posted 1 May 2000 in Volume 3 Issue 8
Course review: Benchmarking your KM
Benchmarking your knowledge management intranet, Boston, 5–6 April 2000
The first in a series of three benchmarking courses in the United States this spring, the Boston event featured presentations from Xpedior, Siemens, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Compaq. All together, more than 20 companies were represented by the 25 delegates, and each attended the event with very different experiences and perceptions of how a knowledge-enabled intranet should function.
Patterson Shafer, a senior e-business consultant with Xpedior, facilitated the opening session, which served as a broad, highly interactive introduction to the following two days. The delegates, from companies that included Motorola, Bank of America, Fidelity Investments, Capital One, Honeywell and Fleet Capital discussed their expectations of the event, as well as establishing their personal criteria for evaluating the intranets they were about to experience. Siemens, Compaq and PricewaterhouseCoopers are all well established in the knowledge management arena, but that all three companies are very different is reflected in the approach each has taken in the development of its intranet.
Siemens, one of the world’s top ten companies in electrical engineering and electronics, employs nearly 450,000 people in more than 190 countries. The company’s shareholder base is almost 600,000. Knowledge management is an established component of the company’s corporate strategy, and the Siemens intranet is itself an integral part of this. Over 150 KM projects are currently underway in the corporation, most of which rely on intranet-based system support. Within Siemens, technology has become the enabler and the driver of the knowledge management programme.
PricewaterhouseCoopers, although also an extremely large organisation with 150,000 employees in 150 countries, operates in a somewhat contrasting manner. The company is a partnership, organised by a matrix of LOS, industry specialties, and country, and the functionality of the intranet, KnowledgeCurve, has to reflect this. Since the merger of Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand in 1998, the company has also been in a transitional phase, and operations are currently undergoing significant restructuring. It is therefore crucial for PricewaterhouseCoopers employees that KnowledgeCurve is flexible enough to adapt to these changes.
Compaq is a similarly vast organisation. As the world’s second largest computing company, and the largest global supplier of computer systems, the corporation employs some 68,000 permanent employees in over 100 countries. The Compaq intranet, Inline, was launched in the autumn of 1996 in an attempt to create an infrastructure for the proliferation of information and internal sites that existed at the time. Inline has recently undergone its third redesign, and although there are still aspects of the system under review, user satisfaction has been measured as being almost 80%. And just as the current version of KnowledgeCurve was born from a company merger, the Compaq intranet has incorporated three separate systems since its inception.
A large part of the attraction of these benchmarking courses is that they provide a forum for delegates and presenters alike to share their own unique experiences; effectively, over the two days, it is not three, but more than twenty intranets that are showcased. The aim for most participants is to learn what has worked (and what has not) for others, and to adapt what they can to use in their own corporate strategy. This applies to the various technologies, functions and applications demonstrated by the presenters over the course of the event, but especially to specific issues raised during the opening session.
An obvious concern for the delegates, and one that was probably voiced most frequently, was to establish the value of the systems they saw; how had the three presenting companies evaluated the impact of their intranets? Although many of the delegates came from organisations in which a corporate intranet had already been established, others were just beginning their projects, and the emphasis was on them to demonstrate to those sponsoring their efforts that the investment in time and money would ultimately be worthwhile. Quantifying return on investment is notoriously difficult, but each company discussed the approach they had taken.
Carole Rein, co-host alongside Leigh Healy at PricewaterhouseCoopers, suggested that one of the simplest indicators of an intranet’s success within a company is the level of use by employees and the growth of use over time. At Siemens, as Dirk Ramhorst explained, the evaluation process is on-going, and forms part of the remit of the metrics department, one of six main branches in the Siemens KM framework. Within the company, 80% of employees have access to the intranet, of whom some 75% use it on a daily or regular basis. Although it is almost impossible to put a monetary value on this level of employee utilisation, Larry Griffin, during the visit to Compaq’s headquarters just outside of Boston, presented a simple equation to illustrate the potential financial savings: If, through enhancements to Inline, 50,000 Compaq employees saved 10 minutes a month through having quick, direct access to the information they need, 6,000,000 minutes of productivity would be salvaged. Taking the average cost of employee productivity per minute at 79 cents, this equates to a total saving to the company of $4,740,000.
Influencing the culture within an organisation so that usage reaches these levels is, however, a challenge in itself and, again, this was one of the key areas of concern highlighted in the opening session. Siemens has developed an incentive scheme, whereby contributions to the intranet are rewarded with air-miles. Similarly, within many of the business units at Compaq, active participation is expected of employees and forms part of their performance review. But while incentive schemes can serve to attract users to a system, they do not guarantee an employee’s long-term commitment to the intranet.
At all three of the presenting companies, though, this transition has been successfully negotiated. While each virtual tour included a thorough explanation of the technology on display, the most important message was that technology should be seen purely as the enabler. Whether the intranet platform is Lotus Notes or Microsoft based, user access has to be, in the words of Larry Griffin, “insanely intuitive”. Compaq regularly conducts ‘usability surveys’ all over the world and, while the 80% satisfaction rate is high, the intranet team have, since the most recent redesign in October of last year, identified five priority areas for immediate improvement. At PricewaterhouseCoopers, users are not offered financial incentives to contribute to KnowledgeCurve, but the system has established itself as a quick and reliable portal to company knowledge – employees use it because it makes their jobs easier to do. At the same time, KnowledgeCurve includes sites that do not necessarily relate to sharing best practice, but help users save time throughout the day, for example by allowing them to make travel reservations, access CBTs, and check Amex Statements online.
Of equal importance in influencing the culture within an organisation, and emphasised by each of the presenters in turn, is the degree of top-level sponsorship for an intranet initiative. Regardless of whether a company employs a rigid knowledge management hierarchy, led by a chief knowledge officer, as is the case at Siemens, or instead relies on a flatter, less prescriptive structure, it is important that those at the top offer tangible, clearly visible support to the project. As Leigh Healy explained: “If the company’s leaders don’t use your intranet, neither will anyone else.”
The intranets presented in Boston last month were each very different – in terms of technology, structure and development. Siemens, Compaq and PricewaterhouseCoopers demonstrated their own solutions to some common questions, and while neither the Siemens intranet, KnowledgeCurve or Inline make any pretence at being perfect, each system continues to develop. The delegates have the opportunity now to take what they have learned, from the featured companies and also from the other representatives over the course of the two days, and to adapt their own approach in building an effective knowledge management intranet.
“After all the expeditions I have led, and all the shipwrecks I’ve found, you might think it would get easier. But it doesn’t. Every time, fate throws the unexpected in the way. Every time, luck and instinct play as big a role as science and technology.”Dr Robert Ballard, oceanographer and discoverer of the Titantic
Course review written by Simon Lelic. With thanks to Patterson Shafer, Dirk Ramhorst, Larry Griffin and Leigh Healy.