posted 1 Sep 2000 in Volume 4 Issue 1
Learn once, use anywhere
Knowledge is the currency of the millennium, and knowledge management is the key to corporate survival. Dr V.P. Kochikar describes Infosys Technologies’ attempts to create a system capable of facilitating its vision of establishing a ‘learn once, use anywhere’ paradigm.
As organisations have begun to realise that leveraging the power of their own knowledge is critical to achieving competitive differentiation, knowledge management has moved centre-stage. Terms such as intellectual capital, knowledge value added, and knowledge mapping have become part of the corporate landscape.
Infosys Technologies’ KM vision is to be an organisation where every action is fully enabled by the power of knowledge; which truly believes in leveraging knowledge for innovation; where every employee is empowered by the knowledge of every other employee; which is a globally respected knowledge leader.
The primary driver for Infosys’ KM strategy is that, as the company climbs the value curve, it needs effective mechanisms for speedy and efficient consolidation of expertise. The turbulent scenario of the e-business era, with its premium on speed, agility and competitive intensity, has given a further fillip to this need. The mission of Infosys’ KM effort is to ensure that all organisational learning is leveraged in delivering business advantage to the customer. The objectives are to minimise effort dissipated in re-learning what has already been learned elsewhere, and ensuring that Infoscions (as our employees are called) in contact with the customer have the collective knowledge of the organisation behind them. The company thus aims to move towards a ‘learn once, use anywhere’ paradigm.
This article explores Infosys’ KM strategy. First, we enumerate the various KM-related initiatives that have been in place in the organisation, albeit in a decentralised fashion. We then outline the integrated KM strategy, which pulls all of these, as well as several fresh initiatives into a coherent whole, aiming to address the challenges of managing the organisation’s collective knowledge.
A number of initiatives related to knowledge dissemination, sharing and reuse have been underway in a decentralised form for some time now. Although most of these have been in place since before the term ‘knowledge management’ was coined, they can retrospectively be categorised as KM-related.
An integrated KM strategy
The various KM-related activities described above have been happening for several years, in an unorchestrated fashion, in various organisational
pockets – the Quality Department, the Information Systems (IS) group, the Marketing group, various PUs, the Education and Research (E&R) department, to name a few. A move towards an integrated KM strategy was initiated in late 1999, and a coherent KM effort is now under way. Ownership of the KM strategy vests with E&R, whose motto is: ‘We help Infoscions make learning a way of life.’
Infosys’ KM strategy revolves around the key constituents of people, process and technology. It aims to address the KM challenges recounted in2, through a multitude of initiatives, conceptually underpinned by Infosys’ proprietary KMM (Knowledge Management Maturity) model3. The KMM model is based on the realisation that the path to achieving KM success involves significant change – in terms of culture, process, and systems – within an organisation. It is unlikely that this change can be achieved in one giant leap, and a staged framework is thus desirable. The model draws significantly from perhaps the most well established model available today for managing change in a staged manner, the SEI’s Capability Maturity Model (CMM)4. The purpose of the KMM model is two-fold – to provide a framework which can be used to assess current level of KM maturity, and to act as a mechanism to focus, and help prioritise, efforts to raise the level of KM maturity.
In analogy with the CMM, the KMM model consists of five maturity levels, with a set of Key Result Areas (KRAs) defined at each level. Each KRA defines a particular capability in terms of people, process or technology, and effectively serves as a unit of KM capability. Each maturity level can be characterised by certain observable capabilities in terms of people, process and technology, with successive levels exhibiting higher capabilities. There are 15 KRAs in all, each being specific to one of people, process or technology.
The content architecture
A content architecture has been defined for knowledge assets, and consists of a set of defined types of internal and external content. Internal content refers to content that represents Infosys’ internal expertise – samples include the BoK, Project Snapshot documents that provide a window into current and past projects, internal white papers and reports, reusable code and other artefacts, discussion groups, chat sessions, and so on. External content represents expertise existing outside Infosys, and external content types include reviewed websites, glossaries of business and technology terms, technology summaries, online journals and books, external white papers and reports, technology and business news, and the like. Each item in the content repository is associated with one or more nodes in the knowledge hierarchy, and tagged by relevant (possibly multiple) paths through the hierarchy to facilitate ease of submission and retrieval.
The flow of content into the KM repositories is governed by a content management process, and envisages different stages such as review by identified internal experts, streamlining and editing, publishing, certification and maintenance.
Figure 1 - the Infosys Knowledge Shop
The technology architecture
A central KM portal – the Knowledge Shop – has been developed, and provides access to knowledge assets as defined by the content architecture. The recommended means of navigation is via the knowledge hierarchy – a visual depiction of the hierarchy facilitates this (see figure 2).
Figure 2 - the knowledge hierarchy
A limited release of the portal to about 800 users was completed first – a full-scale rollout of the first phase, which targets internal users, was completed in mid-July. Knowledge Shop also integrates existing knowledge-sharing applications – BoK, Process Assets, People-Knowledge Map, and so on – in their present or soon-to-be-upgraded forms. An Internet Gateway facilitates information gathering from the Internet, with reviewed websites and Internet search help.
The central portal also supports various other features such as discussion groups and chat rooms, news snippets, recent additions to the repository, current contributors, reviewer registration, and so on. User reviews and ratings for content are supported – users can award Knowledge Currency Units (KCUs) to an item on a predefined scale, as well as provide qualitative comments. A composite KCU score is computed for each item in the repository, which factors in the KCUs awarded by the reviewer and users, as well as the frequency of use.
Each content type has a homepage, which, among other things, dynamically displays the current ‘top’ items of that content type – that is, those that have the highest composite KCU scores. A sample, the BoK homepage, is shown in figure 3.
Figure 3 - the Body of Knowledge homepage
The portal also allows navigation and search through websites maintained by various competency groups, business units, projects, and so on. An example is the Business Development Intranet, a web application that provides knowledge relevant to improving the sales process.
The long-term technology vision for KM is that all websites containing knowledge assets – whether belonging to different competency groups within the organisation, to projects or to individuals – will mirror the central KM architecture, to facilitate integrated access to users. Towards this, the KM group will build and supply a shell that can be used by any group wishing to set up a website.
Figure 4 - the submission screen
The people architecture
Successful KM implementation
needs the right balance between functions that will be managed by a central
group, and those that will be performed in a decentralised way. While various
alternatives, ranging from the purely centralised to the purely decentralised
are in principle possible, each organisation needs to select the mix that is
most appropriate to itself. Infosys has chosen a ‘facilitated approach’, which
envisages the following: The technology architecture management for KM –
development, deployment and maintenance – will be done by a central KM group.
All stages of the content management process will be anchored by the KM group –
creation of internal content however must happen in the practice, and will be
facilitated by the KM group. Members of the practice units who will devote time
to facilitation for content generation are, appropriately, called practice
In addition, the strategy envisages logical ownership of content by different competency groups/individuals, at appropriate nodes in the knowledge hierarchy. The owner assumes responsibility for facilitation and quality assurance of the content that belongs to the node owned by him/her.
The conception and implementation of the KM strategy is anchored by a central KM group, which forms a part of the E&R department. The group currently consists of four full-time staff, and has a sanctioned strength of eight. When ramped up to its full strength, the group will have three sub-groups – one each to oversee KM research and content management, technology architecture development and management, and internal publicity and brand management.
Making it happen
A slew of measures to promote and publicise the KM initiative internally are on the anvil – this includes a combination of hard, performance correlated incentives and soft, peer recognition based measures. The creation of Knowledge Currency Units, which people earn for contribution towards knowledge-sharing, accumulate and ‘encash’ for various rewards is one example. A KCU scoreboard on the central KM portal gives high visibility to strong contributors. The ultimate aim is to establish a strong, visible correlation between attaining a high profile in the organisation and contributing to KM. Quarterly knowledge summits are also planned, where knowledge-sharing will be highlighted and contributors felicitated.
Figure 5 - search results using the Knowledge Navigator
One of the important tenets of facilitating knowledge-sharing is to minimise the overheads in doing so; hence, quality processes are being re-examined for possible modifications that will ensure contribution to knowledge-sharing as a natural by-product of project execution
As seen in the earlier sections of this paper, any KM effort needs top management push in the early stages. Hence, top management involvement is valuable in ensuring success of Infosys’ fledgling KM effort. A steering committee oversees the initiative, and has representation from the board of directors and other members of senior management representing various key functions. Various high-level strategy and planning meetings also have sessions devoted to KM.
Tracking the effectiveness of the KM strategy is, of course, a key to success. Currently this is being done qualitatively, through review mechanisms and surveys – a survey to gauge effectiveness of the PKM system is in progress. The KCU mechanism has been conceived in part to meet this need. Metrics are also under definition and will form part of quantitative knowledge management, which is a level four KRA in the KMM model.
Challenges for the future
The Infosys KM effort has come out of infancy, but is hardly past adolescence at the current time. Major inroads are being made on the ‘hard’ front of putting systems in place. However, there is still a long way to go on the ‘soft’ front – that of ensuring large-scale awareness and usage of the systems by all quarters within the organisation for business leverage. An important objective for the future includes giving the customer direct benefit from the KM effort – plans to make this happen include an extranet that will expose internal knowledge, suitably screened for IPR issues, to select Infosys customers.
In the days ahead, the critical nature of KM will increase, given the current revenue and people growth rates, geographical expansion, diversification into new markets and more sophisticated services. Dedicated evangelisation of the effort, keeping in mind the various issues discussed in this paper, will be key to achieving success.
There is scarcely any dissent about it: Knowledge is the currency of the millennium, and knowledge management is a key survival imperative. This paper has outlined Infosys’ strategy for managing its knowledge, which forms a key component of the organisation’s strategy for ‘e-inventing’ itself to brace for the sweeping challenges thrown up by the e-paradigm.
The author thanks Mr Nandan Nilekani, Mr S. Gopalakrishnan and Dr S. Yegneshwar, as this paper contains several of their ideas that they have, in the true spirit of knowledge sharing, shared generously. Thanks also to Mr V. Balakrishnan for the description of the Infosys Intellectual Asset presentation methodology. The KM teammates – Mahind, Veena, Shyamprasad – of course deserve full praise for their hard work in making the KM strategy a reality.
1. Sveiby, Karl-Erik, The New Organizational Wealth: Managing and Measuring Knowledge-Based Assets, Berret-Koehler, San Francisco, (1997)
2. Kochikar, V.P., Knowledge: The Currency of the New Millennium, Internal Technical Report, Education & Research Department, Infosys Technologies, (1999)
3. Kochikar, V.P., The Knowledge Management Maturity Model – A Staged Framework for Leveraging Knowledge, to be presented at the KMWorld 2000 Conference, Santa Clara, CA, USA, (September 13-15, 2000)
4. Software Engineering Institute, The Capability Maturity Model, (1993)
Dr V. P. Kochikar is the principal knowledge manager at Infosys Technologies Ltd.
He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org