posted 7 Feb 2002 in Volume 5 Issue 5
Simon Lelic talks to Eric Tsui and assesses the impact of knowledge management in Australia.
With Australia’s track record of early adoption of new technologies and management principles, it is not surprising that knowledge management has a healthy presence in the country. Standards Australia, a privately owned organisation that focuses on producing quality standards across varying sectors, has already released a National KM Framework, and is working towards launching a National KM Standard in mid-2002, a reflection of the widespread interest in knowledge management among Australian businesses.
Eric Tsui, chief research officer (Asia-Pacific) for Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), believes the impact KM has had in Australia owes much to the presence of large, multi-national companies. “These firms have been actively rolling out or extending their KM environment/solutions to their Australian staff,” he says. In addition, Tsui feels Australian businesses have benefited from the high quality of research in the country relating to information systems, information management and intelligent technologies. In particular, he points to the influence Karl Erik Sveiby has had since moving to Brisbane, Queensland. “Sveiby and several leading Australian academics have been very active in designing metrics to track the value of intellectual capital in large organisations,” says Tsui.
This may also explain why KM projects in Australia are often so closely linked to ROI. As Tsui says, this in turn has meant that many investments in KM have manifested themselves in the form of business intelligence, data mining, e-business, e-learning and virtual collaboration projects, with ‘pure’ KM taking a back seat. In broader terms, Tsui also perceives a growing interest in knowledge management as a means to maximise the returns from external relationships, as opposed to the intra-organisational perspective that dominated until last year.
And unlike in many countries where the uptake of KM is limited to certain economic sectors, knowledge management seems also to have cut across industrial divides in Australia. “As far as I can tell by tracking published material and attending local seminars, the adoption of KM in this country is broad-based, and not confined to specific industries,” says Tsui. “As my background is in the financial services, I am particularly aware of the KM projects at banks and insurance companies, but there is certainly no shortage of KM-related initiatives in the manufacturing, telecoms and utility industries.” Similarly, while most international case studies relating to KM come from large, multi-national corporations, as Tsui points out, a considerable degree of interest and adoption is evident among small to medium-sized firms in Australia.
Correspondingly, media coverage of the subject has also been pronounced, with supplements or sections devoted to knowledge management appearing in most business magazines and newspapers over the past two or three years. Equally, conferences and workshops on KM abound. While there may be fewer events dedicated to KM and KM only, as Tsui says, this may in fact stem from a higher level of awareness about the needs and benefits of KM, and the subsequent demand for further direction as to how to tie knowledge management in with wider business processes. For example, in November 2001 there were at least five events dedicated to KM in Sydney: one was an international congress on business intelligence and KM, while four separate seminars in turn focused on KM in medical insurance, product development, content management and in banking.
The future for knowledge management in Australia therefore seems assured. The ‘high-level’ approach Tsui feels is typical of Australian practitioners, which places people, culture and change management above the role of technology, already distinguishes them from many of their American and British counterparts. In addition, the formulation of a national standards framework will place the country at the vanguard of the international KM community, while the level of adoption of KM among Australian businesses, and SMEs especially, together with the country’s pioneering work in the field of distance learning, will only further enhance Australia’s standing.
Eric Tsui is chief research officer (Asia-Pacific) for CSC. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org