posted 3 Nov 2003 in Volume 7 Issue 3
Country focus: Colombia
Sandra Higgison talks to Luis Ovidio Galvis about the evolution of knowledge management in Colombia.
From indigenous cultures to sprawling cities; the valleys and snow-capped peaks of the Andes to sun-soaked Caribbean beaches; and from a country marred by civil unrest and violence to a nation that represents one of the strongest economies in Latin America, Colombia embodies diversity. However, on a global scale, Colombia has consistently remained on the back foot when it comes to taking up the many managerial practices that have shaped the private and public sectors in developed countries over recent years. Knowledge management itself has received little attention and witnessed few concrete initiatives, but changes are afoot. A number of progressive organisations, institutions and government initiatives have already recognised the importance of knowledge management and have created roles for the discipline. However, it is early days and the risk that KM may get left by the wayside rather than become a staple of the corporate diet is still very real.
Luis Ovidio Galvis has worked with knowledge management in Colombia since 1997. He recently founded Knowvatech, a knowledge-management company that aims to generate and apply methodologies with supporting software tools. Galvis also teaches KM and technology management in various management schools. Having worked as a practitioner, consultant and academic on the subject, he has first-hand experience of KM’s development within the country.
According to Galvis, KM’s first steps involved some inquisitive intellectuals and public-sector organisations, but little headway was made as they failed to apply structure, process or managerial practice to the discipline. In 1997, one of the main electricity-generating companies established a formal KM project that still runs today. “As with other organisational practices, the project has had a bumpy ride, but it has realised some very real results,” says Galvis. “The impact of KM here can be seen within the electricity stock exchange and in the construction of hydro and thermal power stations. In 2000, this KM effort was recognised as one of the best managerial achievements for the electrical sector.” The company is now creating a corporate university for electricity generation and is pursuing better approaches to managing intellectual capital and publishing intellectual-capital reports.
The late 1990s saw the establishment of a course on KM, taught by Galvis as part of the MBA programme at one of the main business schools in the country. Since then, more academic and government institutions have lent their support to the discipline. The country’s first postgraduate course on KM is about to start at a university in Medellin. Even the elections next October are helping to promote the value of KM. “Forward-thinking politicians are putting forward proposals to convert several Colombian cities into knowledge districts that will encourage the use and exportation of knowledge,” he says. “But overall, government initiatives here lack the co-ordination and scope within which to act.”
On a more commercial level, the first major KM conference was organised in 1998 by the Knowledge Research Institute of Arlington Texas in alliance with Galvis and the University Pontificia Bolivariana UPB of Medellin. “The seminar can be considered the starting point of KM’s development in Colombia,” says Galvis. Since then, there has been increased KM activity within industrial groups and the telecommunications and energy sectors in particular. “Those companies that have adopted a broad approach to KM by including people, processes and technology, have had the best results, while the failures have been due to management’s narrow view of KM as a technology solution.” Despite these developments, Colombia’s KM industry is still in its infancy. While the general level of awareness around KM is good, the country lacks critical mass to position KM firmly within society’s agenda.
The reasons why adoption has been slow can be traced back to the cultural traits of management within organisations across the country. “We are always late in applying practices such as knowledge management,” says Galvis. “Managers do not give sufficient importance to understanding managerial subjects and most companies will only adopt those that have been well tested in other countries. This delay constantly leaves us one step behind so we never benefit from the real competitive advantages. Managerial cultures need to change.” However, Galvis believes the market will soon demand knowledge management. Interest is visible from senior management and the areas of human development and information technology. “We are at a point where we will either pick up knowledge management and start running with it or we will continue to wait, which would be harmful to our development,” he says.
If grasped now, KM offers two opportunities that Galvis predicts will change managerial history in Colombia. First, KM is important to the development of organisations, people and the country itself. “The second opportunity is very important,” he says. “If we start working with KM now it will be the first time that we will have adopted a new managerial practice during its growth period and be able to reap its competitive advantages.” Galvis sees the onus now lying with the consultants and software developers to help enterprises adopt knowledge management in the best and most reliable way. As he clearly recognises, these opportunities are here for the taking today; tomorrow will be too late.
Area: 1,138,910 sq km
Currency: Colombian peso (COP)
GDP: $268bn (2002 est.)
Av. annual growth in real GDP: 2% (2002 est.)
Structure of employment: Agriculture: 13%
Luis Galvis Ovidio is founder and CEO of Knowvatech. He can be contacted at email@example.com