posted 2 Jul 2002 in Volume 5 Issue 10
Five minutes with… The London Borough of Brent
Jacquie Bran, project manager with the Knowledge Management events team, spent five minutes talking to Andres Crespo, web manager, Information Technology Unit, for the London Borough of Brent about the organisation’s experience implementing a comprehensive knowledge management programme.
When and why did you first consider implementing knowledge management?
Brent Council started to use a Lotus intranet as a knowledge pool back in 1998. It was not very sophisticated, but it was a first step towards capturing all that intellectual capital that was vanishing like thin air.
As Brent became more customer focused, we realised that members of the public approaching the council were getting different answers depending on the council officer that dealt with their inquiry. It became clear that knowledge was based on single individuals and not on the organisation as a whole, and our citizens were suffering as a result.
From the 1990s onwards, there was an increasing tendency to change jobs every few years. My father’s generation used to stay in the same job for 30-40 years. Nowadays, people come and go all the time. So what happens to all the knowledge people acquire through their work? We realised that people took this knowledge with them when they left.
Brent Council grabbed the opportunity offered by new technologies and tried to capture as much knowledge as possible from all its different sources. This ensured that knowledge remained within the council, and that the same knowledge is provided to all our citizens.
What have you done to encourage and promote knowledge sharing in such a diverse environment, and what barriers have you faced?
The main barrier we have faced is the cultural change you have to create in order to establish a knowledge sharing environment. Time, persuasion skills and the ability to show some positive results are the minimum ingredients necessary to push this sort of change through the whole organisation.
We have conveyed our enthusiasm and hunger for knowledge to the most senior level managers within the council. We included explanations of what knowledge is, its benefits to service delivery and how to achieve our goals. In addition, we regularly monitor the implementation and progress of KM, from both a technical and a customer’s point of view.
How did you progress to implementing an infrastructure to support KM, and what changes were necessary to ensure its success?
We were thinking big but started small and at an incremental pace. ‘Slowly but surely’ became our approach.
Generating the infrastructure that supports KM entailed providing some user-friendly database-driven software that council officers felt comfortable with and felt compelled to use. Lotus Notes was the answer to our prayers, as people were already using it to read their e-mails. Using it for storing information in databases for further exploitation from other systems was a natural progression.
Once the technical path had been paved to support KM, our wealth of information was slowly transformed into productive knowledge. The next step was to begin changing the culture of the organisation. This was a political and not a technical challenge.
Has knowledge management enabled you to improve your electronic service delivery and join-up your information and knowledge services across departments and channels of communication?
Knowledge management has been a real enabler for service delivery, not only for e-services but for traditional services as well. A good example within e-service is that KM has vastly improved the retrieval of relevant information from our intranet. An example of how it has changed our traditional services is the improvement in joined-up services KM has enabled within our ‘one-stop shops’ and call centres. Employees are now constantly aware of anything that goes on in the council, and are able to provide unified answers to face-to-face and telephone inquiries.
What are the main lessons you have learnt and are there any new milestones on the horizon?
KM is a necessary process for administering the intellectual capital within your organisation. You either provide a space for knowledge or you just keep losing it. In addition, knowledge management is about a cultural approach as much as it is about the technologies that support knowledge sharing. Finally, KM planning has to be undertaken at a senior level, but contributions to corporate knowledge have to come from everyone without exception.
In a couple of years or so, we want to enhance our KM software so that it captures information from any imaginable source.
The London Borough of Brent is just one of the organisations presenting at Ark Group’s forthcoming ‘Knowledge management for the public sector’ conference, which takes place in London on 23-25 September 2002. For more information e-mail email@example.com or visit www.kmmagazine.com/events.