posted 4 Jul 2002 in Volume 5 Issue 9
Country focus: the Netherlands
Simon Lelic talks to Willem Boersma and Paul Louis Iske about the development of KM in the Netherlands
Knowledge management has clearly reached a level of maturity in the Netherlands that places the country among the leaders in the field. According to Paul Louis Iske, chief knowledge officer for ABN Amro Corporate Finance, the discipline first emerged in a corporate context in the mid-1990s, with consultancies such as CIBIT, Twynstra Gudde and KPMG leading the way in terms of early adoption. Yet Willem Boersma, director of KM solutions provider Integral Knowledge Utilisation, maintains that it was only towards the end of the decade that KM really began to make an impact.
“In the second half of the 1990s, the technology became available to support KM, and IT-oriented companies such as IBM, Cap Gemini and several other smaller firms started to ‘discover’ the discipline,” he says. It was around the same time, he continues, that a number of other consultancy firms began to incorporate KM into their portfolio, albeit from a more general perspective.
Since then, Boersma believes knowledge management has largely been abandoned as a separate discipline by the bigger players in the consultancy arena, with most firms integrating the concepts embodied in KM with a higher-level approach to strategic management. A growing realisation that organisational change and IT implementation need to go hand-in-hand, together with a renewed emphasis on demonstrating ROI, seem to have accelerated this process. At the same time, as Iske points out, this has paved the way for a number of smaller, specialist KM consultancies to enter the fray.
In terms of practical implementation, take-up of knowledge management has not been limited to specific industries, although again it has been the lager, international firms that have led the way. Smaller businesses are beginning to demonstrate an interest in KM, but Iske feels many SMEs may have been put off by the perceived abstract nature of the discipline. And as in so many countries, the public sector has lagged behind private enterprise, although Iske believes this too is beginning to change. Boersma, for example, points to the emergence of KM-related programmes in the tax department and among law enforcement organisations as evidence of this.
In part, the growing awareness in KM stems from the level of media coverage the subject has received in recent years. As Iske says, knowledge management has been a popular topic in the trade press for some time, while increased governmental emphasis on the role of knowledge in Dutch society has in turn sparked even greater interest. Culturally, too, strong democratic values and the Dutch tradition of openness fit well with the concepts relating to sharing and collaboration that sit at the heart of knowledge management.
As for the future, both Iske and Boersma believe interest in knowledge management will continue to grow, in both the public and private sector. “This will, however, be on practical basis, starting with small scale pilot projects and developing into an integrated approach to knowledge management,” adds Boersma, who feels that a holistic approach to IT implementation and organisational change will generate the most favourable results. Iske, too, believes Dutch organisations will begin to strike a better balance in terms of process, technology and culture as understanding of the discipline spreads.
To an extent, in fact, this trend is already apparent. As Iske says, while information and communications technology is recognised in the Netherlands as being an important enabler, there is already a broad understanding that knowledge management is primarily about people. This, together with the aforementioned sense of egalitarianism, may explain why top-down initiatives are less common in the Netherlands than they are, for example, in the US. Such differences mean little, however, when organisations come to assess the impact of knowledge management on the bottom line. “In the Netherlands, there is also a strong demand to show tangible results,” says Iske. In this sense at least, businesses are the same the world over.
Paul Louis Iske is chief knowledge officer for ABN Amro Corporate Finance. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Willem Boersma is director of Integral Knowledge Utilisation. He can be contacted at: email@example.com