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PricewaterhouseCoopers tracks single path to content from myriad databases

Best Practice Award: revamping, retooling, restructuring

With the merger of Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand in 1998, PricewaterhouseCoopers became the largest professional services organization in the world. As it grew to its current 150,000 employees in 150 countries, its legacy database network also grew, becoming more diverse and unwieldy. The difficulty in finding data created a compelling business case for a single, searchable gateway to the company's stored knowledge. In developing, implementing and refining a new knowledge management solution, PricewaterhouseCoopers illustrates best practices in revamping, retooling and restructuring.

The intranet project, called KnowledgeCurve, was driven initially by development of the company's e-business and knowledge management initiatives, and by the growing need for quicker, easier access to information by staff worldwide. The market space in which PricewaterhouseCoopers competes is increasingly global, with clients operating worldwide and expecting real-time solutions to their business problems wherever they happen to be.

For years, PricewaterhouseCoopers and its legacy firms have been diligent about capturing tacit knowledge to make it explicit, primarily through the use of a myriad of databases. In fact, there were thousands and thousands of databases--information everywhere, according to Tracy Beverly, global intranet director for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"KnowledgeCurve let us put a framework around all the good content," Beverly says. "It takes our users to a single place to find what they need."

Since implementation of the intranet began, many databases have been decommissioned. In the consulting practices division, for instance, nine repositories exist now where once there were a couple thousand, according to Beverly.

The intranet already existed within the United States before the merger, but it wasn't until the merger that the company began a real effort to make it global. As of a year ago, the intranet had been expanded to four countries; now 55 are using it, including countries in Asia, the Pacific, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin and South Americas.

In another year, KnowledgeCurve will be in 150 countries, serving 90% of PricewaterCoopers' users. In some places, like Africa, implementation is "almost technically unreachable," Beverly adds.

Initially, KnowledgeCurve allowed the best internal knowledge to surface on the corporate intranet without a massive conversion effort. But as the company became increasingly global and as the quantity of content increased massively, new technology was added to Web-enable the databases. The Web browser ensures people quickly find what they want and cuts back on having to replicate databases around the world, which is time-consuming and costly.

Among the many benefits of KnowledgeCurve, Beverly focuses on four:

• the "virtual office" aspect of the intranet, which "supports our people being out of the office." Administration and human resources matters, such as healthcare forms, can be filled out on the intranet.

• the "communications piece" of the intranet, which provides daily news that can be updated instantly.

• the educational arm of the intranet, called Learning Curve, which provides such services as continuing education tracking and just-in-time training.

• "trustworthy" linkage to the Internet, because of a internal process that ensures all links on KnowledgeCurve are verifiable and accurate sources.

Birth of an intranet

Fifteen people were brought together to oversee the intranet project. Called the Knowledge Curve Program Office, the team is responsible for strategy and planning; project co-ordination and tracking; implementation; standards, guidelines, best practices; quality assurance; communications and training.

They review how people are obtaining information, canvass different parts of the organization and work with IT to determine what technology constraints might affect the project.

The Program Office works closely with the Lead Site Managers' Group, which represents 500 people worldwide who manage content and the day-to-day operations of different parts of the intranet. Overarching both of teams is the Knowledge Management Advisory Group, which ensures unity between PricewaterhouseCoopers' business strategy and its intranet strategy.

First destination

As the intranet is introduced on a staggered basis worldwide, staff members document standard project management procedures so they are available to the people who are introducing the intranet next.

Project guidelines include:

• identifying and evaluating the best hardware and software;

• ordering, installing and testing the hardware and software, particularly ensuring its compatibility with existing IT applications;

• designing an engaging user interface;

• populating the intranet with content that ensures people use it;

• piloting it among user groups;

• reviewing, modifying, retesting and launching it.

The company strategy is to raise awareness and gain commitment among employees to use the intranet and to see it as the first destination when searching for information.

An important achievement along the project path was gaining senior management support for the intranet by demonstrating its benefits and competitive advantages. That buy-in, of course, must extend to all employees, many of whom believe that they don't have time for technology initiatives unless there is a tangible benefit for them, such as being able to do their job more effectively.

A corporate goal, too, is to help employees realize they have the power to find things out for themselves and to help them understand the significance of KM to the organization.

Work in progress

KnowledgeCurve is subject to ongoing analysis and evolution. A software application that monitors usage consistently shows growth in traffic to the site. As a simple indicator, monthly hits on the U.S. site have quadrupled over the past year: from an average of 2 million per month for the first half of 1999 to 8 million hits per month in February 2000.

A feedback mechanism is located on every page and an internal communication research program polls people organizationwide regularly. The KnowledgeCurve team reviews and responds to all feedback within 24 hours. Site managers solicit feedback via focus groups, and the Program Office regularly conducts usability testing when developing new applications and considering design changes.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers,

its global intranet, KnowledgeCurve:

• provides a forum for sharing corporate values, standards and culture;

• helps unify its knowledgebase and its people;

• provides employees with 24-hour access to business, financial, client and competitor news.

• provides desktop and remote access to world-class internal and external resources.

• helps demonstrate to clients that its people are better informed than the competition.

• enables PricewaterhouseCoopers to use its size to negotiate global contracts with third-party information vendors, thereby replacing smaller, locally negotiated contracts and saving more than $6 million a year.

• reduces the traditional time lag between conception and implementation of policies and initiatives.

• helps turn paper-based business processes into more user-friendly online experiences.

• provides a home base where staff can manage such administrative functions as healthcare reimbursement forms, travel bookings and access to their corporate credit card statements.

• is becoming a repository for reference information, eliminating the cost of printing directories, guides and handbooks.

• is increasingly the focal point for ongoing learning, serving as an electronic link to computer- and Web-based self-study resources, seminars, distance learning and other initiatives.

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