Knowledge management’s outside chance

TORONTO — The benefits of archiving acquired knowledge within a company are numerous, but there is also a plus side to sharing it with the outside world.

The practice of forming strategic alliances in order to exchange knowledge is growing, according to Lise Foley, the president and founder

of Montreal-based Alliances Tactics, a firm that specializes in bringing companies together.

In 2000, Fortune 500 companies had an average of 60 strategic alliances each, according to Foley, who spoke Wednesday as part of the Conference Board of Canada’s “”Advancing Knowledge Management for Competitive Advantage”” seminar. Such alliances are accounting for a growing proportion of a company’s revenue, she said.

It’s a useful way to learn about unfamiliar quickly or to accelerate the processes of acquiring expertise, innovation and “”the process of gathering pivotal strategic information,”” she said.

Alliances Tactics has handled more than 150 strategic alliances — including the Laurentian Bank of Canada, which has acquired expertise about different lending markets by partnering with lending organizations both larger and smaller than themselves. “”They have tried to balance their portfolio of strategic alliances,”” said Foley, and it’s one of the reasons they’re often mentioned in the same breath as Canada’s five largest banks.

But partnering in order to exchange information must by nature come with more safeguards than any internal knowledge management strategy. How do you gather new information or a new skill if it is the core competency of your competition? What are the impacts of the relationship for both of you?

Not only are there HR challenges when employees from different companies are involved in the same project, but individual units within a partnering company must be on the same page if an outsider is brought in.

“”Obviously as a relationship there is a need for more trust, exclusivity, reward and control,”” said Foley. The trust is tempered by control. Foley warned that ironclad agreements must be drawn up before entering into a partnership to determine just how much information will be shared across borders.

It also requires a certain synchronicity of the part of partnering companies: “”Capture of knowledge is easier when both parties are in the same business cycle . . . or are complementary to each other.””

The partnerships that the National Research Council of Canada is fostering are perhaps more benevolent than those of the corporate enterprise. The NRC encourages the sharing of information between other government agencies, academic institutions and private sector enterprises. The results of that collaboration have included the exchange of invaluable information between research institutions in Halifax on the poisonous nature of the puffer fish, as well as a project that allowed a Canadian expert on genetic database management to help the city of New in its efforts after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Bernard Dumouchel is the director general of the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information, which is part of the NRC and maintains the largest scientific, technical and medical library in North America. It fills 4,000 document requests daily.

Dumouchel outlined Wednesday the NRC’s Vision 2006 program, which is designed to increase knowledge sharing between institutions. “”One of the best ways to transfer knowledge is through collaborative research,”” said Dumouchel.

One of Vision 2006’s mandates is to get more small and medium-sized Canadian enterprises (SMEs) involved in partnership. To do that, Dumouchel is leaning on another NRC department called the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP). He said reaching SMEs is difficult, because they’re so dispersed, but “”our goal is to help innovative SMEs get organized, then we want to help them put best practices to use.””

The best information, said Dumouchel, is succinct, promotes discussion, and is focused on decision-making.

The two-day conference wraps up Thursday.

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