You are on page 1of 10

At the Core of a Knowledge Base

Wendi Bukowitz, Director of the Next Generation Research Group, Arthur Andersen Knowledge Enterprises

gadgets that are deeply appreciated by other


As organizations have become increasingly effective engineers, but that do not begin to truly meet the
at reducing costs and improving efficiency in their needs of customers. In Mr. Bloomberg’s opinion,
operations, their attention has shifted to revenue losing track of this overriding imperative –
delivering value as defined by the customer –
growth. Tapping the collective creativity and know-
plagues the technology field. And organizations
how of employees is emerging as one of the best ways that install technology platforms for knowledge
to anticipate customer needs and grow new markets. sharing are not immune to this blindspot.
Typically, when companies set out to create
By the time organizations have resolved technology
knowledge bases, the first issue that they tackle is issues surrounding knowledge bases, which are
technology. In many cases, resources and patience many and complex, resources and patience have
are exhausted by the time they have resolved been exhausted. What happens all too often is that
the real value driver of knowledge bases – the
technology issues. This paper reviews Arthur
content in them – gets very short shrift. Skimping
Andersen’s experiences in developing knowledge on content produces knowledge bases that are
bases – focusing on content; knowledge sharing; and unable to achieve the ultimate aim of creating
culture change. intelligent-acting organizations. Arthur Andersen
came perilously close to being waylaid by this
technology blindspot when creating the Global Best
Practices KnowledgeSpace. But the organization
CONTENT DRIVES VALUE managed to get focused on content and this focus
has been a key factor in the successful integration of
As organizations have become increasingly effective the Global Best Practices KnowledgeSpace into its
at reducing costs and improving efficiency in their work processes.
operations, their attention has shifted to revenue
growth. Tapping the collective creativity and know- Arthur Andersen is a $4.1 billion global professional
how of employees is emerging as one of the best services organization that offers its clients audit, tax,
ways to anticipate customer needs and grow new business advisory, and specialty consulting services.
markets. As a result, there has been intense interest In a professional services organization the central
in building organizational knowledge bases which importance of knowledge creation and management
store and share employee know-how and ideas. is a given. There is almost universal agreement that
knowledge creation and management is the
Typically, when companies set out to create business. So, while there was some resistance to the
knowledge bases, the first issue that they tackle is idea of building knowledge creating and sharing
technology. Why? Because organizations are systems at Arthur Andersen, there was not as much
infatuated with technology. But caution is advised, as had been experienced when making other
and it is advised from what may seem to be a very significant changes to work processes.
unlikely source – Michael Bloomberg, who as CEO
of the Bloomberg organization made his fortune The value proposition of knowledge creating and
marrying information technology and financial sharing systems seems to have been clearer and
information. Yet, as cited in a recent New Yorker more readily accepted by the organization. Arthur
article, when Mr. Bloomberg addressed the Andersen believes that its knowledge creating and
audience at the Consumer Electronics Show in sharing systems deliver value to the organization
January, 1997, he cautioned them about the and its clients in two fundamental ways:
horrendous blindspot that came with their love of
technology. The audience was composed of brilliant
engineers who develop state-of-the-art electronics © 1998 Wendi R. Bukowitz

Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 1 Number 3 March 1998 215


1. Transferring the ‘best information’ today GBP is still functionally a codified database or
available anywhere in the organization what Arthur Andersen refers to as a knowledge
directly to the point of need in order to base. The Global Best Practices KnowledgeSpace
promote the ‘best thinking possible’. codifies information about how leading companies
achieve and sustain world-class levels of
2. Helping the organization to learn earlier
performance in the execution of 100 business
and more creatively than the competition in
processes. While it is one of a dozen knowledge
order to develop a sustainable edge.
bases within the organization, the Global Best
There are as many ways to achieve these outcomes Practices KnowledgeSpace has been in formal
as there are organizations, but other organizations development for the longest period of time, since
in the process of building knowledge creating and 1991. As a result, it has provided Arthur Andersen
sharing systems should be able to adopt and adapt with a deep understanding of the benefits and
elements of Arthur Andersen’s approach as they challenges that go hand-in-hand with creating
launch or grow their own knowledge bases. central repositories of knowledge. It is also one of
the only knowledge bases in Arthur Andersen that
currently serves the entire business unit. These
ARTHUR ANDERSEN’S KNOWLEDGE CREATING attributes make it a particularly strong case example
for exploring the major challenges most companies
AND SHARING SYSTEMS face when developing knowledge bases.
At Arthur Andersen, knowledge creating and
sharing systems are segmented into two basic
categories: organizational forums and codified FIVE CONTENT CHALLENGES
databases. At the simplest and most simplistic level,
organizational forums expand access to people and When companies set up knowledge bases they
codified databases expand access to information. typically make a large investment of time
considering the technology platform. Unfortunately,
Organizational forums provide electronic there are two other broad sets of overlapping
connectivity to specific individuals in a combination challenges that they invariably tend to under-
of one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many estimate:
settings. At Arthur Andersen the forum is
unmediated by analysis and framed within a broad 1. How to develop and maintain content.
context. Arthur Andersen’s organizational forum is 2. How to draw people into the system and
called AA Online. AA Online is a Lotus Notes-based use it as an environment for learning and
platform of discussion databases that connects generating knowledge assets.
15,000 professionals to one another in 30
communities of interest. AA Online’s environment is The reason for addressing content challenges before
constructed so that all 15,000 participants can pose technology platform issues is based on six years of
and respond to questions, post information, and experience with the Global Best Practices
access archived resources. But organizational KnowledgeSpace. The conclusion: knowledge bases
forums constitute one-half of the knowledge will only be used (can only deliver value to the
sharing and creating system’s conceptual whole. organization) if the content in them is relevant and
Codified databases are the other component. accessible to the people who do the work. In
addition, the way that an organization develops
At Arthur Andersen, codified databases seek to and maintains content has a direct impact on its
amass a wide range of organizational knowledge – ability to use knowledge bases as an environment
from effective approaches to executing business for learning and generating knowledge assets.
processes to plain old good ideas about how to
serve customers. They can also serve as When the Global Best Practices KnowledgeSpace
clearinghouses for basic organizational information project was initiated, five content challenges
such as policies and procedures and for more confronted the development team:
esoteric information, such as highly specialized
computer-based training modules. 1. Identifying the right content.

The Global Best Practices (or GBP) KnowledgeSpace 2. Obtaining it.


is one of Arthur Andersen’s codified databases. It 3. Packaging it.
recently has been rechristened as a Knowledge-
4. Placing it in the right environment.
Space in recognition of the total cyber-space
environment that will ultimately be created, but 5. Maintaining its relevance.

216 Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 1 Number 3 March 1998


Exploring the nature of these challenges and how However, in the course of planning for the
Arthur Andersen’s Global Best Practices prototype version, two external forces converged
development team met them can provide clues for that pressured the Global Best Practices
other organizations as they grapple with their development team to re-think the decision to
knowledge base building efforts. develop industry-specific content. Back in 1991,
Arthur Andersen’s market intelligence revealed that
a new way of achieving competitive advantage was
IDENTIFYING THE RIGHT CONTENT rapidly gaining currency among leading companies.
When seeking breakthrough improvements, these
Some companies start out building knowledge organizations were looking outside their industry,
bases with the idea that if they can just find beyond best-in-class, to best in the world. To be able
sufficient resources, almost everything anyone in to promote the best thinking possible, the Global
the organization has ever written can be archived Best Practices development team realized that its
and become part of an institutional memory. At the knowledge base would have to contain this sort of
other end of the spectrum, others believe that all ‘out of the box’ information.
they need to do is create a robust technology
platform and they will unleash the pent-up need of At the same time, the Global Best Practices
their stakeholders to share which has been thwarted development team was collaborating with a not-for-
primarily by time constraints since telephones and profit organization that was founded in response to
faxes have been around for decades. Even at more the growing need for generally accepted
moderate positions, neither of these fantasy types benchmarking practices and information. With this
seems to pan out. That is because the first thing that group’s membership, Arthur Andersen was
organizations need to do to stimulate a flow of working to establish a standard language and
knowledge into their systems is to identify the right framework for thinking about business processes
content. that would apply to all organizations – for and not-
for profit, in any industry, and of any size.
To identify the right content for an enterprise-wide
knowledge base that is used by large stakeholder These two forces – market intelligence and Arthur
segments to share strategically important Andersen’s collaborative research activities –
information, organizations need to ask two influenced the Global Best Practices development
foundation questions: team to shift its focus away from industry-specific
to process-specific content. The process-specific
1. What is the core competence of the content was viewed as a way to not only build on
organization? industry expertise, but to expand this element of the
firm’s core competence. Process-specific content
2. What kind of content will reinforce the core
delivered via a knowledge base also had the
competence and create competitive
potential to create competitive advantage by
advantage if people have access to it?
allowing Arthur Andersen to offer a new kind of
Arthur Andersen’s responses to these questions information to its clients in a way that its
profoundly shaped the development of the Global competitors could not.
Best Practices KnowledgeSpace. Arthur Andersen
For Arthur Andersen’s Global Best Practices
offers its clients a set of standard professional
development team, the right content was process-
services that are differentiated by a deep knowledge
specific information which could both enhance a
of its clients’ industries and a wide-ranging set of
core competence and differentiate the organization
experiences and formal training that ground the
in the marketplace.
judgment of the professionals who deliver these
services. Its core competence lies in the ability to
bring these three bodies of knowledge together –
service methodology, industry expertise and OBTAINING CONTENT
professional experience – at the point of contact
with the customer to create a valuable relationship. Another reason that organizations focus so
The Global Best Practices KnowledgeSpace was intensively on technology platforms when they
initially conceived as a way to build on the industry build knowledge bases is that many secretly
expertise component of the organization’s core harbour a hope that if they can figure out how to
competence. The Global Best Practices build the perfect knowledge base, one that is
KnowledgeSpace would disperse highly relevant seamlessly integrated into the flow of everyday
industry-specific information throughout the global work, then contribution will become virtually
organization so that it could be leveraged directly to effortless. However, a set of gaps prevents people
the point-of-need. from sharing their ideas within a knowledge-base

Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 1 Number 3 March 1998 217


environment: awareness, communications skills, breakdown. This inability to communicate
and culture gaps. effectively operates not only in the personal sphere,
but also in the professional one.
Awareness Gaps
At Arthur Andersen, a basic set of journalism and
For most people, a tremendous gap exists between publishing skills (research, analysis, writing and
what they know and what they are aware that they editing) were needed to create and maintain the
know. On a day-to-day basis they bring a diverse content for the Global Best Practices Knowledge-
body of knowledge to bear on the activities they Space. While these are related to the core skills of
perform. In the current operating environments of Arthur Andersen professionals, they are not the
most organizations, decisions must be made very core skill sets of the organization. Just because one
rapidly. People often do not have the time to reflect gathers information doesn’t mean that one is a
on, let alone articulate, the complex set of researcher. Just because one writes doesn’t mean
information that they use to make decisions. In fact, one is a writer. Just because one recognizes a
it might not even be organizationally desirable for pattern here and there doesn’t mean one is an
analyst. And very few people are editors.
them to spend their time in that way.
Arthur Andersen has opted to import these skill
However, by identifying the right content for
sets into the Global Best Practices development
knowledge bases, organizations prompt individuals
team using a mix that is light on Arthur Andersen
to consider what it is that they know in relation to
employees, because a career track for employees
what the organization needs to know. In Arthur
with these skill sets does not exist, and heavy on
Andersen’s case, the Global Best Practices
outside contractors – fortunately the publishing
KnowledgeSpace content framework com-
industry has a tradition of freelancing so there is a
municated that the organization needed to know rich talent pool from which to choose.
how leading organizations achieved world-class
levels of performance in specific business processes. The right way to close the communications skill gap
This meant, for example, that people who had will vary from organization to organization.
worked on a consulting engagement originally However, most will have to consider how to bring
framed as ‘salesforce effectiveness’ could now see publishing and journalism expertise into their skill
how part of what they had helped the client to mix, either by outsourcing or importing it.
accomplish might be thought of as improving
performance in a process such as ‘monitoring Culture Gaps
changes in market or customer expectations’. In this
way, Arthur Andersen professionals became aware The third gap that must be closed to create a viable
that they possessed process-specific information knowledge sharing environment is the most
that was useful to the organization. difficult to achieve. For most of us, the imperative to
share on a large scale is not woven into the fabric of
our daily organizational existence. People will
Communications Skills Gaps
rightly ask, “Why should I share? What is in it for
Promoting awareness of what individuals know by me?” Internal competition for fewer and fewer
identifying the ‘right’ content for a knowledge base executive slots pits managers against one another,
and in some companies withholding critical
is necessary, but it is not sufficient, to stimulate idea
information is still an excellent strategy for getting
sharing in a knowledge base environment. The lack
ahead. Even if people are not jockeying for
of strong communications skills at all levels of the
executive slots, it is clear to most workers that what
organization creates another gap that interferes
they know and know how to do still plays a very
with knowledge sharing. large role in how they are evaluated. It is equally
The communications skills gap is experienced as a clear to them that sharing this know-how doesn’t
disconnection between what people are aware that appear to count for much on performance
evaluations as they exist today. When this is the
they know and what they are capable of expressing
organizational reality, the ‘business case’ for
to others. Most of the examples that spring to mind
sharing is far outweighed by the ‘personal case’ for
illustrating this gap are those that involve skills
not doing so.
learned as children. Adults know how to tie their
shoes. But just try teaching that to a child. It’s hard In stark contrast to this reality are companies like 3M.
to describe it using words or illustrations. While At 3M, products belong to the divisions, but ideas
some people are able to manipulate these symbols belong to the company. For such an organization,
better than others, either because of talent or by dint knowledge bases may facilitate knowledge sharing,
of skill acquisition or both, most experience a but they do not cause it. This is true for most organ-

218 Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 1 Number 3 March 1998


The Process Classification Scheme is the basic framework for profit or not-for-profit status, must manage to create value for
organizing best practices content in the Global Best Practices customers. More than 200 subprocesses are grouped under the 13
KnowledgeSpace. The Process Classification Scheme proposes 13 core processes to create a complete and detailed picture of an
core processes that all organizations, regardless of size or industry, organizational system.

Figure 1: Process Classification Scheme

izations. Knowledge bases are tools, not a set of in the knowledge base, she can ask people to review
values. The best that they can do is reflect a set of the content in the knowledge base first and then call
values. At 3M, the value of sharing is deeply if there are more specific questions. This is a
embedded in the culture. It is simply how work gets tremendous time-saver for Arthur Andersen
done. Organizations with a long-standing tradition professionals. But more importantly, it is a face-
that values sharing have a tremendous advantage in saver that allows them to honour a cultural norm of
a knowledge-based economy. Most are not that lucky, sharing that has become almost impossible to honour
organizationally speaking. The vast majority of as the organization has mushroomed in size.
organizations possess sharing-reluctant cultures and
must figure out how to work around them and within In addition, as an incentive to take the time to
them because cultures are not transformed overnight contribute to the knowledge base, the Global Best
and organizations have to get on with the business Practices team will often barter a fixed amount of
of enhancing the value they create for customers. research assistance to experts at no charge,
providing them with an edge in their proposal and
The Global Best Practices team, which is not in a client work. This inducement is a tempting one for
position to alter the organization’s formal professionals looking for any advantage in an
recognition and reward system, has been able to extremely competitive marketplace. Finally, the
encourage expert contributions by working within Global Best Practices team makes sure that it
and around the Arthur Andersen culture. The recognizes contributors by crediting the people who
Global Best Practices team promotes the idea that have provided content for each business process
once experts have contributed their insights to the section in a directory listing them as ‘expert
knowledge base, the quantity of direct requests they contributors’. In these small ways the Global Best
receive for basic information should go down while Practices team works to close the culture gaps that
the quality of the requests they get for specific prevent people from contributing their insights to
insights should go up. Once an expert’s thinking is the knowledge base.

Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 1 Number 3 March 1998 219


Content is designed so that people can drill down to the level of detail KnowledgeSpace are populated with best practices information.
they require and make connections to related pieces of information. Version 10.0 of the KnowledgeSpace contains more than 20,000
About 100 processes within the Global Best Practices ‘pages’ of information.

Figure 2: Ten content categories

PACKAGING CONTENT For each of the 100 business processes that are
populated with information, the Global Best
Once organizations have identified the right content Practices KnowledgeSpace segments content into
for their knowledge bases and have considered how ten categories (see Figure 2):
they will shrink the awareness, communications
skills and culture gaps that impede their ability to 1. Process Definition – Since there are many
obtain it, they are ready to think about how they different ways to understand a business
will package it. process, the definition describes the
activities that start and end the process, so
Organizing Framework that people can determine if this is the
content area they seek.
To package content, a framework or several
2. Best Practices – A set of practices which, taken
frameworks must be designed which rationalize the
as a whole, describe the state-of-performance
body of knowledge and serve as a map to locate its
as achieved by leading organizations.
components. At Arthur Andersen, the Global Best
Practices KnowledgeSpace has used a Process 3. Best Companies – Case studies of organizations
Classification Scheme as the basic framework for that are recognized as exemplifying
organizing content. The Process Classification excellence in particular practices.
Scheme proposes 13 core processes that all
4. Relevant Engagement Experience – ‘Best of the
businesses, regardless of size or industry, must
best’ engagements that demonstrate how
manage to create value for customers. More than
Arthur Andersen has assisted clients in
200 subprocesses are grouped under the 13 core
moving toward world-class performance.
processes to create a complete and detailed picture
of an organizational system from a process 5. Performance Measures – Metrics and results
perspective (see Figure 1). published by various sources which can be

220 Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 1 Number 3 March 1998


This screen capture from the Global Best Practices KnowledgeSpace and how people are directed to explore related areas (the three
shows how a four-frame environment is used to ‘chunk’ one content surrounding frames at the side and bottom).
category of information – best practices – into topics (the main frame)

Figure 3: Best practice content chunks

used as benchmarks for understanding Within each of these categories, the content is
how leading companies gauge performance designed so that people can drill down to the level
and the levels of excellence that they target. of detail they require and make connections to
related pieces of information.
6. Best Control Practices – A look at how
leading organizations manage the risk
inherent in the performance of a process.
Content Chunks

7. Studies and Articles – The top ten studies Chunking content to create linkages both to detail
and articles which when read as a body of and related topics is the critical step that can help
literature provide a basic understanding of people make creative connections between bodies
the process and its practices. of knowledge that they may not have previously
considered. It is the primary way that the Global
8. Diagnostic Tools – Proprietary software Best Practices KnowledgeSpace stimulates ‘creative
applications developed by Arthur Andersen insight’ and promotes a ‘systems mindset’ for
to facilitate metric benchmarking in selected thinking about organizational problems.
processes and qualitative assessment tools
that promote inquiry into the state of For example, each best practice within the knowledge
performance relative to best practices. base is chunked into sub-categories of (see Figure 3):
9. Presentations – Job aids used by Arthur 1. Benefits – The outcomes which can be
Andersen professionals to communicate expected from implementation of the
with clients and as internal training tools. practice.
10. AA Experts – A directory of Arthur Andersen 2. Approach – The basic activities in which
professionals who have contributed content leading companies engage to operationalize
to this process. each practice.

Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 1 Number 3 March 1998 221


It is tempting to let technology lead the way when
Example of linkages to detail and related thinking about how to package content, but
information knowledge base developers should not put the cart
Drilling down into the Best Practices area for the before the horse. They need to consider how content
process, ‘Purchase Materials and Supplies’, under should be chunked and organized first and then
the Best Practice, ‘Optimize the number of suppliers turn to technology to find the application that will
and develop close vendor relationships that achieve meet those specifications.
total delivered cost targets and meet specific
customer needs’. Linkages to detail and related
knowledge are created as follows:
PLACING CONTENT IN THE RIGHT
One of the first approach steps to this practice
indicates that leading companies: ENVIRONMENT
Certify suppliers through a formal programme. In Once organizations have dealt with the first three
several places, the literature states that the
challenges, they are ready to take on the fourth.
strength of a vendor base optimization
programme is directly related to the quality of a This is the stage in the process where content
company’s vendor certification programme. challenges intersect with technology platform
These programmes usually contain tough decisions. The right environment for content is one
standards for reliability, quality, unit price, on-time that permits easy, universal access, and rapid
delivery, and other factors driven by product type. identification of the desired information.
Linkages to other bodies of knowledge are indicated
by underlined and bolded text:
Back in 1991, for the Global Best Practices
KnowledgeSpace, CD technology supported by a
This subject is covered in greater detail in Best proprietary search engine was the right environment.
Practice: Develop strategic business alliances with In 1991, most Arthur Andersen professionals had CD
core suppliers.
players and the software application was part of their
See also Process 5.1.1 Select and Certify standard desktop setup. They routinely used the
Suppliers, under Related Areas. software to access reference materials in the course of
Selecting these areas displays approaches in the audit and tax work. The Global Best Practices team
related practice and a set of practices in the related decided to piggyback on this existing platform in
process. order to focus organizational learning on applying
content rather than manipulating technology.
Chunking, content to create linkages both to detail and related
topics is the primary way that the Global best Practices However, the landscape of options in 1998 has
KnowledgeSpace stimulates ‘creative insight’ and promotes a
‘systems mindset’ for thinking about organizational problems. dramatically changed. Exposure to the Internet has
grown at a phenomenal rate. The Global Best
Figure 4: Content linkages Practices development team recognized that an
Internet-based platform could link Global Best
Practices content not only to other internal Arthur
3. Performance Measures – The metrics that Andersen knowledge bases but also to external
leading companies use to monitor perform- sources. As a result, the Global Best Practices team
ance and some of the results that they have made the decision to transition the knowledge base
achieved. to an intranet platform.

4. Roles and Responsibilities – An overview of When Arthur Andersen professionals want to find
the roles that must be created or modified information today, they no longer have to worry
in order to implement the practice and the about which CD to pop in the player or to access via
major tasks that these people perform in the network. They now enter the Arthur Andersen
world-class companies. KnowledgeSpace where they may choose to
5. Expert Commentary – A distillation of tips in navigate toward the information they seek using a
the form of ‘do’s and don’ts’ from Arthur variety of frameworks – the Process Classification
Andersen experts who have been involved Scheme or service line-, industry-, methodology-, or
in implementing these changes within issue-related frameworks. Wherever that content
client organizations. exists – within Arthur Andersen knowledge bases
or on external publicly available sources– it can be
Within each of these sub-categories, drilling down accessed via the Arthur Andersen KnowledgeSpace
provides more detail and linkages to other bodies of (see Figure 5).
knowledge that should be considered when
implementing this practice. Figure 4 illustrates how Today, the right environment not only permits easy,
these connections are made within the Global Best universal access and rapid identification of desired
Practices KnowledgeSpace. information, but must also serve as a bridge to a

222 Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 1 Number 3 March 1998


The Global Best Practices KnowledgeSpace is housed within Arthur of the organization’s Knowledge Management systems and provide
Andersen’s KnowledgeSpace, a repository that will ultimately hold all linkages to related external web sites.

Figure 5: Arthur Andersen KnowledgeSpace

widest possible universe of information sources that While technology has changed the perception of
the organization requires. relevance, technology alone cannot deliver relevant
information. Purging information based on
authoring date is tantamount to using an axe when a
MAINTAINING RELEVANCE scalpel is called for. At this time, only a human
being with subject matter expertise can decide which
At this stage in the knowledge base development information is relevant and should be retained in the
process, the prototype will be ready for release. Global Best Practices KnowledgeSpace. Arthur
Developers need to pause and consider what they Andersen, like many other organizations has
will do next because the final content challenge is as responded to this need by forming a group – the
difficult to deal with as the other four combined. Global Best Practices development team – one of
Technology has transformed the perception of whose ongoing jobs is to monitor content in the
relevance with respect to information. Relevance is knowledge base and, in conjunction with other
now conflated with the date on which information subject matter experts, maintain its relevance.
was authored. Within most organizations, the
tolerance for what is perceived to be outdated Many organizations are evolving a new role as well
information has sunk to zero. The dilemma is that – the knowledge manager. The knowledge manager
the authoring date is not a reliable indicator of currently runs the gamut from basic electronic file
‘relevance’. For example, in the case of the Global clerk to sophisticated research partner, but in most
Best Practices KnowledgeSpace, a ‘classic’ article cases the role has emerged in response to the
that lays a conceptual foundation for understanding demand for maintaining relevant content. The
a particular process may have been authored two to bottom line on maintaining relevant content is that
five years ago. However, this article is still relevant organizations will need to establish a new group
and belongs in the basic reading set. within their organizations, one of whose major

Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 1 Number 3 March 1998 223


responsibilities will be monitoring content for leaders to advocate use of a knowledge
relevance. base by using it themselves and by
providing recognition for those who do, is
an extremely time-consuming, very
KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT PEOPLE ... delicate, person-by-person proposition. An
ambassador with stature, position and
As development teams meet and deal with the five strong interpersonal skills is needed to
content challenges and introduce the knowledge successfully lead this type of initiative.
base into the work environment, they will invariably Knowledge bases are not just about making
encounter push-back from their organizations. This a business case, they are also about the art
is because introducing a knowledge base into the of personal persuasion.
daily work process has the potential to initiate
● The tension between the need for the people who
profound cultural change. Knowledge bases have
do frontline work to participate in the
the potential to diffuse the power base. By
development of the knowledge base and the
democratizing access to information they can foster
continued real demands of their day-to-day work.
independent, decentralized decision-making.
Until the knowledge base is integrated into
For most organizations, spreading the ability to the flow of daily work, developing and
make decisions in response to market opportunities using it remain two highly separate
is recognized as a positive change. But that doesn’t activities. At first, the tension is very great
make it any easier to live through the experience. and almost unbearable. It is almost
When more people are rapidly responding to impossible to get people who do the
market opportunities, the organization can feel out frontline work involved. The development
of control. The instinctive response to this sensation team’s task is to manage the tension down
is to push back against the change that is to a level at which it is a productive force
responsible for the discomfort. Being aware that that permits their involvement at the same
building a knowledge base means embarking on time that it keeps the development team
culture change is critical to successful integration of honest about the knowledge base’s true
the knowledge base into the work process. value with respect to the organization’s
Although culture change should not be boiled down daily work process. The people who do the
to a bullet point list, it is otherwise difficult to frame frontline work must be involved, but
issues. So, for the sake of clarity, the following list building and maintaining knowledge bases
represents the major challenges that Arthur will never be their primary task.
Andersen continues to work through and which are If these change management issues are not
undoubtedly common to most organizations: addressed, no matter how good the content, no
matter how elegant the technology platform, the
● The long road to changing work process, even
for the better. knowledge base will not have a sufficiently
hospitable environment in which to develop to a
Using a technology-based tool, even a very point from which it can sustain itself. That flashpoint
well-designed one, requires learning new occurs when the information in the knowledgebase
skills. This means investing upfront time for becomes knowledge embodied in people who know
initially minimal results. It takes a while for how to use it to create value for customers.
the knowledge base to deliver first order
time-savings and even longer before it can For most large organizations, building knowledge
deliver higher order value-boosts to the work bases is a foregone conclusion. The good news is
process. At the outset, many people never that organizations can look forward to using new
get started. In the interim, without ongoing technologies and a deeper and more profound
support, many people in the organization understanding of how adults learn and how
simply give up. To move the process along, organizations foster trust to build knowledge bases
the development team must be infinitely and design content that stimulate individual
patient and prepared to tirelessly educate creativity and achieve the ultimate goal – an
people about how to use the knowledge base intelligent-acting organization. ❑
to boost the value of their work.

● The political process of securing broad


leadership support. Wendi Bukowitz may be contacted at Arthur Andersen, 370
Roup Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232, USA. Tel: +1 412 361
In organizations where leadership still 5860, Fax: +1 412 361 1532, E-mail: wendi.r.bukowitz@
means senior executives, encouraging arthurandersen.com.

224 Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 1 Number 3 March 1998