posted 28 Apr 2004 in Volume 7 Issue 8
Five minutes with... Anders Hemre
James Renton, project manager with the Knowledge Management events team, spent five minutes talking to Anders Hemre, formerly director and chief knowledge officer at Ericsson Canada and is currently owner of interKnowledge Technologies.
How did you first become involved in knowledge management?
I first became involved with KM in the late ’90s. Our organisation had grown rapidly and taken on new product and technology mandates. This resulted in increased fragmentation, difficulties with communication, and a growing lack of co-operation and collaboration across organisational boundaries. It also became obvious that the successful market introduction of new products involved the effective transfer of knowledge. In 1999 we decided that we should explore the opportunities offered by KM to help address these issues. I was appointed as CKO to lead this effort.
My original view was that as a knowledge-based operation R&D would benefit from the deliberate use of learning, creative thinking and knowledge sharing as critical success factors. This general notion provided the foundation for the KM programme.
Can you give a personal example of KM in action in your organisation?
Through community participation I increased my own personal network within the local organisation. I could also reach out online to colleagues in North America, Europe and Latin America. This way I was, for example, able to tap into the experiences of other people who had applied capability maturity models in software engineering.
What is the most important KM initiative within your organisation?
Communities of practice. In R&D we have always relied on structured work processes and managing information artefacts. Communities add an increased emphasis on people, networking and creating social exchanges for knowledge sharing.
What kind of benefits are you expecting from KM activities?
In the short term, intermediate benefits include time savings, accelerated team learning and improved access to information and expertise. In the long term, we anticipate achieving enhanced capabilities in innovation and complex problem solving, as well as sustainable improvement in key management and engineering disciplines.
It has been relatively easy to launch communities, but has been a little harder to sustain the effort over time and navigate through organisational change and business challenges. It certainly takes perseverance.
Have you attempted to measure value of knowledge management?
Not really. This is an interesting but rather difficult area as KM benefits are mostly ‘soft’ and blended with the outcome of other efforts. In our case, focus has been on aligning KM with organisational objectives and trying to deliberately engineer the approach towards planned outcomes, expected benefits and long-term capabilities.
Let me expand on this, as there are some difficulties involved. The value of KM solutions depends on the value of satisfying specific needs. Value has something in common with beauty as it partly exists in the eye of the beholder. Cost is usually a lot easier to estimate, but cost is a poor proxy for value. Another difficulty involves how benefits, such as time savings, actually translate to the enterprise level. One would hope they result in improved productivity, for example, but productivity is notoriously difficult to measure in knowledge organisations.
I believe that KM’s value challenge is about how you demonstrate that you can raise the level of innovation, improve productivity and increase customer value. Each organisation has to determine what constitutes a success. In fact, I suspect that KM-value creation will continue to depend on the business context and circumstances, specific process areas and even specific business transactions.
Have you faced any specific cultural challenges in relation to KM?
Not in terms of the basic concept. The main challenge has been changing work behaviour and getting people to acknowledge that the best knowledge may not be their own but that of a colleague. Another issue is with authority, which came up when we introduced communities.
What success have you had with communities of practice?
We have improved information sharing and enabled more effective organisation-wide deployment of new concepts and methodologies. For example, we have seen this in the areas of product in-service performance, and project and portfolio management. The project-management community has been particularly effective in bringing together practitioners to share experiences and develop common approaches in several areas of the discipline. The community has also attracted interest from other organisations including the local chapter of the Project Management Institute. I must admit that we have had a few less successful attempts at community building, which also became important learning experiences.
What do you think is the most important lesson learnt?
Don’t turn KM into a complex science. Use language that people can understand, and focus on problems and opportunities that the organisation can recognise and is willing and able to address. Take your time. It is definitely a long-distance race. Always keep in mind that knowledge sharing is a social phenomenon.
Anders Hemre was formerly director and chief knowledge officer at Ericsson Canada and is currently owner of interKnowledge Technologies. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org