posted 28 Aug 2003 in Volume 7 Issue 1
Country focus: Mexico
Simon Lelic talks to Francisco Javier Carrillo, director of the Centre for Knowledge Systems, about the evolution of knowledge management in Mexico.
Currently director of the Centre for Knowledge Systems (CKS) at the Technológico de Monterrey, Francisco Javier Carrillo has worked as a scientist and consultant devoted to knowledge sciences and knowledge management since the late 1970s. The centre itself is at the forefront of KM development in the country. Founded in 1992, the CKS was one of the world’s first R&D centres dedicated to knowledge management. Through a series of educational, consultancy, networking and research-based activities, the centre works to fulfil its mission “to leverage the value-creation capabilities of individuals, organisations and societies through the research, design, implementation and learning of knowledge systems”.
Carrillo is thus ideally placed to monitor the evolution of KM in his home country. The process began, he says, at the beginning of the 1980s, as early as in any other of the pioneering regions of the world. Initially the concepts relating to knowledge management were discussed primarily in academic circles, although between 1989 and 1995 they began to spread. “At the CKS, intense work, both technical and methodological, was carried out, with significant networking and international collaboration,” Carrillo says. This period marked the first major phase of KM development in Mexico, he continues, just as it did in the US, western Europe and Japan.
Between 1996 and 2000, KM research and implementation gathered further momentum, spearheaded again by the CKS. “The generation of a distinctive KM framework and awareness of major developments elsewhere in the world allowed for the articulation
of an extensive and agile graduate KM curriculum,” says Carrillo. “Stronger signals from the international community about the prominence of KM and better prepared local professionals resulted in more extensive interest in KM from both the media and company executives.” It was during this period that larger companies began to invest seriously in knowledge management, and consultancy firms started offering services dedicated to managing knowledge-based content and knowledge flows.
More recently, companies in Mexico, as elsewhere, have started to define themselves as knowledge-based organisations. Consultancy services in all aspects of KM are now readily available, and the technical and human capabilities that relate to knowledge management are well advanced. At the same time, training and education in KM and levels of international collaboration have progressed rapidly. By 2002, Mexico had grown to become the world’s ninth largest economy, and its knowledge-management community seems to have developed in step.
As Carrillo points out, however, take-up is by no means universal, and recent events have served to undermine the steady progress made over the past decade or so. In particular, the economic slowdown in the US has taken its toll on the Mexican economy, which has grown dependent on demand from its northern neighbour for manufacturing exports. As such, internal investment has taken a hit. A study conducted by the Consortium for Knowledge Management (CKM) in 2001 found that 56 per cent of respondents were considering implementing a KM programme in the short to medium term, but as Carrillo says, only a fraction of these have now done so.
Those that have made the investment tend, unsurprisingly, to be larger corporations; smaller businesses seem reluctant to commit the time or resources to what is still perceived by many to be a non-essential business activity. Knowledge management has also had its biggest impact in the manufacturing sector. Of the 70-odd KM consultancy projects undertaken by the CKS between 1992-2003, almost 50 per cent have been for manufacturing companies. The rest have been fairly evenly divided between hi-tech, education, governmental, financial and retail organisations, which at least demonstrates that KM has made inroads across the board.
And as soon as the downturn ends, says Carrillo, this process will continue. “Once the global investment climate – which is largely determined these days by the pace of recovery in the US – gets back to normal, the KM industry in Mexico is bound to take off. With a growing number of professionals trained in KM and increasing pressures from globalisation, more executives will be willing to invest in KM initiatives as a strategic leverage on their company’s performance.” To back up his claim, Carrillo points again to the 2001 CKM survey, which found that 91 per cent of the executives that took part considered KM to be a priority for any world-class organisation competing in the global market. The real test, of course, will be how many are willing to put their faith in a management discipline that deals with so many intangibles when shareholders are crying out for hard results.