posted 9 Aug 2001 in Volume 5 Issue 1
Needles in a haystack
Using a capabilities catalogue to locate knowledge
Trying to find the right information and the right person within a large organisation is often the most difficult step when beginning a new project, especially if your systems and processes create information islands. Keith Cromack describes Raytheon’s attempts to develop a ‘capabilities catalogue’ to make the most of its in-house talent.
How many times have you heard the question ‘who does what, where?’ when people are looking for product and service information and want to work with someone within their own company? Multiple businesses within large companies can find it hard to work together simply because it is difficult to know the full scope of their products, services and capabilities, and how to make a contact to work with. Often it can seem harder to collaborate internally than with an external company. It can be very difficult to find and understand the capabilities of fellow employees, and other facilities and businesses. Too often the result is a more expensive external relationship and a failure to leverage all the strengths of your company.
Raytheon – the business case
Raytheon is hardly unique in facing these issues, but if companies are going to compete effectively, they must find better ways to manage and share capabilities information. Raytheon is a multi-billion dollar company and a global technology leader in defence, government and commercial electronics, and business and special mission aircraft with multiple businesses and segments across several countries, technologies and time zones. As you might suspect, it can be difficult to understand and leverage the full scope of internal capabilities – one of the reasons for which is the difficulty in knowing ‘who does what, where?’
To better understand the challenge and take corrective action, Raytheon conducted a series of employee surveys and focus groups in autumn 2000. Based on the results of this information, it became clear that:
- Company products, services and capabilities were not well known by many employees, especially outside their own business or facility;
- Information about products, services and capabilities and who to contact was not easily accessible;
- 59 per cent of respondents said they found information over the phone – one phone call would lead to another until they found the information;
- 68 per cent of respondents said they would prefer to find the same information on the company intranet;
- Product, service and capability information existed, but within different systems and processes separated by organisation or function into information islands;
- The existing systems and processes made it difficult to maintain and share information across the company.
Discovering company capabilities
In response to the data, Raytheon established a cross-functional, cross-business team to evaluate the current and desired state for finding company capabilities information and to improve the ability to work together across the businesses to create competitive advantage. This team was formed within a larger Raytheon Six Sigma initiative that had the full support of Raytheon’s chief executive, Dan Burnham, and the rest of the leadership team. The team was challenged with improving awareness and access to business critical information to allow collaboration among the companies in pursuit of new business and programme start-up – to increase business wins, maximise customer value and better leverage Raytheon’s human and knowledge resources.
One of the first challenges for the team was to find the information owners themselves and add them to the team as stakeholders. The focus of the team was on value added versus non-value added steps in the process of discovering information throughout the company. As mentioned earlier, the prevailing process was to call someone who knew someone who knew something about the capability. The net result was variable, with the number of phone calls and redirects ranging from one to many – most of which are non-value added in the quest for information. In the worst case, an employee may give up and turn to the outside for help that may have been available internally. The objective of the team was to eliminate as many of the information redirects in the process as possible, eliminate the waste and bring the information requestor and the information owner together as quickly as possible.
A solution – the Raytheon capabilities catalogue
The solution for Raytheon has been the creation of an intranet-based ‘capabilities catalogue’. The purpose of this catalogue is to provide an easily searchable repository of company products, services and capabilities to help answer the question ‘who does what, where?’
This catalogue also provides the business with an easier way to maintain and share this information, both internally and externally with customers and suppliers. One of the key factors of success for the capabilities catalogue was to provide a better interface and process for the employees that were already maintaining this information. The catalogue would not have been successful if the team created yet another system for them to maintain – it had to replace their current local databases, spreadsheets and web pages with something better and easier, or it would not have been accepted.
In the development stage of this catalogue, a core group of the original cross–business and functional team from each business unit – communications, information technology and engineering – took on the objective of better connecting employees looking for Raytheon product and service information. This core team also included the employees that were currently maintaining company capabilities information and they were able to directly impact the design of their new system.
This team employed a software development methodology (SDM) as an organising tool for system specification and development in line with the overall strategy for the Raytheon intranet.
The Raytheon web environment is a business tool that:
- Provides easy and equal access to company information;
- Is an enabler to support learning and change within the organisation;
- Encourages collaboration and makes connections between people.
The information on the Raytheon intranet:
- Is not constrained by business structure;
- Is relevant to the daily work flow of employees;
- Supports understanding and participation in achieving Raytheon goals.
The technology of the Raytheon intranet;
- Is transparent to the user;
- Supports transparent access – is not bound by location;
- Supports speed and relevance of communications to all audiences.
The actual development was performed by the Raytheon Northern Ireland Software Centre. The database was integrated into the Raytheon intranet NT server environment, with the user interface developed in Cold Fusion to result in a fully integrated system for operation and support.
To locate the new capabilities catalogue in an easily accessible, already familiar interface, the team integrated it with the company directory and search utilities in the Raytheon intranet. Other ‘discovery’ utilities available through the same interface include the employee directory, locations and maps, public bookmarks, and video conferencing resources.
The initial deployment of the system included product and service, and capability information from Raytheon’s Electronic Systems (ES) and Command, Control, Communications and Information Systems (C3I) businesses. Additional information from the other businesses and other parts of the company is being entered every day – adding value to the catalogue and helping to reach the critical mass needed for it to become part of the business process.
The capabilities catalogue
The catalogue interface allows a user to perform either a general or advanced search, where the general search will perform a keyword search through all fields of the catalogue. This form of search has proven useful as a starting point for employees who may not know the business or the particular acronym used to describe the capability.
For advanced searches, the interface allows multiple search criteria that may be entered in three stages:
- General search;
- Business search;
- Additional information search.
Search criteria entered at all three stages are combined to make the final search. Information available for searches include business, operating unit, city or operating environment involved in the item, as well as key technologies, associated information, and primary and secondary contacts, to name a few.
As with any search engine, the likely return from a capability catalogue search will include more than the desired item but will allow you to view all related capabilities and select multiple items to view in full detail. The detail of the catalogue is centred on associating a capability with a person and provides full contact information as a way to bring employees together across the businesses. This information is dynamically retrieved from the company directory services
Selling the benefits
Just creating a better database of information is never enough to affect change. In order for the capabilities catalogue to be successful and have an impact on the business, there was a need for increased awareness – not only of the information, but also of the benefits of collaborating across the company. The solution was the creation of the ‘one-company community’ – an electronic destination on the Raytheon intranet positioned to further the benefits of intra-company collaboration and highlight the capabilities catalogue.
This community has become one of many established communities on the Raytheon intranet and a platform and incubator for other collaboration initiatives. As part of the community, employees are provided with a collaboration toolkit that includes electronic meetings, document sharing, and discussion forums on the topic of collaboration. Of course, the user can also easily link to the capabilities catalogue.
What does success look like?
At the time of this article, the Raytheon capabilities catalogue had nearly 1,000 records with multiple data administrators – employees actively entering information into the catalogue. Although only a portion of the products, services and capabilities of the company are currently included in the catalogue, positive results are already beginning to show. As was done at the beginning of this initiative, a random sample of Raytheon employees throughout the company were asked if they had easy access to company capabilities information. From November 2000 to June 2001, the positive response increased from 28 per cent to 37 per cent, exceeding the team’s expectations for the first six months of the catalogue.
Although these improvements in information discovery can be attributed to several factors, including overall improvements in the company intranet, the survey comments attribute much of the improvement to the capabilities catalogue. Unsolicited comments from the survey included:
- “Raytheon capabilities are much easier to research now that the catalogue is available”;
- “The capabilities catalogue is impressive, a very useful tool”;
- “Great tool, the advanced search is my favourite because it gets to the specifics”;
- “It is a long overdue tool – competitive pressures are going to force more intra-company cooperation”.
What can we conclude?
Although the information age has brought more data to our desktops, it can be argued that there is actually less information available because of the proliferation of disparate systems and processes. Knowledge workers in every business are wasting time searching for information, rather than acting upon it, and creating information that already exists only because they do not know where to find it. As a result, companies of all sizes may not be leveraging their own internal resources as well as they could only because they cannot answer the question ‘who does what, where?’
The real value proposition for companies over the next few years is not in the creation of new information, but in the creation of systems and information architectures that bring context to the existing information – to make it possible to turn the mountains of data into actionable information.
The Raytheon capabilities catalogue is an effort to provide context to product, service and capabilities information within the company – to establish an information utility that improves the ability to work together across the businesses to create competitive advantage. The catalogue has shown some initial acceptance and improvements in the amount of time required to find this information. The system continues to grow in the number of records and participation of the businesses, but the real measure of success will be when we no longer hear the question ‘who does what, where?’
1. Raytheon Six Sigma is a knowledge-based process used by Raytheon to transform its culture to maximise customer value and grow the business
2. Raytheon Northern Ireland Software Centre – http://www.raytheon.co.uk/raytheonoflash/sections/about/indabout.htm
Keith Cromack is director of electronic communications at Raytheon. He can be contacted at: email@example.com