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What is a Competency Management System?

What is a Competency Management System?

Over the past few years, software has been developed to help organizations catalog, search, and manage the skill sets of employees. The market remains small and specialized, but some organizations may find that the software helps their talent management efforts. In particular, human resources specialists and projects managers may find that the technology is worth evaluating.

Competency Management: A Component of Knowledge Management

Competency management is an old, widely used practice that consists of all of a company's formal, organized approaches to ensuring that it has the human talents needed to meet its business goals.

The practice defines the skills in which an organization is interested, such as the ability to use a certain application or knowledge of an accounting practice. Once the skills are defined, each employee (or subcontractor) is described based on these standardized definitions. These skill and personnel descriptions are then used to forecast needs, determine training goals, and measure progress toward those goals.

Software applications can help organizations to store, search, and analyze competency-related data. Graphical dashboards provide quick views of information across an entire enterprise, and search functions help users identify who has a certain skill. And because the software is an enterprise system installed on a corporate server or provided over the cloud, it facilitates collaboration and knowledge-sharing across departments.

Software for Competency Management

Competency management systems (CMSes) are a type of enterprise software used for evaluating and managing human resources. Over the last few years, there has been a push to improve and expand these systems. Many of the earliest efforts were custom developed by organizations such as NASA and the U.S. Coast Guard.

NASA uses its system to anticipate human resources needs and manage recruitment activities. The system is a Web-based tool that allows users to edit their own information and to search for others. And, as of October 2011, it listed as future uses "employee development," "knowledge management," "integration of business processes," and searching for resources based on areas of expertise.1 NASA publishes its own "Workforce Competency Dictionary," which defines specific categories of skills. For instance, it describes "Partnership & Business Development" as requiring "Knowledge, capabilities and practices associated with the effective targeting and acquisition of external partnerships and business opportunities, including funding opportunities for projects and programs."

Similarly, the Coast Guard's system maintains an online dictionary of competencies. The system is more of a set of procedures than a tool. The Coast Guard describes its use of software as being "in support of" the system.2 Its database and software "collects, stores, sorts and reports data required" by the system.

Over the last several years, commercial systems have been developed. A typical system will offer the following features:

  • A pre-populated database of competencies, often organized by industry
  • A database of employees (or, as applicable, contractors and partners) and their skills
  • Search functionality
  • Reporting capabilities
  • Performance reviews (e.g., violations, attitude)
  • Mechanisms to record and disseminate what is commonly called "360-degree feedback," which is feedback from an employee's direct reports, supervisors, customers, and others with whom the person works directly

Commercial systems are designed to make this information easier to grasp at a glance, and they therefore integrate this information on a graphical dashboard. The dashboard will, for instance, show goals completed versus not completed for a person, department, or an entire company.

Competency management technology is still relatively new, and it requires that users perform significant amounts of manual work. Like many types of enterprise software packages, CMSes require customization and can be expected to be implemented in phases.

Competency management practices are closely intertwined with learning management, and the functionality might be included in a single software application or two software systems might integrate. Some tools can be used to schedule training sessions, keeping track of attendees, and create reports on who completed each session.

The Future for Competency Management Vendors

The market appears to be stable, and there are no compelling reasons to expect that the technology will significantly change. The tasks involved with tracking and organizing competency may inherently limit how much automation can be performed. With these facts in mind, it does not appear likely the market will achieve a real boom any time in the near future. Instead, competency management software is likely to remain a niche technology used mostly by large, complex enterprises.

The companies in the market-like Avilar, eKnowledge, Gyrus, and Sentrico-are not widely known, and most are focused on competency management instead of providing a broad portfolio. Thus far, large software providers have not shown much interest in developing their own competency products or acquiring one of the boutique vendors. This lack of action suggests that the field is likely to remain small and specialized, at least for the foreseeable future.

Develop Competency Management Processes First

Competency management is a strategic process that supports corporate goals and initiatives. It is not a rote procedure that can be purely automated. An enterprise that is considering software for competency management should therefore look for a tool to assist its efforts, not to entirely automate them. Tools cannot find employees, analyze a market, or perform many of the other tasks that are part of managing competency.

By developing processes first, an organization can help itself choose competency management software that will best meet its needs and then configure that software in a way that closely conforms to its own methods.

In a research paper published in the journal Business & Information Systems Engineering, Bernd Simon of Vienna University wrote that "Before a CMS is introduced, the stakeholders involved in the competency development processes must be identified and should have the opportunity to influence the definition of the goal and the implementation of the processes. Many interview partners confirmed that such a procedure is desirable and that social aspects with regard to the project definition determine the success or failure of a CMS already at a very early stage."3

Which Enterprises Benefit from Competency Management?

Not all organizations will benefit equally from commercial or homegrown competency management software. Table 1 describes characteristics of a company that are conducive to software providing benefits and those characteristics that make it less likely that a company will benefit from a competency management tool.

Table 1. Assessing the Potential Benefits of Automated Systems

Conducive Characteristics

Non-Conducive Characteristics

Larger organizations will have more employees and more skill sets to track, making competency management software a potentially more beneficial option.

The performance of smaller work forces can typically be managed without specialized competency software. For instance, a sales team may have a customer relationship management system that is doing an adequate job of measuring progress toward a sales quota.

Organizations that already have good competency management practices in place have a better chance of making good use of competency management software than organizations that do not.

An organization that lacks well-tested, documented processes for tracking and managing the talents of its personnel will not be able to make up for these shortcomings by installing a software system.

Organizations that need to quickly, frequently analyze and act on personnel information can benefit from software.

Today's competency management software mainly helps organizations find information more easily, but most of the processes can be performed without specialized tools. Therefore, organizations that do not need to keep a close eye on data or quickly find information will not realize as many benefits from software.

The reporting features of commercial software can help organizations whose competency management practices are subject to regulatory reviews or audits for certifications like ISO 9001.


1 NASA. Competency management system. Available online at: http://ohcm.gsfc.nasa.gov/cms/home.htm
2 U.S. Coast Guard. Competency management system manual. Available online from: http://www.uscg.mil/directives/cim/5000-5999/CIM_5300_2.pdf
Simon, B. A discussion on competency management systems from a design theory perspective. Business & Information Systems Engineering. Nov 10.

Web Links

Avilar: http://www.avilar.com/
eKnowledge: http://www.go-eknowledge.com/cms.htm
Gyrus: http://www.gyrus.com/
NASA Competency Management System: http://ohcm.gsfc.nasa.gov/cms/home.htm
Sentrico: http://www.sentricocompetencymanagement.com/

About the Author

Geoff Keston is the author of more than 250 articles that help organizations find opportunities in business trends and technology. He also works directly with clients to develop communications strategies that improve processes and customer relationships. Mr. Keston has worked as a project manager for a major technology consulting and services company and is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and a Certified Novell Administrator.

This article is based on a report published by Faulkner Information Services, a division of Information Today, Inc., that provides a wide range of reports in the IT, telecommunications, and security fields. For more information, visit www.faulkner.com.

Copyright 2013, Faulkner Information Services. All Rights Reserved.

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