posted 9 Aug 2001 in Volume 5 Issue 1
KM country focus: Portugal
This month Simon Lelic talks to Ana Neves and discusses the impact knowledge management has had in Portugal
Ana Neves is the editor of KMOL Portugal’s first dedicated knowledge management portal. Launched last April and currently in its fourth incarnation the site has already gone a long way to compensate for the paucity of information on KM and organisational learning available in the country.
“Portugal is a small country that tends to walk the paths already forged by others ” says Neves. As a result she continues KM is only just beginning to make an impact. An internet search query on knowledge management in Portugal for example will produce links to university research – in particular that conducted at the University of Coimbra where Neves herself studied – and to a select number of companies advertising KM solutions and services. “This is a good reflection of the reality for KM in Portugal at the moment ” says Neves.
Yet by following examples set by businesses operating in countries where knowledge management has become more pervasive Portuguese companies are able to take full advantage of documented best practice and lessons learned. By way of illustration Neves points to her country’s experience installing cash points. While Portugal was one of the last countries in western Europe to do so the equipment that eventually was used represented the most advanced available based on the experiences of other countries many of whom are still spending a great deal of money replacing and upgrading obsolete machines. “If you go to Portugal ” says Neves “you will probably be amazed at the amount of operations available through cash machines and their interface.”
The knowledge management market is certainly growing therefore but according to Neves the companies currently selling KM-related services still fall primarily into two groups. The first consists of larger better-known firms that have succeeded in branding technology solutions as KM and in “creating revenue by using a fancy label”. These companies have managed to take advantage of their high profile and are keen to sell data warehousing databases search engines and EIPs as knowledge management ‘solutions’. The second says Neves is made up mainly of smaller companies that are not scared to get their hands dirty with the real essence of what KM is about but are struggling to achieve real market penetration.
And in broader terms knowledge management initiatives must overcome certain obstacles that Neves suggests are typical to many Portuguese businesses. Following on from the idea that Portugal is keen to learn from the experience of others Neves believes the onus will be on the proponents of KM to demonstrate quantifiable returns on investment not just over the long term but in the more immediate future too. “Once KM starts to really make its entrance in the Portuguese market companies will straight away look outside to find success stories to justify their investment ” she says. “Portuguese companies will demand strong substantial proof of what KM has to offer.”
Similarly as Neves points out Portuguese companies are traditionally very hierarchical. This too threatens to hinder the adoption of KM in Portugal in that unless KM is universally approached as a top-down initiative the cultural change needed to ensure the success of knowledge management will be difficult to achieve. “It would require extraordinary leaders to help Portuguese organisations change their culture to accept the ‘terms and conditions’ of KM ” says Neves. “They want people> working x hours per day but reading a book on something related to their job is not working. They want people to nurture their interests but only in their spare time. They want people to give their opinions but there are no easy procedures for them to do so. They want an open environment but a manager is a manager and you should do what he says.”
Neves feels this situation may be changing but only slowly. With KMOL she is attempting to provide a forum for those keen to promote the non-technology side of KM and raise awareness of the potential benefits and quantifiable returns knowledge management promises. “KMOL is there to make people think about KM and realise there is a lot more to it than technology ” she says. “I hope too that the smaller companies I mentioned will have the chance to show what they are capable of.” In a sense Neves is offering Portuguese companies a source for the justification they are looking for to invest in knowledge management as a cultural initiative in its own right. Ultimately though while Neves believes KM is there to stay in Portugal she also feels it will be hard to break the association between KM and technology that has already established itself in the country.