posted 9 Dec 2002 in Volume 6 Issue 4
Country focus: Argentina
Simon Lelic talks to Pablo Belly, director of Belly Knowledge Management, about the evolution of knowledge management in Argentina.
A regular columnist for several well established magazines and the author of two books on KM and the knowledge economy, Pablo Belly also runs his own consultancy in Buenos Aires. Belly Knowledge Management was founded in 2000, just as KM began to take off in the country. In spite of Argentina’s economic difficulties, the company has succeeded in attracting and retaining a number of large national and multi-national clients.
Belly’s first real involvement with the theories encompassed by knowledge management came in 1994. It was after writing an article outlining the value of employee knowledge in an organisational context that he decided to investigate the topic in greater depth. He subsequently discovered that, while there was very little awareness of the topic in the Argentine business community, elsewhere around the world others had been espousing similar principles for several years. Collectively, these ideas even had a name: knowledge management.
Since then, the KM movement in Argentina has evolved, as Belly puts it, without a great deal of haste but also without pause. Today, when he is dealing with clients, most recognise the importance of intellectual capital and of trying to manage what they know, even if they do not as yet have any strategic plan to implement KM. In fact, in 2000 Belly Knowledge Management conducted a survey of almost 500 company managers in the country. Eighty per cent claimed to be aware of what is meant by the term ‘knowledge management’, while 93 per cent recognised the impact KM implementation could have on their companies’ bottom line.
As Belly says, the theoretical grounding of the subject in Argentina is strong, even if the discipline is yet to yield many examples of practical success. More recently, however, the country has had to cope with massive economic and political upheaval, and corporate priorities have shifted somewhat. Belly has seen the number of companies looking to his firm to help them with their KM efforts drop substantially. As he says, most firms have more immediate concerns.
Nevertheless, the community that has grown up around the discipline remains tight, and these days Belly is invited to speak at conferences addressing the subject more often than ever before. While economic necessity has enforced a reduction in the amount of money available for knowledge-management projects, Belly is adamant that interest continues to grow.
Media coverage of KM projects and principles, for instance, is substantial. “The perception of KM as a frivolous fad has stopped,” says Belly. “It is now considered an important matter in the goals and organisational objectives of a company.” Articles on knowledge management are no longer confined to specialist trade publications; rather, columns on the subject appear regularly in the mainstream press, including the daily newspaper, Clarín, to which Belly has himself contributed. The feedback this coverage generates is also encouraging. According to Belly, those who contacted him after reading a recent article were interested only in more detailed information and technical advice; at no point was the question of what KM actually is raised.
It certainly seems that many organisations are simply waiting for economic conditions to improve before implementing KM. Belly recently revisited the companies that took part in the 2000 survey, for example, and of the huge majority that had expressed a desire to initiate a knowledge-management programme, most confirmed that their plans had merely been put on hold. “Investment in KM projects has been put to one side at the moment, but this does not mean that intentions have dissipated,” says Belly.
It is difficult to say precisely how long it will be before the political and economic situation in Argentina stabilises sufficiently for this to change. Should circumstances remain prohibitive for very long, there is a good chance that much of the progress made in recent years will be undone. Yet Belly remains both confident in the future of the discipline in his home country and enthusiastic for the challenges ahead. “As budgets are so low, there is much more pressure in Argentina to obtain results with KM and there is a need for greater creativity,” he says. “Because of this, to work on KM in this country is a rich experience indeed.”