based near Bangalore, India, Wipro Technologies now serves more than 300 clients, including such companies as Cisco, Sony, IBM and Ericsson. About half of its work is in enterprise IT development, in which Wipro helps companies run their IT systems, and the other half is engineering work involving the design of software products that their clients will use internally or market to customers.

At the start of the knowledge initiative, as each project at Wipro was completed, a review board helped the project team step back and evaluate its performance and outcomes. A very detailed template was used to capture project data, including what went right or wrong, risks that were identified at the beginning of the project and whether they were avoided, and changes in direction that took place along the way. That process resulted in a draft document that became part of the company’s document repository.

Some project documents were also distilled into a case study with “nuggets,” conclusions based on lessons learned during the project. Finally, software code and information system architecture developed during the project was identified and saved for potential reuse.

“Once we started understanding what was happening in our projects,” says Deb, “we understood the process of acquiring knowledge, and began using it to improve quality.”

In the mid-1990s, Wipro began exploring the potential for Six Sigma to be a driver for its quality improvement efforts. It became an early adopter of the program, which focuses on defect reduction and cycle time reduction, and was the first Indian company to launch a Six Sigma program. Initially, top management and a group of line managers were trained, The company now has over 3,000 employees trained, and 120 certified Black Belts.

Wipro attributes its record of completing over 90% of projects on time (compared to the industry average of 55%) to the Six Sigma program. It also cites a significant defect reduction and a failure rate of only 1% in its hardware business. Wipro also now offers Six Sigma consulting services to companies that want to implement their own programs. For example, a multinational chemical company wanted to improve the quality of its products, reducing the number of defects detected after delivery. It engaged Wipro to provide a set of Web-based interactive technical support tools to reduce defects.

The process of capturing and disseminating information has continued to grow in the company. Wipro uses Sharepoint from Microsoft for its document repository, which is accessible to everyone. Learning is an ongoing process, supported by the ready availability of information and by structured learning.

“Sometimes there is work to be done on knowledge to convert it to a form in which it can be absorbed,” says Deb. “We use a variety of computer-based training tools, and also turn to outside developers.”

The company also supports Centers of Excellence (CoEs) in which people learn, create new knowledge and propagate knowledge throughout the enterprise. The CoEs have a number of different focus areas, including telecom, e-commerce, enterprise application services and embedded solutions. In addition to generating new patents, reusable components and services, the CoEs also provide a forum in which Wipro staff can develop their expertise.

Staff development has been a top priority for Wipro. In 2001, the company sought and attained Level 5 assessment in the People Capability Maturity Model (PCCM). That model, developed by Bill Curtis of TeraQuest Metrics, is a way to address critical “people process” issues. It encompasses best practices in human resources, knowledge management and organizational development. Although Wipro values the recognition that the achievement brings, the company looks beyond the assessment to what it represents. According to Pratik Kumar, VP of talent engagement and development at Wipro, the Level 5 assessment is more important because it reflects the way the company works. Continuous improvement applies to employees as well as business processes.

“We have multiple mechanisms for knowledge creation and evaluation,” observes Deb. “Our first action is engagement, getting people to work on a project and derive a steady flow of knowledge from it. Secondly, we look at our effectiveness—are we using the knowledge and avoiding past mistakes. Finally, we distill this knowledge and use it as an edge for Wipro Technologies.” Deb believes the company is just moving into the third stage, and has not yet achieved the full benefits that this edge will provide.

As might be expected from an IT company, Wipro has a full complement of software solutions at its disposal for supporting those processes. In addition to document repositories and e-learning courses, the company uses automated project management and software engineering tools. A set of customer visibility tools includes project dashboards that provide current information, as well as built-in workflow and collaboration tools. But interestingly enough, references to those enablers do not dominate the discussion. Rather, the processes and objectives are visible, and the software more transparent.

Moving aggressively to excel in product quality, business processes, and staff development, Wipro Technologies has established a comprehensive and effective knowledge management program. For now, the company is content to use its knowledge management capabilities to deliver quality products to its customers. But don’t be surprised if sometime in the future, Wipro begins to share its knowledge management expertise with clients who want to develop and benefit from their own knowledge management programs. It would be a logical next step from a company that has been quick to capitalize on emerging opportunities.

Judith Lamont is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail jlamont@sprintmail.com.

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