posted 2 Jul 2002 in Volume 5 Issue 10
Country focus: Hong Kong
Simon Lelic talks to Trevor Lui about the evolution of KM in Hong Kong
Established by statute in 1967, the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary organisation working to help local businesses sustain and develop their competitive edge through innovation, information technology and benchmarking activities. Knowledge management has emerged to become one of the disciplines at the heart of its activities, and it is partly through the promotion of KM as a business tool that the HKPC hopes to achieve its goals.
The organisation faces a difficult task, however, particularly considering the change in fortunes experienced by many of the companies operating in the special administrative region (SAR) since the area’s economy faltered. As Trevor Lui, a senior consultant for the HKPC, says, the territory is entering an era where its traditional pillars of economic strength are no longer the main determinants of business success.
“The future will essentially be decided by our ability to use knowledge wisely,” he says. “However, most Hong Kong companies are still largely running on the basis of insights gained from the successes of the manufacturing-based and capital-intensive industrial economy of the past.” Unemployment has consequently jumped in the region from 1-2 per cent to around 5.5 per cent, and most of those who are without work are what Lui describes as non-knowledge workers. In fact, the chief executive of the SAR, Tung Chee-hwa, has already emphasised the need for Hong Kong to become a “knowledge-based economy” if it is to enhance its competitiveness.
As Lui says, however, globalisation has already presented Hong Kong companies with a sink or swim situation, and compared to many businesses operating in countries in North America, western Europe and even the far east, those in the SAR are already lagging behind. Lui points to recent studies showing that of those organisations that have addressed KM, the vast majority have adopted a product-based approach to the discipline, in which knowledge is captured, distributed, measured and managed as a physical object. “The process approach, which primarily perceives knowledge management as a social communications process, is generally being ignored,” he adds.
In Lui’s words, there is still, therefore, a lot of work to be done. “The first challenge is to change the cultural and managerial mindset,” he says. “Since a holistic knowledge management strategy places greater emphasis on people than it does on technology, a knowledge sharing culture must be cultivated. Managers need to develop a greater appreciation for their intangible human assets, captive in the minds and experiences of their knowledge workers.”
Of equal importance in Lui’s opinion is that business leaders in Hong Kong accept that knowledge management requires a long-term investment, and that high returns can only realistically be expected with time. Short-term costs are, in the meantime, inevitable if employees are to be educated and a culture of trust instilled. “It is only when these foundations are laid that the benefits of knowledge management – such as higher productivity and financial gains – can be earned,” says Lui.
Lui is confident that KM will indeed eventually become the backbone of most Hong Kong corporations, but the current economic situation may delay widespread implementation in the immediate future. “Most companies will probably start with small, experimental pilot programmes in individual departments,” he says. “Once these pilots are proven to be successful, they will evolve into larger ones and finally converge in a comprehensive KM strategy that aligns with the organisation’s corporate vision, mission and objectives.” As for non-profit organisations, Lui expects the emergence of a similar demand for effective KM strategies as they realise the importance of collaboration and knowledge transfer to their future operations.
This process could even be accelerated if knowledge management were to receive anything more than the sparse coverage it is currently afforded in the Hong Kong media. Up until now, says Lui, and for all the government’s talk about a ‘knowledge economy’, it is organisations like the HKPC and the Knowledge Management Development Company that have shouldered the responsibility for spearheading the KM cause. Hopefully, KM Asia 2002, the combined conference and exhibition that takes place in Singapore from the 16-18 July, and which is expected to a high proportion of visitors from Hong Kong, will play a key role in raising the profile of the discipline, with the end result that the job of the HKPC becomes that little bit easier in the future.
Trevor Lui is a senior consultant with the Hong Kong Productivity Council. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org