posted 2 Apr 2003 in Volume 6 Issue 7
Country focus: Poland
Simon Lelic talks to Mariusz Strojny about the impact knowledge management has had in Poland.
“Polish firms lag behind their western counterparts by approximately seven to ten years,” says Mariusz Strojny. “We are at the point now where the western world was in the mid-1990s, at least in terms of knowledge-management awareness and deployment.” Indeed, when Strojny left his country to study in London for a year in 1996, he knew of no single article on the subject in Poland, nor of any conferences addressing the practices relating to KM. As far as he is aware, his masters thesis on knowledge management was the first paper to deal with the topic in Poland.
Strojny is now responsible, among other things, for the deployment of KM systems at KPMG Poland. He is also a founding member of the Krakow Knowledge Management Institute, a body devoted entirely to KM, the knowledge-based economy, measuring intangibles and intellectual property. Recently, Strojny also co-authored two reports on KM and the knowledge economy for the Polish Ministry for the Economy. Needless to say, while take-up remains limited, the situation in the country has improved immeasurably in recent years.
Strojny points to a number of what he sees as key points in Poland’s KM journey. In 1997, for instance, the first study into intellectual entrepreneurship began, under the auspices of the Polish Committee of Scientific Research and led by Professor Stefan Kwiatkowski, described by Strojny as a world pioneer in the subject. In 1999, Kwiatkowski also led the country’s first ‘Knowledge Café’ event, a meeting of leading KM and intellectual-capital-management experts from around the globe. The first KM conference followed in 2000, as did the creation of the position of chief knowledge officer at KPMG Poland and the formation of the Krakow KM Institute.
These events precipitated something of a snowball effect in the country. Today, there are usually two events a month dealing with knowledge management (as opposed to one in the whole of 1999 and three in 2000). More firms are also initiating both informal and formal KM programmes, and the Polish government’s interest in the subject has grown steadily (although Strojny concedes that the current administration seems less supportive). A number of locally-based IT firms have also jumped on the bandwagon and have successfully marketed products dedicated to supporting KM, as yet relatively unchallenged by their larger, western peers.
Take-up is nevertheless still being driven by the large multinationals, as Strojny says, such as HP, ING, Xerox, PwC and KPMG, who have rolled out global KM programmes across their regional offices. And while telecoms organisations in particular have started to invest in KM, other industries in the country remain hesitant, notably the financial sector. According to Strojny, the progress of knowledge management in Poland seems to have arrested significantly since the economic slowdown began, and Polish enterprises continue to focus on technology-driven solutions such as ERP and CRM.
Media coverage has also been irregular at best. “The Polish media are not too interested in knowledge management, for two main reasons,” says Srojny. “First, they do not understand what KM is about, and second, there are no spectacular success stories in the country that they could use to attract readers.” He points, though, to a handful of exceptions to this rule: CXO Magazine and the Polish edition of Computerworld have both carried features on KM, and the Krakow KM Institute has also recently started to publish a KM quarterly. Interest among more mainstream publications, however, remains limited.
Those firms that implement KM programmes in spite of this also face significant cultural barriers that often prove difficult to overcome. As Strojny says, 50 years of communism in the country has taken its toll on people’s ability, and inclination, to say what they think and to share their ideas. This mindset is particularly evident among those in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Encouragingly, though, younger Poles are far more open, enthusiastic and creative, as Strojny points out. “The young often speak a foreign language and are open to cross-boarder and cross-cultural co-operation,” he says. “Personally, I do not think the local culture is necessarily a problem. It is a matter of adjusting KM to the culture and vice versa. KM in Poland may, therefore, take a slightly different form.”
Assuming businesses in Poland are able to meet this challenge, the future for the discipline will be assured. Knowledge management has already come a long way, and though recent economic difficulties have interrupted this progress, Strojny is confident that such setbacks will prove short-lived. “I strongly believe in the Polish entrepreneurial spirit that exploded in 1989 and that still keeps our economy going forward,” he says. “And in the knowledge economy, there is no alternative. After accession to the European Union, the Polish economy and Polish enterprises will have no other choice but to adopt the principles that surround knowledge management.”