posted 3 Nov 2003 in Volume 7 Issue 3
139 years of managing knowledge
As one of the world’s leading classification societies, DNV Maritime has been harvesting the experiences of its ship surveyors to develop its own standards for ship classification for 139 years. Lâle Çıtıpıtıoğlu Eidal and Flemming Hjorth provide insights into DNV Maritime’s traditional and more recent knowledge-management initiatives, and how they support its business objectives.
Det Norske Veritas (DNV) was established in 1864 and currently employs 5,500 people in a network of 300 offices in over 100 countries. As DNV’s oldest business unit, DNV Maritime has worked towards its main objective of ’safeguarding life, property and the environment at sea’ by offering classification and certification services for vessels and other mobile offshore units.
Historically, classification societies have developed their own standards towards which they have classified vessels. It has therefore been critical to our success that our classification standards (or rules, as they are formally called) are regularly updated to reflect the highest levels of safety. At DNV, acquiring and applying knowledge related to safety at sea, stemming either from academic work in related disciplines or the hands-on experiences of our ship surveyors in the field, has been our top priority for the past 139 years. Our surveyors have worked in an environment where systematic competence building and knowledge transfer went hand in hand with everyday work. For example, new surveyors would join the on-the-job tutoring scheme to ensure they were exposed to the tacit knowledge of more experienced surveyors. Another example was the experience-feedback system, in which surveyors would report incidents that occurred in the field back to headquarters. These reports would be processed into lessons learnt, and in some instances incorporated into new rules. These two key knowledge-management initiatives are still in place today.
In more recent years, DNV has expanded globally, which has created the challenge of how to share knowledge and learn across great distances. Especially in the early 1990s, developments in information and communication technology (ICT) were harnessed to create a production system that would make service delivery much quicker. The same technology that improved the efficiency of service delivery was also seen as the solution to overcome geographical distances in knowledge sharing. Large investments in ICT were made, and the approach at the time tended to focus on capturing explicit knowledge in sophisticated systems and less on supporting tacit knowledge needs. The implementation of the corporate ICT platform and the introduction of a new production system revealed a less favourable effect of the new technology on knowledge sharing. As essential service-related documentation could be transferred at a much faster rate between the customer, surveyors and our employees at our offices, this led to increased pressure on employees to work at an accelerated pace, leaving them with less time to share knowledge. A new corporate intranet was also launched in the late 1990s, but quickly grew out of control with the countless sites and pages that lacked a clear content-management strategy.
Alongside ICT technology, people networks continued to develop organically as they had in the past. But, these networks had their limitations. They were available only to a limited number of employees who knew one another as a result of working together for years, leaving the growing population of less experienced and geographically dispersed employees without the contacts they needed to learn and share knowledge across the organisation.
It became clear to DNV’s corporate top management that a more holistic approach to managing information and knowledge was needed. Like many organisations at the time, DNV began to talk specifically about knowledge management and gather information about new practices in the field that could potentially support our business goals. Soon a team of KM practitioners from several business units in DNV was appointed by management to further define KM and recommend actions for the organisation. One of the most challenging tasks was to gain a common understanding of knowledge management. The following definition was agreed upon and later incorporated into our corporate-governance scheme: ‘Knowledge management is the systematic processes for acquiring, creating, synthesising, sharing and using information, insights and experience to achieve DNV’s goals.’
To reflect DNV’s commitment to managing knowledge, the following statement was incorporated into our corporate-values declaration: ‘We acquire and share knowledge and apply it to enhance value for our customers.’
The management-appointed corporate KM team later went on to recommend that all business units in DNV should identify business-critical knowledge needs and develop a plan for taking the necessary steps to satisfy those needs. Responding to this recommendation, DNV Maritime launched its own three-year knowledge-management programme in January 2002, with the following objectives:
1. Conduct a baseline assessment of our current knowledge systems;
2. Recommend measures for DNV Maritime to improve knowledge management;
3. Implement improvement initiatives together with key DNV Maritime stakeholders.
Establishing the KM programme
From the beginning, it was important for DNV Maritime to tie KM closely to critical business objectives. DNV Maritime aims to be number one in the market with respect to service quality within classification and certification services. Quality service delivery implies the ability to provide the right knowledge in the right context to the right employees, and support them in applying this knowledge.
The first step for the KM programme’s core team was to identify a methodology that could help us assess the current knowledge environment as well as guide us in the development of processes, technology and cultural aspects required for managing knowledge more systematically. The KM core team investigated ‘best' practices and found that a combination of the following would work well for our purposes:
- Process mapping, which is typically used in the development of management systems and improvement projects;
- Methods from the field of ethnography, deployed in the study of cultures.
The KM core team worked intensively to merge these approaches into a KM assessment and development approach for DNV Maritime. The resulting methodology relies heavily on the mapping of key business processes, as well as a series of global interviews through which knowledge-intensive activities are identified and analysed. Via this approach, many issues relevant to KM were identified during the assessment. These include:
- Frequent, local knowledge sharing exists, but we can improve global knowledge exchange;
- Uncoordinated, parallel processes that aim to satisfy very similar knowledge needs;
- An excellent ICT infrastructure, but sub-optimal deployment. For example, a sub-optimal intranet, lacking structure and content-management principles.
During the assessment, the core team discovered many existing initiatives and tools like the intranet, various knowledge-exchange forums and numerous databases that had a definite role to play in managing knowledge. However, there is certainly room for improvement; many of these initiatives are plagued with a lack of ownership, unclear administrative roles and insufficiently described processes and procedures.
Another important discovery was that there is still a strong focus on expressing and transforming knowledge into words and numbers, and a great difficulty in implementing people-to-people processes. There is a great need for building awareness of the importance of perceptions, insights and intuitions developed through personal experience, which are simply impossible to codify. Consequently, the KM core team recommended a people-to-people approach supporting alternative ways of competence building and learning. It was recommended that DNV Maritime should pilot centrally supported, global people networks or communities of practice.
Community of practice
Screening ‘best' practices from other organisations, the KM core team learnt more about the concept behind communities of practice (CoP). Since this was a well known approach and appeared to directly support our need for more people-to-people knowledge sharing, CoPs are at the heart of the KM programme.
As mentioned earlier, classification surveys carried out onboard vessels are one of DNV Maritime’s core services. Supporting surveyors with knowledge and information related to both the technical and procedural aspects of these surveys therefore takes high priority. The KM programme’s ongoing three CoP pilots focus first and foremost on employees in various types of ’surveyor roles’.
One of the success factors of the CoP is the community leader. In our ongoing CoP pilots, this role is filled by a person who is very well acquainted with the surveyor role and the challenges surveyors face in their everyday work. In our experience it is essential that the community leader is both proactive and charismatic. He must keep the enthusiasm going in the start-up phase, and must know enough about the knowledge needs of the target audience to manage the flow of the most relevant knowledge. Finding the right person for this role in our experience has been a great challenge: the most suitable candidates are already heavily involved in other activities, and getting management to re-allocate these people to a pilot project has not been easy. The KM core team’s intensive efforts to continuously build awareness among management has been absolutely critical in this process.
In our current pilots, experts in various technical topics are identified and nominated as community experts, and their primary role is to facilitate and support discussions on the intranet within their areas of expertise. They are also responsible for extracting valuable lessons learnt from these discussions, and processing these further as ‘best' practices when applicable.
Establishing a truly efficient and global CoP demands a user-friendly ICT platform. We have focused on developing a communication platform that supports knowledge and information accessibility as well as collaboration needs. New collaboration software has been deployed for this purpose, alongside a re-vamp of our intranet where these communities have each been given their designated homepage.
The most valued KM initiatives are those that give employees a chance to share knowledge face to face. As part of its formal competence-qualification scheme, DNV Maritime has been organising experience-exchange seminars for its surveyors for several decades. Through these seminars, surveyors have the opportunity to meet face-to-face for two or three days and exchange experiences form their work and new ideas for service improvement. The KM programme made an assessment of this KM initiative, and found that it could improve how the seminars were organised and facilitated, as well as the quality control of the content. What is especially interesting for the KM core team is how to leverage this knowledge to employees who do not attend these seminars and to spread the experiences exchanged across the organisation. An activity is currently underway to pilot improvements in this area in particular.
DNV Maritime intranet project
Restructuring the DNV Maritime intranet is a major activity for 2003. The goal is to provide employees with a common communication platform, with a consistent, user-friendly structure and a new content-management scheme driven by those responsible for providing quality content. The project has invited key stakeholders from those units that have an intranet presence to assist in the re-design and implementation of the new intranet. The project has spent a significant amount of time identifying target audiences for different content types, mapping existing and desired content, and developing a fairly standard content-management scheme.
A new technical content-management platform is currently under implementation by the corporate IT department, which has meant that the DNV Maritime intranet project has been involved in delivering key functional requirements and specifications for the development of this system. Developing a common language for the new system has been a key challenge – technical and non-technical staff have had to work together to educate one another in their respective fields of expertise.
DNV Maritime people finder
During our interviews, one of the most common requests for information came under the category we call ‘who knows what and where?’. Therefore one of most important projects under the KM programme is dedicated to making competence more transparent and accessible to our employees. The tool under development is called the people finder. It aims to extract data that already exists in our numerous ICT systems in a user-friendly search interface. As a pre-requisite to this project, it has been important to identify and align the taxonomy structures used in our organisation. This has enabled us to provide one common vocabulary and information structure which can be used for tagging and presenting competence in a consistent manner.
One of the main concerns of the KM core team has been how to get buy-in for the right projects and keep the enthusiasm going throughout the three-year timeframe. Educating the organisation in knowledge management and introducing new KM processes and initiatives were seen as major challenges. Our team’s strategy has been to involve employees in the pilot projects as KM ambassadors. All project team members have, over the course of their projects, been introduced to KM as a discipline, and exposed to good practices in other organisations.
In turn, these employees go back to their units and talk about KM and its practices to their managers and colleagues. Involving employees from different units on the team builds enthusiasm and cross-unit KM networks, not to mention solid ownership of an initiative that is to be implemented at a later stage in their organisational unit.
Another challenge for the core team has been sorting through the sheer volume of potential development work to identify the most critical projects. Our KM programme core team consists of only three people, and we are to develop KM initiatives that will reach 2,000 people globally when fully implemented. Part of their work is to develop a strategy for keeping an overview of what, how and where to develop.
The core team has established a monitoring, support and co-ordination activity to address the work and workload such a task holds. These activities include:
- Following project progress through the project managers;
- Informing on ongoing KM activities and identifying ongoing related activities;
- Offering education on KM;
- Making user-friendly presentations;
- Developing an internal KM website for practitioners and managers;
- Continuously benchmarking our KM initiatives against other companies;
- Writing articles;
- Most importantly, maintaining this overview as an everyday activity, which can at times be overwhelming.
From our experience this monitoring, support and co-ordination is important because it offers a pilot for a more permanent KM function in the future. We foresee a need for a relatively small KM team to be assigned to the task of keeping an overview of KM processes, roles and tools development, and related activities. We must also ensure these activities are aligned with a KM strategy that is tied directly to business objectives. To keep track of KM in DNV Maritime we have begun a pilot to see how we can use the principles of enterprise modelling in a knowledge-management context.
Developing a KM strategy through enterprise modelling
An enterprise architecture is a well known concept in the world of information technology. Visualising systems, databases, applications and the relations between them through models is a forceful way to identify and recommend improvements. The KM core team’s idea is to leverage enterprise modelling for KM and then use this model to manage our KM initiatives. A pilot project is underway.
So far our experience is that this method is indeed beneficial to any organisation wishing to keep track of their KM initiatives – it is fully possible to model knowledge and skills, processes and technology and use it for KM decision support. DNV Maritime’s KM experiences are far reaching and deep rooted. Our company’s recognition of KM’s value, our culture that embraces knowledge sharing and our willingness to adopt new practices mean that knowledge will remain the cornerstone of our work.
Lâle Çıtıpıtıoğlu Eidal is programme manager, knowledge management programme at DNV Maritime. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Flemming Hjorth is project manager at DNV Maritime. He can be contacted at email@example.com