As the practice of knowledge management continues to gain ground, progressive companies are devising ways to use it to their strategic advantage. The key issue is to instill a corporatewide culture that encourages knowledge sharing, as discussed in Part I of this article last month.
But once you've defined that culture, is your work done? The experts would tell you to dig deeper. Knowledge sharing is a process that can't be left to fend for itself. A formal infrastructure is needed to make it flourish.
Peter Novins, partner at Ernst & Young's knowledge-based business solution practice, says that a company must redefine all of its business processes to foster a culture that supports knowledge sharing. "If you're going to have a rich knowledge-sharing culture, that can't just be a veneer on top of the
business operation," he says. "[The successful] companies are realizing it isn't just the content that makes it work. You have to have business processes that allow you to leverage content. You have to have people who can make sense of it and apply it."
What makes up this infrastructure? As with any strategic process, an effective approach to knowledge management requires everything from planning and leadership to motivated participants and measures of results.
As the Economy Goes...
The place to start in creating a knowledge-sharing culture is with the big picture: How can you position your company in relation to the long-term, macroeconomic trends that are reshaping the marketplace? To begin to answer that question, think knowledge economy.
According to a 1996 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, The Knowledge-based Economy, more than 50 percent of the GDP in major OECD countries is directly based on the production, distribution and use of knowledge and information.
For these economies and others that are pursuing the same path, the implications are huge: Investments in knowledge can increase productivity and innovation, lead to increasing returns and sustain long-term economic growth because knowledge doesn't depreciate the way raw capital does.
Today's businesses must position themselves within these new economic realities, and leveraging brainpower through knowledge management is one way to jumpstart that process.
Intel Corp., the Santa Clara, California-based computer chip maker, for example, has designed its knowledge management initiative to propel the company into a leadership position in the new knowledge era. The program initially facilitated the reuse of knowledge inhouse and then expanded the knowledge sharing to business partners. Intel's final goal is to start revolutionary new businesses worldwide to become a leader in its field.
Learning by Doing
Once a company has established its direction, it must create an environment that encourages employees to continuously share what they know. The centerpiece of that environment is interactive learning, which occurs either through work experience or communication with fellow practitioners. This type of learning is the key investment needed to nurture and unleash human potential.
At Buckman Laboratories International Inc., a manufacturer of specialty chemicals for aqueous industrial systems based in Memphis, Tennessee, top management has built a knowledge- sharing culture through interactive learning.
The company connects all of its associates worldwide with a proprietary knowledge network, K'Netix, and with the Internet and an intranet. Associates also can take distance-learning courses from an electronic "Learning Center."
"By using our global network, we are able to drive our global speed of response toward something that is significantly faster than what the competition can achieve," says Robert Buckman, president, chairman and CEO.
The global knowledge-sharing practice has allowed Buckman to significantly increase its time to market. …