posted 8 May 2003 in Volume 6 Issue 8
Country focus: India
Simon Lelic talks to Dr J.K. Suresh about the evolution of knowledge management in India.
Dr J.K. Suresh is principal knowledge manager and head of the KM Group at Infosys Technologies, an IT-consulting and software-services organisation headquartered in Bangalore. He joined the company five years ago, and while practices designed to promote the creation, dissemination and re-use of knowledge had in effect been in place for years at the firm, the focus on knowledge management as a formal organisational programme began in earnest at around the same time. Infosys was therefore among the earliest adopters of KM in India, together with the likes of Wipro Technologies and Tata Steel.
Following the lead of these firms, adoption of KM has since grown steadily, if not dramatically. According to Suresh, the impetus has come from a gradual liberalisation of the Indian economy, displacing the incumbent regime of strict government controls, licensing and quotas, which he feels had constrained businesses in their search for operational excellence, market share and international presence. “In a fundamental sense, it is the widening exposure to markets and competition worldwide that has encouraged Indian companies to focus on driving operational efficiencies and encouraging organisational innovation,” Suresh says.
Consequently, a thriving market for knowledge-management products and services has emerged, while the manufacturing, IT and pharmaceutical industries have taken the lead in terms of KM adoption. As elsewhere in the world, take-up has been driven by the perceived value and relevance of KM-based principles to a given industry. As Suresh says, “Uptake of knowledge management is governed by the ease of knowledge exchange between the producers and consumers of knowledge within the organisation. If this process is not simple or easy, KM is likely to be of paramount importance.” In addition, KM has had its biggest impact in industries where products are complex, variable or ill defined, he says, such as consulting organisations and R&D functions.
Both culturally and socially, India seems well disposed to the principles and practices that KM encompasses. “For thousands of years, India has been a multi-cultural, polyglot and polytheist society, with a special penchant for tolerance of ambiguity and the community-based, collaborative sharing of knowledge,” says Suresh. “The pursuit and acquisition of knowledge has always been considered among the most valuable and valid objectives of all human endeavours.” As such, he explains, it is only natural that the broad base of English-speaking professionals who form such a large part of the modern Indian corporation would respond favourably to activities that in effect reflect part of their cultural heritage.
Media coverage has no doubt helped to further this level of acceptance of knowledge management. Both business-to-business and mainstream publications have covered KM in recent months, sometimes from a fairly broad perspective, at other times focused more specifically on individual case studies. Suresh has himself given two interviews about Infosys’s KM programme, for example. He feels the level of attention KM is receiving is in part due to the perception that KM is popular in the west and therefore of relevance to the emerging Indian economy. The number of success stories emanating from companies based in India has surely also helped to propagate the concept, however.
As India continues to cement its reputation as an emerging power in the IT sector, Suresh fully expects interest in KM to grow in step, particularly as further evidence of its importance in the global economy emerges. “The valuable lessons learnt in the process of implementing KM solutions within Indian industry at large is likely to stand the KM industry in good stead as it moves forward,” he says. In fact, uptake among Indian businesses could well precipitate a rapid acceleration of the adoption of knowledge-based thinking in society as a whole, particularly, as Suresh predicts, through the activities of communities of practice and interest. The net result could well be a formidable blend of expertise and resources that will place India in the perfect position to compete on a truly global scale.