posted 2 Apr 2003 in Volume 6 Issue 7
Five minutes with… Dow Corning
Jacquie Bran, project manager with the Knowledge Management events team, spoke to Terrence Hilty, global manager within the Knowledge Management Group of Dow Corning, about his experiences working to ensure the company’s knowledge-management initiative continues to evolve.
When and why did you first consider incorporating knowledge management? Did you use a pilot project to test its potential?
Efforts to incorporate knowledge management into Dow-Corning work processes began nearly ten years ago, and were viewed as more of an evolution than a revolution. We do not have a formal KM pilot project, but rather a series of efforts that have brought us to where we are today based on our global business needs.
What have you done to encourage and promote knowledge sharing in your working environment and what barriers have you faced as a result?
Knowledge management is a key enabler for all our business processes and our strategy to give our customers choices around how to interact and do business with Dow Corning. Our focal point is always the customer.
One initiative involved separating the KM group from IT (although a dotted relationship still exists) and to consolidate our technical and business-information, strategic-intelligence and communities-of-practice services into one focal point. This reorganisation presented an opportunity for a one-stop-shop mentality, but introduced some confusion as more familiar networks dissolved. For some, the old silos and cultural norms were being destroyed, but we emphasised and stressed new ways of collaborating. However, the composition of teams, which were now multinational, presented one significant barrier, as, initially, individuals working together were not always aware of the cultural differences that existed.
A second initiative focused on re-engineering our information-asset-management-compliance self- assessment. Formerly, this process was a paper-based compliance system involving an army of co-ordinators. An application was developed in nine languages to serve our global employee base. This effort stressed the elements of the knowledge supply chain – create, protect, use/share, store and dispose, and encouraged awareness of the transformation of data/information/knowledge into business decisions and the daily need to meet compliance requirements while delivering business results.
How did you progress to implementing an infrastructure to support KM and what changes were necessary to ensure its success?
Building the infrastructure involved a number of separate initiatives, including the evolution to globally standardised workstations, a global wide area network, a standard toolset (Microsoft Office, electronic document repository and audio/video real-time collaboration), SAP global business processes, a global data warehouse, and an internet, intranet and extranet component. Each of these elements was implemented after asking a series of questions: what is its business purpose? What is our methodology for implementation? What tools are available? How does the structure integrate with what we have already built?
What was the reaction of your workforce to changing working practices?
Change always has a way of bringing both excitement and agitation to a workforce. Implementation is dependent on addressing all the issues of change management. All organisations have sceptics who would rather fight than switch, yet reluctantly follow. In addition there are always natural leaders who are pushing to go faster and quicker, and alerting us to the latest and best technical developments. Finally, there are others who wait patiently for coaching and opportunities to contribute.
What are the main lessons you have learnt?
Three key messages seem to be either over simplified or missed completely within most KM initiatives:
- We must not forget legacy systems. Knowledge captured does not reside only in electronic systems. Corporate record centres and individual offices contain many thousands of paper records, corporate reports, laboratory notebooks and a variety of other media types (microfilm, microfiche and even paper tapes) that may need to be accessed further down the line;
- Corporate compliance to various laws (regulatory, legal, finance and business) for record retention must be fully integrated as these are constantly changing. Although many vendors profess to have a solution to this problem, we have seen no system in place that adequately addresses the complexity of global business requirements. Mapping the various corporate requirements to all of a corporation’s records will be essential in the future;
- The reliability and source of information must always be questioned. Users of the shared information need to be careful in using what they acquire. Our KM personnel are looking to provide recommendations on the most trusted and valued resources.
Terrence Hilty is global manager within the Knowledge Management Group of Dow Corning. He can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org