posted 6 Dec 2005 in Volume 9 Issue 4
The value of a KM review
Intranet overhaul following a knowledge management review at accountants BDO Stoy Hayward. By Mark Tilbury.
BDO Stoy Hayward is the
It is also a good place to work, considered to be one of the best employers in the UK, according to the Sunday Times’ ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ survey – the only accountancy firm to be included on the list.
Like most accountancy firms, it has profited from the post-Enron ratcheting up of regulation. Obviously, a steadily growing company needs to revisit its knowledge management (KM) strategy on a regular basis so, in the Summer of 2004, BDO Stoy Hayward conducted an extensive KM review – its first in the new, tougher regulatory climate – to determine if the right information and knowledge sharing tools were available and easily accessible.
One of the key outcomes of that review was a re-design of Insite, its UK-wide intranet.
The primary purpose of the review was to evaluate the knowledge needs of the firm, one covering the whole gamut of sectors in which it operates and the various activities they encompass, including:
- Servicing clients and relationship management;
- Personal effectiveness, inquisitiveness and education;
- Commercial management;
- Organisational management (where/how/context of knowledge needs and use);
- Communications management, such as how individuals communicate, the delivery mechanisms, regularity and so on;
- Strategic management. For example, competitive & competitor analyses;
- Risk management – how to design into knowledge systems BDO’s risk management policy;
- Day-to-day operational activity, whether segmented by practice, organisation, location, seniority and role. This would seek to answer questions such as the impact of committing to ‘more’, ‘new’ or ‘different’ KM approaches, is it possible? What it takes?;
- Business development and selling, the explicit information needs in this key business process;
- Business support.
The existing KM infrastructure at BDO Stoy Hayward had been in place for about five years. It was based on a knowledge strategy developed in 1998 – before the scandals at Enron, WorldCom and Parmalat, among others, changed the whole environment in which BDO operates.
Post-Enron, of course, the tighter regulatory regime has proved to be a tremendous driver of growth – and competition – not just for BDO Stoy Hayward, but for all accountancy firms. This has also intensified the needs of clients in terms of service delivery, relevant to the accountability and potential conflicts of the relationship.
In view of this, it was felt that a number of pressing issues needed to be addressed first, following a comprehensive review of the existing systems, how they were used and an assessment of the needs of the users:
- There was a perception that the current general tools for storing and accessing general information were no longer as effective as they were two years ago due in part to the rise in the amount of information that staff have to process;
- There was also more information being created across the core services, which needed to be connected to BDO Stoy Hayward and its clients far more quickly for the firm to stay competitive. This was happening both from within the business and from central functions and domain experts. The firm could no longer rely on a traditional partner relationship and public website to be the sole sources of information for its clients. This process neglected key internally created content that could provide value. Complementing it, we considered the potential of client/sector portals, which could use internal content, such as sector reports, to assist the client relationship;
- There was the opportunity to exploit the organisation’s current technology architecture with the implementation of a number of new software packages to improve the mining and tracking of key content, assisting in issues such as risk assessment;
- There was a desire, also driven by technology, to move towards a portal approach, allowing personalisation of content for internal and external users. However, it still has to be validated by the business that this is what we either need or require – present evidence suggests that these projects fail more often than they succeed...
- There has been a significant investment in client data, especially relationship management and sector/client analysis and newsfeeds – not to mention the contact, campaign and pipeline management systems – without a corresponding adoption from within the business;
- There has been a sizeable investment in financial/transactional data, allowing greater transparency and integration with existing systems. We needed to find out how this could be used to our advantage to design better ways to create, store, access and connect knowledge-related data to transactional data;
- The core service processes and the communications around them are often intertwined and need to be better understood.
We also found that complex technology can sometimes undermine staff, rather than support them, because of their complexity. We wanted to connect people, rather than collect data as this can place a heavy burden on business. Connection has immediate and vocal feedback.
The review also helped us to realise the importance of the front office. Our back-office systems have had heavy investment and we now needed to connect the two together more effectively to improve service to clients.
Finally, we felt that the benefits needed to be obvious and self-measuring. If we have to seek where the benefits are then they are probably too detached from the actual system and will never encourage its adoption and use.
We started off by holding 30-45 minute interviews on a one-to-one basis with a representative sample of staff to try to better understand their needs, as well as how they use the firm’s existing knowledge tools in their day-to-day working lives.
The sample was made up of 80 people from across the firm, covering all regions and offices, roles and hierarchies from administrators, secretaries and juniors to senior managers and partners.
In addition, we carried out a user survey in Insite, our existing intranet system, of all content managers. The interviews focused on the following areas:
Understanding how people worked on a day-to-day level in terms of the information and tools they needed to do their jobs effectively;
- Their understanding of the Insite intranet;
- Their use of core corporate systems;
- The tools they used the most;
- The problems they encountered using those tools and searching for the information they needed;
- Key areas they thought should be improved;
- Keeping up to date with their activities, their department and the firm’s developments;
- How the existing tools were used for personal and professional development.
When this research was carried out, Insite was nearly six years old. It was designed in 1998 during the initial stage of an earlier KM programme and had gone through two significant refreshes, the last of which was as long ago as 2001.
Although Insite had been designed strategically, content generation and local site management was controlled by content managers within the business, who acted as ‘gatekeepers’. It is fair to say that Insite evolved organically rather than strategically.
In many respects, Insite mirrors the firm and its values – ‘operate in a flexible way within agreed parameters’, ‘nurture independent thinking and ideas’ and ‘value individuality’. As a result, there was little centralised control over content.
In general, however, most comments in the interviews favoured more centralised control, mainly to improve content quality and to deliver consistent corporate messages. A number of other key areas of improvement were also identified:
- Weak search engine
A key area of weakness identified in the interview was the search engine. There was a lack of confidence in its ability to find relevant items quickly and to present them logically. At the same time, some comments suggested that many users had grown used to the simplicity and power of Google and therefore had higher expectations of search engine performance.
- Navigation and structure
People found navigation awkward, particularly to content which they had only accessed a limited number of times. This was partly due to a misunderstanding of the design of the front page, where there was some confusion about the top drop-down menus and a feeling that the choices in the left-hand navigation bar were not logically structured and did not really mean much.
- Lack of content
Despite the best efforts of the content managers, there was a feeling that content was missing in major areas, particularly areas where there should already have been a sizeable ‘pool’ of content somewhere in the business that could be published.
In particular, there were some key marketing processes that the intranet was lacking information about. These included:
- Bid documents;
- Credentials – how good we are at what we do?
- Skills information;
- International information;
- Sector knowledge;
- BDO corporate profile;
Some of the interviews touched upon the concept of personalisation, a common feature of both web portals and many intranet portals.
We found that there was no out-and-out business need for personalisation, but that the advantages and benefits were clearly recognised, which went beyond merely being ‘nice to have’. For example, for internal communications the idea of targeted e-mails summarising particular topics was very popular in the business, with the information linked and archived in Insite.
The idea of pushing news items or summaries on ‘channels’, based on role, was considered useful if it could be integrated on a personalised screen that could also include e-mail.
After sifting through the results of the interviews and survey, we generated the following personas or user profiles. The idea was to help us understand what users needed to see and use, and how the Insite intranet needed to be re-developed to meet this. Users fell into the following categories:
The conscious non-user
They do not need to use Insite for anything as their communication needs are well served by meetings, minutes and reports; while secretaries and other staff provide core systems support. These people generally only use Insite to search people profiles. They regard Insite as a pure repository of information, there for other people.
The ignorant non-user
Lack of understanding or technical prowess/technology makes them shy about Insite, what it is and how to use it. Overcome that and there is, nevertheless, a willingness to use it.
Some partners are highly active users of the Insite intranet and are well versed with what is there and how to navigate around it. In this category, the majority choose to use it mainly as a point of reference to search for technical updates on business assurance or tax, for example, rather than for true knowledge sharing. There are also different levels of usage among wider members of the firm, too.
- Secretaries and administrators
These people tend to browse the site
in greater detail and use it as an information gathering tool. Also, they are most likely to use core systems on behalf of partners.
- Trainees and a certain level of qualifieds
This strata is still only likely to use it occasionally. Many said that this was because they were out of the office frequently and did not necessarily have remote access off-site.
Most likely to use track record, an area where the ‘projects’ related to particular clients are listed, people profiles and technical areas such as business assurance and Tax.Insite, an internal tax ‘community’ where users can share documents, news, events and even web logs (blogs).
- Business Support staff
Wide use of Insite among all levels of support staff, particularly as an information gathering tool and also as content publishers.
The research provided us with invaluable information for the intranet re-design and enabled us to tailor a system much more closely to user needs. That is not to say that the old intranet system had not been a success. In general, Insite had enjoyed steadily increasing use since it was launched and had many good features built in. However, it no longer supported the business to the level required to match BDO Stoy Hayward’s current strategy - and to meet external competitive and regulatory pressures. To support our values, minimise our risks and to ensure that we live up to our brand, we recognised that we needed to make fundamental improvements in the following areas:
- Search capability;
- Navigation and structure;
- Roles, training and content-management processes, ensuring roles were linked to appraisals and training to people development;
- Content, at the technical level (relating to content used to service our clients), corporate (marketing and management executive) and the local office level.
We adopted three general approaches to help with this:
- More central management from the KM unit;
- A new search function;
- A clear framework on which content will be structured;
- More training and awareness;
The, perhaps surprising, theme of many of the interviews had been that there should be more central control over Insite. The knowledge management unit needed to ensure that Insite functions at an appropriate level to support BDO Stoy Hayward’s strategy, in addition to facilitating its use through our content managers.
This involved making structural changes to Insite and related processes as a whole, as well as directly overseeing the publication of core content that is central to the firm’s strategy. In terms of priority this means concentrating on access to accurate and credible technical and corporate content.
In simple terms, we moved away from a devolved publishing process and took control of the ‘crown jewels’ of content, working with the content owners to ensure its credibility, accuracy and formatting.
Working with our IT department, a new search engine from Autonomy was introduced to Insite. In the first phase of the implementation all published content was indexed. This took approximately ten weeks. In later stages the search software will be related to other applications to provide true enterprise search.
We also developed a clear framework on which the content will be structured. The home page was finally tidied up, too, and we created eight key content areas on it. This enabled content to be collected from various areas of the site into definable ‘portals’ – definable by the end-user, not the department that created the content.
This had a number of immediate benefits for staff, who can now access four-fifths of all the information they need with just two clicks of the mouse. It also provides much clearer lines of communication for the company and staff. Finally, we realised the importance of training and better user awareness. Where there has been no dedicated resource to run a site on the intranet (a ‘content manager’) it has generally never been up-to-date as a result. There are two main reasons for this:
- There is no one in charge – no content manager;
- For sites with a content manager, he or she often does not have time to keep the site up to date because they have a full-time job to do.
We suggested that where possible the content manager role should be explicitly written into somebody’s job description and an up-to-date site therefore expected. When this is impossible we felt we needed to establish an estimate of the time required to maintain a site to an adequate level and ensure that this is realised by the business group asking for the site. If there is not going to be a dedicated content manager then is it really worth having a dedicated site?
In establishing roles there was also a need for training and best practice recommendations from the knowledge unit. For the general user the content framework is explained at induction courses, while new starters receive welcome e-mails containing the information they need. However, there are many more steps we need to take to ensure that the new version of Insite is warmly embraced by staff and partners. An ongoing process of induction and promotion is taking place at BDO Stoy Hayward until the end of 2005.
However, the basic structure was validated by the business – both in the initial planning stages and in the implementation stage – by ensuring that a thorough KM review was conducted before the re-design.
Mark Tilbury is online manager at BDO Stoy Hayward. He can be contacted at: