Inside Knowledge Magazine /Knowledge Management Magazine Archive
Volume 6 Issue 5
KM in research and development
The traditional role of the research-and-development function in most organisations has been to plan for the future, exercising its creativity to generate ideas for new products and services that allow an organisation to differentiate itself from the competition. Given the strength of the association between knowledge management and innovation, it is therefore surprising that so few R&D departments have turned to KM as a means of improving the way they work.
Possibly, as one of the participants in this month’s Your Say discussion suggests, it is precisely because R&D and KM are so closely related that the discipline has had such a limited impact in the sector – R&D professionals are already acutely aware of the importance of both knowledge and innovation, and are thus not easily swayed by arguments that they need to change the way they work to accommodate KM-based principles. A more likely explanation, though, is that perceptions of KM as being little more than an expensive/flawed/non-essential set of technologies or a time-consuming management fad have blinded R&D departments to its potential benefits.
This is an issue KM practitioners need to address, for while R&D budgets are often among the first to go in a bear market, the role of research and development has never been so important. As companies suffer the effects of falling demand and look to consolidate their existing sources of strength, any new stream of revenue is seen as a God-send. As such, any means by which the capacity of R&D to deliver on its primary function can be enhanced should be embraced. Fortunately, a number of companies are beginning to realise just how important a role KM has to play in this respect, some of which are featured in this issue. Our exploration of the role KM has to play in research and development begins on page ten.
One final note: sharp-eyed readers will no doubt have spotted the deliberate typo in last month’s news section. While we at Ark Group are obviously confident that KM Europe 2003 will be an unqualified success, it was perhaps a bit premature to describe the precise workings of the event 11 months before it even takes place. Our lead story was, of course, supposed to be about KM Europe 2002. I would fire the person responsible, but then I’d be out of a job.
Simon Lelic, Editor
Your Say: KM in research and development
The core role of the research-and-development function in the modern organisation suggests an affinity with the principles and practices that relate to knowledge management, yet thus far KM seems to have made only limited inroads into the R&D community. Simon Lelic talks to representatives from Arup, Convera, Entovation, Pfizer and Unilever and explores how KM can add value to the R&D function.
In defence of KM
The effective management of the knowledge and information at its disposal is critical to the success of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DATL) in its role as the research and technical advisory arm of the UKs Ministry of Defence. Chrissie McCracken and Steve Thornton explain the central targets of the agencys knowledge-management programme, and reveal the progress DSTL has made so far in achieving these goals.
Ideas for innovation
A companys ability to compete stems from its ability to innovate, and as the traditional hub of idea generation in most businesses, it is often to the R&D department that this responsibility falls. Boris Pluskowski describes how Grace Performance Chemicals is working to harness the ideas generated by its employees in a bid to establish a culture conducive to innovation across the firm as a whole.
Knowledge, technology and people
In the autumn of 2002, Xerox undertook a survey of firms in countries across Europe to gauge how knowledge and knowledge management are perceived, and how IT is affecting the way people work. David Jones and Richard Cross present the findings, which offer both reasons to be optimistic and cause for concern.
The end of the beginning
2002 was a difficult year for the entire IT industry, but the knowledge-management sector has faired comparatively well. Eric Woods reviews the key trends that emerged in the KM technology market over the past 12 months, and looks forward to what the industry can expect in 2003.
The knowledge: Dorothy Leonard
Working in or consulting for organisations as diverse as the Peace Corps, Kodak, AT&T, Stanford University and, now, Harvard Business School, Dorothy Leonard has studied innovation and knowledge flows for over 30 years. She talks to Simon Lelic about her career so far and the impending crisis facing companies across the world.
On the web: A sense of place
Building an intranet for an organisation that, until 1998, consisted of 98 separate charities was always going to be a tall order. Colette Coyne describes how the British Red Cross overcame the hurdles it faced to implement an intranet that has helped to unify the organisation. [Web-only article]
Country focus: France
Simon Lelic talks to Jean-François Ballay about the evolution of knowledge management in France.
Five minutes with
Brad Vigers is part of the Organisational Performance and Learning team working on knowledge sharing and virtual team-working for Shell International Exploration and Production. Jacquie Bran, project manager with the Knowledge Management events team, spoke to Brad about his experiences working with KM.
Book review: The Innovation Superhighway
Marcus Birkenkrahe reviews The Innovation Superhighway by Debra Amidon