posted 25 Sep 2002 in Volume 6 Issue 2
Five minutes with... Oracle
Jacquie Bran, project manager with the Knowledge Management events team, spent five minutes talking to Ibrahim Gogus, knowledge management director for Oracle Corporation, about the firm's experiences implementing a knowledge management programme in a diverse working environment.
When and why did you first consider incorporating knowledge management?
As a company developing, selling and helping customers implement software, our competitive advantage is reflected in how well we can leverage the collective expertise, experience and business know-how of our employees. In other words, our business is about translating knowledge into software code and related services.
Knowledge management in Oracle has never been a top-down phenomenon. Our consulting and customer support lines of business had KM programmes in place as early as 1997. The rapid transformation of our business from a set of local subsidiaries acting fairly independently to a truly global organisation, the elimination of middle management layers and, most importantly, the constant push towards the firm becoming an e-business necessitated increased co-ordination among independent KM activities.
What have you done to encourage and promote knowledge sharing in such a diverse environment, and what barriers have you faced?
Like all large, multinational organisations, we faced a number of issues in promoting knowledge sharing across different geographies and cultures. Some of these included:
- Difference in size and organisational maturity of various country organisations, underlining the idea that one size does not fit all;
- Cultural differences. People all over the world have different habits and methods for communicating, collaborating and sharing;
- The difficulty in establishing effective mechanisms for collaboration in virtual environments.
To overcome issues like these, a key principle in our KM programme has been the distributed nature of ownership. We have always emphasised the notion that knowledge sharing should be everyone’s responsibility. The central group (the formal KM organisation) leads and co-ordinates activities, but individual business units carry out the actual implementation of KM projects.
Our approach to establishing a common understanding and appreciation of knowledge management relies on the existence and effective operation of communities of practice. Communities put all the KM tools and content into context.
How did you progress to implementing an infrastructure to support KM and what organisational changes were necessary to ensure its success?
We concentrated on consolidating the many disparate repositories and systems under a common framework. This helped everyone to concentrate on the content and how it is used in day-to-day business, rather than allocating resources to maintain the infrastructure itself. For us, technology is not just another enabler for KM, but a key one. Technology alone obviously cannot deliver all the benefits associated with KM, but it can provide tangible tools for employees to work with.
Our intranet has been the cornerstone of our KM infrastructure. It began as a compilation of thousands of static websites, passing through a rapid evolution before developing into an environment that is of critical importance for every employee. The current environment is the third generation in the evolutionary path of our intranet.
Involving as many organisations and communities in the strategic definition and implementation of the KM infrastructure has been the number one factor in our success, with management support a close second.
How did you address the cultural factors associated with KM implementation when considering your KM strategy?
We always defined our KM strategy with our corporate culture and business practices, as well as local habits, in mind. That meant speed and simplicity became the defining criteria for all of our projects. Alignment with e-business strategy and having the answer to the key question every employee asked – ‘what’s in it for me?’ – were also key elements. Even in an organisation where business practices are to a large extent standardised, the cultural differences between regions also have to be considered.
Has KM enabled you to align your information and knowledge services across departments and channels of communication?
Very much so. The establishment of a common collaboration and knowledge-sharing platform, as well as communities of practice where subject matter experts from different lines of business and geographies get together, created communication channels that did not exist before.
What are the main lessons you have learnt?
Some of the key lessons we have learnt include:
- Concentrate on issues important to the business;
- Focus on speed;
- Centrally-driven, locally-owned initiatives succeed;
- Set targets and highlight benefits at each step;
- One size does not fit all.
Ibrahim Gogus is knowledge management director at Oracle Corporation. He can be contacted at email@example.com