posted 12 Sep 2001 in Volume 5 Issue 2
Tools of the tradeAndersen’s solution for global knowledge management
Andersen has long realised the value of knowledge management, but it is only relatively recently that technology has become such a crucial component of the company’s KM initiatives. Kelly Tabisz, Michelle Icard and Ashley Edmonson describe the history of knowledge management within the firm, and discuss how the tools it has developed fit into a broader KM framework.
Knowledge management at Andersen has come a very long way over the years. Technically, knowledge sharing has always existed within the firm in one form or another. In the early days it took the form of actual face-to-face interaction. However, as the firm has grown to 80,000 professionals in over 80 countries, the knowledge sharing function has become more formalised. From a filing cabinet and a fax machine to a sophisticated system housing over 200,000 resources, knowledge management has become the cornerstone of Andersen’s ongoing success in the professional services industry. According to an Andersen managing partner: “In a knowledge business such as ours, people and what they know are the critical factor for success.”
When Andersen introduced the intranet to the firm back in 1996, the major challenge facing the Global Knowledge Services (GKS) team was finding enough resources to populate the database. This meant that virtually anything and everything was included. As the number of resources and the usage of the intranet continued to climb, three needs began to emerge. First, the content being contributed to the system needed to go through some type of review process. Second, users sifting through the large number of resources needed a way to determine the quality and value of a given resource. And third, GKS would need help in performing these tasks, both from a quality assurance perspective, and from subject matter experts who could weigh the value of a given resource. Several groups in Andersen have developed tools to meet these needs. This article will focus on one of the most used solutions – the knowledge management assistant (KMA).
The knowledge management assistant is a set of tools that allows designated community knowledge managers (CKMs) the ability to perform actions on knowledge resources that have been contributed to the intranet. These tools also give users of the intranet the option of taking various actions as well. Underlying these tools, however, is an intricate knowledge management organisation and process. One must first understand this in order to fully realise the power of the tools.
According to Mark Stone, director of knowledge management at Andersen: “Implementation of a consistent knowledge management process will allow us to efficiently and effectively manage global solutions.” In other words, successful knowledge management programmes are built upon a process that encourages participants to create, share and enhance collective knowledge. On the Andersen intranet, this process is known as the ‘certification model’. In addition to meeting the ‘create’, ‘share’ and ‘enhance’ criteria, this model allows for shared ownership of resources, and greater user interaction with those resources.
To better understand the Andersen knowledge management process, you will need to know the types of users on the Andersen intranet, and the role each plays in the KM process.
The KM structure at Andersen is depicted as a pyramid with three levels. The bottom tier of the pyramid represents the users, the most crucial component of the KM process. Users are primarily responsible for creating and contributing content to the intranet.
The second tier represents community knowledge managers. CKMs are the foot soldiers of the KM process. Among their responsibilities is the creation of communities and certification of content. They are also the most notable champions of knowledge management within the firm.
The third tier of the pyramid represents global knowledge services (GKS), the firm-wide group that creates Andersen’s KM strategies, tools, and processes. “So even though GKS creates the process,” says Stone, “it is focused on the user and the CKM.”
Integral to the flow of knowledge in the KM process is the certification procedure the knowledge must go through. Instead of having one large repository of contributed resources with no context around them, communities of practice add their own certifications to resources. These certifications add structure and help augment the value of the resources that are contained on the intranet. With shared ownership, more eyes see more resources, which increases the opportunity to add value. The process also gives users a more direct role in knowledge management, since they are able to suggest that any resource found on the intranet be certified or decertified by a community knowledge manager. Finally, resource summaries show which communities have certified a resource, enabling the user to make informed decisions about the value of the resources they find.
A discussion of the Andersen knowledge management programme involves people and processes, but there is also a technology component that pulls the programme together. Tools for users are mainly accessed from the resource summary of a given resource on the intranet. In addition to these user tools, there are tools specifically designed for CKMs, which are centrally located in the knowledge management assistant. The KMA hosts tools to help manage community content, build a community site, and view site and content statistics. Let us take a look at the process and the tools that support it.
Step one – a user contributes information to the intranet
During the contribution process, users complete an engagement description or library document contribution form. Engagement descriptions provide an overview of work done (as opposed to resources used) on a project for a given client. Library documents are resources that stand alone or give supplemental information to the engagement descriptions. Common forms of library documents include proposals, marketing presentations and reports. These resource types contain electronic attachments that can be downloaded and reused. Users can also tag their contributions with standard knowledge tags chosen from a predetermined list of business criteria. They are drawn from major categories including, but not limited to, industries and business solutions.
All users have the ability to edit their own personal contributions, allowing them to continually update their resources and make sure the most recent version is available. CKMs have access to edit all certified (certification will be explained under step two) resources for their community, enabling them to further enhance the value of a resource by adding their expertise. Once an item is edited, that version is automatically available to all users on the intranet.
In addition to being able to edit resources, users and CKMs can relate resources to one another (‘relating’ ties two contributions together in the database). For example, someone may want to relate an engagement description to a proposal created on the same job. If these resources are related, users who search and find the engagement will see a link to the proposal listed under the ‘related resources’ section of the resource summary, allowing them to easily find key information without performing multiple searches. Like the edit tool, users only have permission to relate their own resources, while CKMs can only relate those that are certified within their community.
Step two – resources that match a community’s filters are automatically delivered to the community certification bin on the intranet
Using the certification model, CKMs create their own community profile in order to create their ‘virtual’ community of knowledge. The community profile stores information about the community, such as its name, a brief description of its role, additional knowledge managers and filters/keywords that define the community. CKMs also select knowledge tags from the same list used by users during the contribution process. Filters/keywords are terms that may not be captured in the ‘tag list’. When a user views the community profile, he can see the defining information for the community, and can click on e-mail links to contact the CKM(s) directly. Once a CKM creates a community profile, he is given three ‘bins’ to manage. These bins are accessible from the community manager, which also houses the tools that allow a CKM to create and edit his community profile, manage community content, and create and edit a community website.
When users contribute resources to the intranet, the resource is scanned by the database software to establish if there are any matches between the tags assigned and the tags chosen by communities. Resources with matching tags and/or filters are sent to one or more community certification bins for review by that community’s CKM. The certification bin contains resources pending the CKM’s certification or stamp of approval. When a resource is certified, it is added to a community’s searchable content. The certification bin serves as a ‘quick stop’ for CKMs where they may review the resources with the most potential value to their communities. Clickable icons indicate the path a resource took to the certification bin, and, in the case of a user suggestion, detail who suggested the resource for certification and why. A CKM can also certify resources that are not in his certification bin, but that he may have found while performing searches on the intranet.
If the CKM certifies the resource, it is then sent to the community bin with the other certified resources for that community. This bin contains all the content for the community that can be found in a community-specific search.
The de-certification bin was designed to help a CKM maintain the freshness and relevance of the large number of resources in his community. As with the certification bin, an icon indicates why a resource has arrived in the de-certification bin. The CKM then has the choice to keep the certification (in which case the resource will be returned to the community bin) or remove it.
Step three – user searches and finds relevant resource(s)
Users search for resources either through a general search functionality, or through a community-specific search. Community-specific searches are found on community websites, and are built using the community builder tool. This tool offers wizard functionality, site templates and both WYSIWYG (‘what you see is what you get’) and HTML editors to help all levels of CKMs design websites and manage content. One CKM says: “With the tools it’s easy to make navigational and content changes without having advanced technical skills...they assist you in learning without needing a person to hold your hand.” And as another CKM responsible for maintaining a site put it: “The KMA keeps your files and tools very organised, helping with the manageability of the site and content overall.”
Once a user finds a resource, resource summaries and ratings help users determine which resources they would like to download for closer review. Both users and CKMs can rate resources (although only once), using a five-star system and comments.
Users may also suggest for certification, or indeed for de-certification, any resource on the intranet. This gives users more control over resources and added involvement in the KM process. CKMs weigh these suggestions by evaluating comments submitted at the same time. Moreover, users can suggest for deletion any resource that seems out of date, incorrect or incomplete. Before a resource is removed from the intranet completely, it must be decertified by all certifying communities and then sent to the delete bin, which is monitored by the GKS group for a final review before deletion.
Step four – user downloads resource(s) and uses it for a new project
The user chooses the most appropriate resource and may take any information for use on a new project. While all information on the intranet is collective collateral, project managers must be consulted before using any client information outside the firm.
Step five – user enhances resource and then re-contributes the latest version to the intranet
In the process of re-using the resource, the user customises it and thereby enhances its value. Once a resource is used and enhanced, it is again contributed to the intranet. This cyclical process helps keep the resources on the intranet relevant and valuable.
The certification process also includes an automatic expiration component, through which resources expire after a predetermined amount of time. When a resource expires, it is sent to each certifying community’s de-certification bin. CKMs are encouraged to regularly review this bin for outdated resources, and to decertify them. If each community certifying the expired resource de-certifies it, the resource is sent to a delete bin, controlled by GKS. Stone says: “It’s vital that our process ensures content on the intranet is kept fresh for all users.”
The over-riding goal of the knowledge management programme at Andersen is to support the market-facing teams, and in turn our clients. As one line consultant puts it: “The ability to tap into existing firm knowledge proves to be an asset in serving clients in a prompt, organised and consistent manner.” Therefore, we must continually review, re-evaluate and respond to changing user needs. In addition to a KM process, Andersen has also put in place an extensive technical development process that ensures that the KMA and other tools are continually enhanced to meet these dynamic needs.
Kelly Tabisz, Michelle Icard and Ashley Edmonson are members of the Global Knowledge Services group at Andersen. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org respectively.
A history of KM at Andersen
Hard copies of all deliverable information were held by the Global Knowledge Services (GKS) group. Information was housed in a WANG system and retrieved through a manual sort, then duplicated and sent via FedEx or fax. The engagement information system was kept on a server with some query capabilities. Contribution of both engagement descriptions and deliverables was done by manually filling out a form and submitting hard copy materials to GKS.
The first library system was created, which sat on a single computer hard drive called Omnis 7. This mainly consisted of a physical library with hard copies of proposals, reports and so on. For professionals to obtain this information, they had to call GKS to request a copy. Articles were then copied and either sent via FedEx or fax. Resources were contributed by sending hard copies to GKS. The best electronic resources were placed on CD-ROM. AA Online, a Lotus Notes knowledge sharing application, was introduced to the firm.
The KSN or knowledge sharing network – including the engagement information system, library system and skills system database – was distributed quarterly to line professionals on floppy disks. People could install this database on their hard drives to access the three different applications. However, they still had to call GKS to obtain the resources. Competency centres were introduced as facilitators of knowledge sharing for specific communities.
The knowledge base (KB) CD – an integrated set of tools to search engagements, library resources, and skills information – was distributed quarterly, and contained MS office-based templates to allow contributions to the knowledge base. Submissions to the KB were manually entered into a central database. The ‘consultant’s advisor’ was introduced, and distributed along with the KB CD, providing access to methodologies and tools/techniques. Knowledge managers were introduced within the competency centres. The local office library system (LOL) was released, to allow local offices to install and manage their own resources. LOL resided on the local office’s network, and the catalogue could be downloaded to an individual’s hard drive.
The online Business Consulting and Global Best Practices KnowledgeSpace was released, making use of intranet technology. It was also released on CD for those offices without online access. Contributions were still made through Lotus Notes.
Online contribution functionality was developed. Basic knowledge management administration tools were created for knowledge managers. More formal relationships were also established between knowledge managers and GKS.
Work progressed on enhancing KM administration tools, skills searching capability and revamping the graphical user interface. Community homepages were also created, and the company moved from three databases to one, eliminating the need to replicate between databases. Users were given the ability to edit their own contributions. The Andersen intranet, patterned after the BC and GBP intranet, is introduced, allowing many communities within the company to create community websites.
Enhancements included contribution forms that now fitted on one page, as well as the addition of a ‘my contributions’ page allowing users to easily view and access all of their own contributions.
The community certification process was introduced and implemented. By this time, over 50 communities were creating and maintaining sites, and managing content using the latest version of the KM administration tools.
The Global Knowledge Management Community site
The Global Knowledge Management Community was developed to provide valuable KM resources to the 500+ knowledge professionals at Andersen. The site is also open to anyone at Andersen interested in learning more about how knowledge management is being implemented at the firm. Since its launch in April 2001, the Global Knowledge Management site has become a popular place for knowledge management professionals to share and receive valuable KM resources, receive updates on global KM projects, and engage in discussions regarding the latest KM topics.
The site’s functionality includes search, contribution, discussions, calendar and polling. It was created and is maintained using the knowledge management tools and can be considered an example of best practice in how these tools are used. When a visitor contributes a resource or recommends that a resource in the database be certified, the two site knowledge managers immediately review the resource. They also use the community builder to upload regular changes to the content posted on the site.
All signs indicate that the site has been a great success. Knowledge professionals are using it to get updates on global KM initiatives, view the list of KM contacts in the firm and to gather information on setting up a KM programme within an individual community. The site averages approximately 65 sessions per day. Therefore, the end result of using the tools is a site that is beneficial to both users and knowledge managers.