posted 1 May 1999 in Volume 2 Issue 8
The basic needs of a successful knowledge environment are a sound infrastructure of experienced knowledge workers supported by a seamless technological solution. In this article, Daniel Berhin outlines the basic launch any organisation needs to start on the knowledge journey through the example of their intranet and corresponding knowledge community.
Booz Allen & Hamilton, the international management and technology consulting firm, has for many years focused on how to exchange innovative ideas and knowledge amongst a widely dispersed workforce. In 1994, Booz Allen & Hamilton launched its Knowledge Programme, built on both cultural and technological innovations, to help drive top line growth by:
|Building our brand through the development and commercialisation of leading edge thinking|
|Enabling long-term client relationship by equipping partners with a stream of products and experts to bring to their clients|
|Equipping staff with the best knowledge to get the job done and accelerating the learning cycles of new staff|
It is broadly defined as a vehicle to stimulate the exchange of ideas and to provide the firm´s global staff with easy and immediate access to the best thinking about business issues and the experts behind the ideas. This article will focus on two essential but not sole parts of the programme, the intranet (Knowledge on line) and the role of the Information Professional Community.
Booz Allen & Hamilton, founded in 1914, is one of the largest and most respected international management and technology firms. The firm is divided into two main business segments: the Worldwide Commercial Business (WCB), helping major corporations improve their performance, and the Worldwide Technology Business (WTB), serving government agencies in the United States and abroad. Booz Allen’s activity in strategy, systems, operations and technology is organised in specific consulting practices: i.e. Financial Services, Communications, Media & Technology, Consumer and Engineered Products; Energy, Chemicals and Pharmaceutical, Operations Management, Information Technology and Strategic Leadership.
The firm has experienced tremendous growth over the past decade, increasing staff from 3500 to nearly 9000 today. The firm has 90 offices around the world. In 1993, Booz Allen & Hamilton issued a new strategic plan called Vision 2000. One of the key objectives of this plan was to leverage the intellectual capital of the firm through a formal knowledge programme.
Building an leveraging knowledge: a priority
All the activity at Booz Allen & Hamilton is based on knowledge work. Service to clients means delivering the best knowledge of the firm as whole. Twenty years ago, that meant leveraging the skills and knowledge of a few consultants who knew each other´s experience and skills. By the 1990´s, geographic distance, limits of personal knowledge of individual consultants and the sheer volume of employees made locating knowledge and expertise - let alone leveraging it - an institutional challenge.
Change in business client environments radically changed processes to promote cooperation across offices. Because a majority of the firm´s clients are multinational companies facing multiple competitive pressures, the solutions proposed have to be both sophisticated and targeted. A more transversal and cross-functional expertise was then required.
The Knowledge programme: presentation
In the spring of 1994, Booz Allen & Hamilton began a programme to capture best practices and identify its thought leaders. In defining its vision for the year 2000, the firm decided to create an intellectual capital engine to define and initiate processes that would give staff around the world the ability to create, capture and share intellectual capital. This would be a way of working together, even if teams were scattered around the world. The programme involved much more than development of processes and infrastructure to support knowledge, capture and sharing. It required a fundamental change in the company’s culture.
The Knowledge Programme conceived by Booz Allen & Hamilton is a radically new technological and organisational device. This programme was launched as a key building block for realising the firm´s strategy. Booz-Allen’s Knowledge Programme encompasses different dimensions:
1. People: A small team lead by the Chief Knowledge Officer composed of information professionals (knowledge managers, librarians, abstractors, IT specialists) as well as marketing and change management specialists.
2. Technology: The Knowledge On-line Intranet (KOL), a searchable database of intellectual capital documents created a storehouse of information and eliminated time-consuming searches.
3. Processes: Innovation and intellectual capital teams composed of client staff synthesise, articulate and document the firm´s best thinking around high-priority areas. Special brainstorming days were designed to showcase and discuss new intellectual capital.
4: Publications and Events: A new quarterly journal, Strategy & Business, was launched. The firm, along with the Financial Times created the Global Business Book Awards. Booz Allen also sponsored or co-sponsored (along with such prestigious organisations as the Conference Board) high level conferences focused around the firm’s top intellectual capital initiatives. It also began publishing several newsletters, mostly for an internal audience to raise awareness of intellectual capital developments.
People and processes
Led by the Chief Knowledge Officer (traditionally one of the firm´s partners), the knowledge programme was overseen by the Core Knowledge Team(CKT). Made up of a cross functional group of consultants, marketing experts, information professionals and technologists, the CKT focused on creating and capturing intellectual capital while building the infrastructure needed to support the knowledge programme. This knowledge infrastructure is organised around the Information Professional Community (IPC) and Knowledge On-line, the knowledge system. The IPC is recognised as one of the cornerstones of Booz Allen & Hamilton´s knowledge programme. The IPC expanded what had previously been known as Research Services, a group serving the traditional external research function.
A new group of professionals, known as knowledge managers, are driving the area of knowledge and information support. These individuals combine a deep industry knowledge with an information science background and in-depth understanding of the role as change agents within the firm. “We looked for people with a combination of industry expertise in a practice area, good communication skills and technical information management skills,” said Lois Remeikis, the Chicago-based Director of Knowledge and Information Management. Best thinking is created by individual teams working on a project, whether it be client-related or not. Knowledge managers work closely with all the firm´s practices to ensure that intellectual capital (IC) documents reach the knowledge system.
When a new assignment starts, the proposal is sent to the knowledge manager together with a staffing list. As a project ends, three types of documents are generated: intellectual capital (i.e. new methodologies, frameworks, industry overviews, analyses, economic or marketing models, etc.), references called qualifications (a short description of the project goals and achievements, disguised in order to protect client confidentiality), and professional resumes (to create the expert database). The knowledge manager must ensure that the intellectual capital generated is processed according to company standards, then abstracted and loaded onto the knowledge system. Each practice also has innovation teams dedicated to identifying and articulating the firm´s best thinking, supplementing the IC developments through projects. Finally within the CKT, the senior consultants helped distil current knowledge and also helped commercialise leading edge thinking by equipping partners with a stream of cross-practice products. Senior staff (i.e. partners) are the ultimate quality controllers for the system´s content. Any intellectual capital contribution has to be approved by at least one partner.
KOL: The technological tool
In order to deliver the intellectual capital to the rest of the firm, a technological solution was created so that everyone in the firm could have access: Knowledge On-Line(KOL). In building this collaborative solution, the members of the CKT team focused on their individual areas of expertise. The consulting staff made strategy and technology decisions. The knowledge managers translated content and user needs into a user-friendly system. The IT experts provided system and technology support. Marketing experts started an internal campaign aimed at promoting the system and its usage.From its inception, KOL served Booz-Allen’s worldwide staff as a tool that stimulated the exchange of ideas and provided easy and immediate access to the firm’s best thinking and other key information such as linking to the experts behind the ideas.
The initial specifications included the following:
|Be available 24-hours-a-day, seven days -a-week|
|Be accessible globally, from office or any remote location|
|Deliver one-stop shopping for knowledge and information about our business|
|Have a user-friendly interface|
|Serve as a mechanism for exchanging and sharing ideas|
|Support a variety of technology platforms|
KOL was originally set up on a bulletin board (messaging platform) already available through the wide area network to the entire company. This platform offered the advantages of minimal user training, low software costs, the ability to collaborate virtually, send mail and conduct conferencing. KOL was rolled out to staff in March 1995, after only a few months of development. Introductory training was held in all offices, both through group discussions and demonstrations at multimedia kiosks. Printed materials were also distributed. Additionally, in each office, both IPC and technical support professionals were trained to provide personalised user support. In the first ten months of operations, KOL was successfully adopted by firm´s staff. Over 60% used it on a monthly basis.
KOL2, the upgraded version of KOL, is built on a new architectural vision (intranet) which extends the functionality of the original system. KOL2 provides better integration with external knowledge from the internet, more flexible collaboration tools and greater enriched learning capabilities (such as multimedia online training sessions). New features were added:
|A web-enabler (Netscape) providing single interface to access internal knowledge, external information (web sites, commercial databases, newswires) and advanced mailing and document management tools|
|A powerful search engine (PLS/Verity) allowing boolean search relevancy, keyword search, natural language search and wild card|
|Platform independence ( System moved straight to Wintel from Apple)|
|Increased security of access (firewall, encryption)|
The system has added a lot of new fields. Marketing information,online training, human resources data, and job budgeting as well as external information are enriching the system.
Knowledge activity and the knowledge programme
KOL has been a major success at Booz Allen Hamilton. More than a system to retrieve existing knowledge, KOL serves as a vehicle for communicating knowledge programme success stories. Surveys stress that staff use KOL for a variety of tasks i.e. uncovering materials for proposals; finding background information, creating training material, locating experts, and exchanging ideas and documents. Furthermore, it is becoming a content generator. As more information is loaded onto KOL, more users turn to KOL to find knowledge and are inspired - by their positive experience- to contribute themselves. The knowledge programme has produced clear results for Booz Allen in the short time since it was instituted:
|The firm’s rate of revenue growth doubled, while profitability tripled|
|96% of staff have used KOL at least once; 55% are regular users (once a week)|
|Authorship by Booz Allen professionals jumped 90% over the last three years|
|Ties with leading academic institutions such as Insead and the London Business School were created and strengthened|
|Media citations have grown at a 50% annual rate, helping to build a stronger brand|
|Strategy & Business was given the Folio: Editorial Excellence Award for business and finance publications.|
|KOL was awarded the web Business Award by CIO magazine in 1998|
|Several thousand contributions have been made to the system since it was launched; the number is increasing each year.|
Knowledge programme: lessons learned
While most of today´s literature focuses on the technology behind knowledge management, the experience of the knowledge programme has shown that the true value of the system is based on its content creation, use and exchange. The knowledge management process essentially includes six equally important steps i.e. creation, capture, collaboration, contribution, consumption and communication. Our lessons learned are:
|Focus on content with the greatest impact on the client staff|
|Introduce a pilot programme on a small scale before launching it firmwide|
|Concentrate initially on a select number of users so they may become advocates for the programme throughout the organisation|
|Dedicate a small core team to push knowledge creation and dissemination|
|Reach tangible results as quickly as possible from the programme’s launch.|
The knowledge programme has expanded beyond the traditional needs of consultants on client engagements. It now also support the operations side of the business; marketing and communications, human resources and training. Booz Allen & Hamilton is now exploring how collaborative features could support every day project teaming. By extending the capabilities to clients, KOL may impact how the firm interacts with them, such as a lessened need for extensive travel to client sites. The planned evolution of KOL into an extranet shows the extent to which this programme incorporates a broader set of activities and people involved in a business process. By allowing clients, academics, and other thought-leaders to share in our knowledge, KOL is forming a new collaborative environment that not only enhances but revolutionises the way we do business.
Daniel Berhin is European Knowledge & Information Services Director at Booz Allen & Hamilton. He can be contacted at: