The economy is emerging as the underlying driver of knowledge management adoption, but industry experts warn that many Canadian enterprises aren’t coming along for the ride.
According to a panel presented by Smart Toronto Tuesday comprised of representatives from Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd., implementing a knowledge management (KM) strategy involves and affects a number of stakeholders — the customer, the employee, partners and suppliers.
KM refers to collection and sharing of information between employees, customers and partners, and perhaps even more notably, the leveraging of intangible information, unique to one organization, that is often found only in the heads of employees.
“Fundamentally, the bottom line issue that everyone is talking about is cost reduction,” said Lisa Taylor, e-business team leader with Mississauga-based HP Canada’s consulting group. “How do I reduce my cost while maintaining the same levels of service or even increasing levels of service?”
Despite the cost cutting challenges now, added Taylor, it is still important to be able to retain the skilled employees so that the organization is strong when economic conditions improve.
KM solutions usually involve many self-service features that enable users – internal employees, for example – to access information they require via an intranet portal.
While technology is an element of a KM strategy, it can’t be championed by the IT department alone, said Doug McCuaig, vice-president of e-business services with Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. The affected business units must be involved in any KM strategy, but an organization’s IT department can be a key facilitator in that they can say if the technology is available and evaluate whether or not the risks involved are mitigated, he said. A CIO or CTO can also speak to the acquisition costs of any KM-related technology and what its total cost of ownership will be.
“The biggest challenge over the last five years is technology people have to be business people,” said McCuaig. “They have to be an interpreter of technology and what it can do to enable, and they have to understand the business rationale as much as the technology.”
Taylor said there are three key areas of leadership that have to come together to make a knowledge management strategy successful – the business lead (whoever is in charge of the affected business function, the vice-president of sales and marketing, for example); the CFO, who can say “Does this fit with overall corporate priorities of everything else that is going on?”; and finally, the CIO or CTO, who can say “What’s the appropriate use of technology in order to achieve the goals of both the lines of business as well as the financial objectives.
“Those three senior executives are coming together provide the entire picture,” Taylor said.
Heidi Amponsem, principal consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers, said there a two change cycles at work with an KM initiative – on one side is the organizational change, which affects people and processes, and on the other is the knowledge cycle, which happens closer to the technology and structure side. Both of these cycles must be managed concurrently, she said, in order for KM to be successful.
“Knowledge management is here and it’s here to stay,” said Amponsem. However, adoption of KM in Canada has been slow, the panel agreed.
“I’d say we’re not adopting it,” said McCuaig, who calls himself a “productivity buff.” Canada is still lagging the U.S., he said. “I think that we have a huge challenge. I think we’re slow adopters of technology . . . and slow adopters of innovation.”
There are some success stories, McCuaig acknowledges, but also said that there are some large Canadian organizations that will soon be facing a mass exodus of employees due to retirement, taking the knowledge in their heads with them.
“In Canada we hear a lot of discussion about knowledge management,” said Amponsem. “I think a lot of companies and governments want to embrace it, but are just too fearful to get started on something – everybody wants to have a complete solution all at once, and it’s just too big that no one can start.”