posted 1 Aug 1997 in Volume 1 Issue 1
Valuing ICL Knowledge : A Case
Elizabeth Lank, Program Director, Knowledge Management, ICL explores the ICL approach to implementing a Knowledge Management strategy and the lessons learned so far.
The Information Age has arrived. It is affecting all of us whether we wish it to or not. The ways in which we work, play, learn and live are changing - and global access to information is a big part of these changes. Compare how a secondary school student prepares a research assignment now, as compared to just ten years ago, before access to the Internet. Look at how families and friends have discovered e- mail as a way of keeping in touch with each other. The way in which organisations operate is also changing as a result. The speed at which an organisation acquires knowledge and puts it to good effect is becoming a key aspect of competitive advantage.
ICL is an international company of 19,000 people, focused on helping its customers seize the opportunities of the Information Age. With a European home base, ICL is a member of a global family of businesses headed by Fujitsu of Japan. ICL was once a computer designer and manufacturer, but it has been gradually transforming its business into a service led organisation whose knowledge about technology is its real asset. This transformation has made it a strategic imperative for ICL to excel at leveraging its intellectual capital across the world. Therefore in early 1996 ICL's Chief Executive, Keith Todd, decided to invest in a company-wide initiative to specifically address this issue. This case study shares the approach taken - and some of the lessons learned so far.
Building the Business Case
In 1994 ICL was well into its transition towards a service-led organisation. There was a growing awareness that this intangible thing called knowledge was a vital asset that was not being leveraged as effectively as it might. What were the symptoms of this?
|Duplication of effort in developing new services and methodologies;|
|Several ICL businesses unknowingly bidding for the same customer projects; and|
|Difficulty in quickly identifying company experts to support projects.|
ICL had invested significantly in processes to develop the skills of people within the organisation - the focus had been improving the capability of individuals and teams. We began to realise that there was an equally important question to address: how could the skills, knowledge and learning of an individual or team be easily transferred from one part of the organisation to another?
An informal network of people who were interested in this challenge was pulled together in late 1994. Very soon we realised that a great deal of knowledge management happened already within the organisation - for example, we identified 23 different internal information services for employees. However, because these were entirely uncoordinated, there was much duplication of effort, even within these services. Also, many activities were being undertaken by well-meaning individuals who were doing it merely to be helpful, without enough time, budget or management support to really make a significant difference to the business.
After several workshop sessions throughout the course of 1995, this network (which had called itself the Knowledge Management Network) concluded that there was a significant opportunity to accelerate ICL's business transformation. The group developed a business case to recommend that the appropriate resources be applied to the issue. In Keith Todd's first week as Chief Executive of ICL, in January 1996, the business case was put to him to appoint a full-time program director for a cross-company initiative in this area. He accepted the business case and Project VIK (Valuing ICL Knowledge) was born.
Deciding Where To Start
The intellectual capital of an organisation is an invisible yet crucial asset. As Thomas Stewart has put it, 'Trying to identify and manage knowledge assets is like trying to fish barehanded. It can be done.... .but the object of the effort is damnably elusive'. In the early weeks of Project VIK, it became clear that there were three significant areas which would need to be influenced to make a difference. These were aligned as shown in Figure 1.
felt that a clear understanding was needed of these different areas and that the
best way to achieve this was to form a small catalyst team with a mix of
cross-functional skills. All would need similar personal qualities: change
agents, good communicators, effective consultants and influencers. The
advertisement of these Project VIK opportunities on ICL's global e- mail system
generated 120 responses from 14 different countries. The interest and challenge
of the project had clearly struck a chord. By mid 1996 the small Project VIK
catalyst team (five people in total) was formed, with a breadth of experience
represented within it.
Project VIK was deliberately set up as a project rather than, as some companies have chosen, a separate knowledge management function. It was our belief that, like the Quality movement, this important perspective on business was something that should be woven into line management responsibilities, not set up as another corporate silo. The team therefore had to aim to do themselves out of a job rather than create work for themselves. In the early stages of the project it was decided to look for a number of early wins which would be visible across the company, but to accept that most of the team's work would be working with different ICL management teams and communities. At that local level it would be possible to evaluate how people, processes and technology needed to change in order to create an effective knowledge-sharing environment.
We also quickly appreciated the opportunity that new technologies (e.g. intranet and groupware) brought to make information and knowledge visible to a global community. We decided that creating a global information service for employees on ICL's intranet could be an early win that would make a quick impact on productivity by reducing the time people waste trying to find company information. Named Café VIK, to reinforce the idea of connecting people, this service was selected as the first major deliverable of Project VIK.
Developing Café VIK
In a world where information overload is becoming a serious issue, it might seem counter-productive to focus on providing even more information. Yet effective services that bring the right information to people on a just-in-time basis can actually give people back a precious commodity - time. Our client managers estimated that they spent up to a day a week seeking information and expertise. If we could cut that searching time down by even 50%, it would be a significant productivity enhancement, freeing up their time to add greater value to their clients.
With this goal of freeing up unproductive time in mind, we ran a number of focus groups for front-line employees - consultants, project managers and salespeople who dealt directly with our customers. The question we asked them was simple: what information do you need to do your job effectively? Although they represented a range of ICL businesses, some clear direction came through from them. They made it clear that they needed:
|information about ICL itself so that they could be effective ambassadors for the company;|
|information about our customers and major partners and our relationships with them;|
|information about the services and products that they could have access to;|
|information about cross-company processes and policies; and|
|information about what expertise was available to them across the whole of the company.|
addition, some basic requests came through for time-saving tools like an
up-to-date telephone and site directory and maps to our offices
The focus groups were held in mid-August 1996. By calling on design and technical skills available in different parts of the company and through the efforts of a virtual team who lobbied the appropriate owners of the needed information, Café VIK was launched 11 weeks later, on November 12th, 1996.
The Road Show
The Café VIK service was set up as a web site on ICL's intranet. It had an attractive, friendly design with a cartoon-like character who represents the personality of the service. Naturally, he became known as VIK.
We decided that the launch of the service warranted more than simply an announcement or brochure landing on people's desks. For one thing, it was important to put the service in context. This was one small step on a much longer journey that involved significantly changing the way we worked as a company. We decided to go out and meet directly with ICL employees to explain why knowledge management was such a critical part of the new service-led ICL. We planned to introduce them to Café VIK and seek their immediate feedback.
Keeping to the spirit of a Café, we invested in some inexpensive café tables and chairs and some coffee pots. By adding six PCs we then had the material we needed to set up 'Café VIK' in standard conference rooms at ICL sites. We prepared a management briefing that emphasised the link between the management of intellectual capital and the creation of business value. A similar employee briefing emphasised some of the practical benefits of being better at sharing knowledge across the company. These briefings would be given to small groups sitting at the café tables before giving them the opportunity for a hands-on session with the Café VIK service on the PCs. We were ready to hit the road.
VIK road show made its way to major ICL sites across Western and Central Europe.
Visiting Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, France, and Poland
as well as the major sites in ICL's home country, the U.K., the road show was
extremely well-received by all employees. At a gathering of thirty country
managers from some of ICL's more distant locations, an equally positive reaction
was generated. The fact that this was an initiative done for employees rather
than to them seemed to be welcomed. Also, the ability to get immediate feedback
was very helpful to the Project VIK catalyst team.
By June 1997 the Café VIK service was being used by 7,000 employees. That number is still on an upwards curve as awareness of the service continues to spread across the world.
Business Benefits To Date
The benefits of this first step towards being better at 'knowing what we know' have been relayed to us in largely anecdotal form. People have been able to identify and contact client managers quickly to make them aware of customer issues or opportunities; line managers have been able to access company policy information and rely on it being the up-to-date version; technical specialists have had rapid access to 'technology watch' briefings; consultants have been able to find capability descriptions for other parts of the company and use them in their proposals. Every example we have gathered has a common benefit - saving time.
This is a valuable productivity benefit in and of itself - but perhaps more importantly, it frees up more time to dedicate to the creation of new knowledge, innovation, time to think. These effectiveness measures are the real benefits which we aim to achieve over time.
Some Lessons Learned
The principle of identifying an early, tangible win for customer-facing employees is certainly a step we would recommend. However, we have learned a few lessons along the way:
1) The fact that Project VIK's first deliverable was a technology-based tool had a significant drawback. There was often an automatic assumption on the part of employees that knowledge management was largely about making effective use of intranet technology. Although technology is an exciting and essential enabler in this arena, it will be a wasted investment unless the culture in which it is implemented encourages and rewards knowledge-sharing. Also, it must be integrated within business processes rather than seen as an add-on.
2) Several parts of the company have set up their local equivalents of Café VIK, linked to Café VIK on the intranet, something we support and encourage as we believe in information being managed at the point of origination. However, they discovered (as we did with Café VIK) that although setting up these services is relatively easy, the real challenge is to keep the content up-to-date and relevant. We discovered that there are some critical roles and information management processes needed to prevent your electronic library from turning into a knowledge junkyard. Without these roles and processes, the information service is useful only for a few months until its novelty value wears off and the content starts to lose currency.
3) The three areas of people/culture, business processes and technology tools must be looked at simultaneously as they are all inter-related. Knowledge management can only be tackled through cross-functional collaboration - no one function can 'own' knowledge management. Having a cross-functional team tackling the issue for a business or community seems to be an effective approach as the necessary range of skills and perspectives is more likely to be found within it. Incorporating change management expertise is a valuable addition to such a team - treating knowledge as an asset amounts to a significant shift in how people work together.
The Project VIK catalyst team is now working with different parts of the business to determine which key actions will create an effective knowledge-sharing environment for them and lead to greater speed and quality of service to customers. We are learning that leaders need a range of new tools and frameworks to be able to view their business from a knowledge perspective and gain real benefit from it. Management education will play a significant role in the months ahead in addition to building the knowledge perspective into our key people processes: recruitment, induction, performance management, rewards and incentives.
ICL's CEO, Keith Todd, has expressed his personal vision that everyone in ICL should have the same access to knowledge across the company as he does as Chief Executive, in order to harness that capability for our customers. By dedicating some enthusiastic change agents to this issue, we feel we are making some significant progress. Equally, we have realised that a sustainable knowledge-sharing environment needs a recognition by every business leader, not just the CEO, that knowledge is an asset that must be nurtured and protected. That is the next stage of our journey.
Elizabeth Lank is Programme Director, Knowledge Management, at ICL. She can be contacted at: