posted 25 Feb 2003 in Volume 6 Issue 6
Country focus: Spain
Simon Lelic talks to Manon van Leeuwen and Raúl de Tena from the Foundation for the Development of Science and Technology in Extremadura about how knowledge management has impacted upon economic activity in Spain.
The Foundation for the Development of Science and Technology in Extremadura (Fundecyt) has a central role in the development of economic, strategic and innovation strategy in the region. Founded in 1995, the Fundecyt is a not-for-profit organisation working to further the level of co-operation between business, academia and public administration in order to foster regional development. The foundation was launched with the support and guidance of the regional government, the University of Extremadura and two local financial institutions.
Knowledge management is a primary area of concern for Fundecyt, and as such Manon van Leeuwen, director of information society, and Raúl de Tena, knowledge management and communications director, are well placed to gauge how the discipline, and the industry that surrounds KM, have evolved in Spain as a whole. And, as they say, knowledge management has really started to make an impact in the country, particularly over the past two or three years.
“The larger consultancies and companies in the IT sector were the early adopters in Spain, particularly those that belonged to larger, multinational groups that have been at the forefront of KM since it took off in the Anglo-Saxon countries,” says Van Leeuwen. “Up until a few years ago, the main issue with KM was related to the implementation and application of ICT. More recently, there has been a shift towards the concept of a knowledge society, away from a technological approach to the organisation and its environment in favour of a more people-based approach in which an organisation regards its members as its main strategic asset.”
Today, the number of players and solution providers in the sector is climbing, and a growing number of these are looking beyond exclusively IT-based solutions towards issues relating to change management and intellectual capital. According to De Tena, take-up is also no longer limited to larger businesses; smaller enterprises are also beginning to take an active interest in knowledge management, as are many non-profit organisations and public-administration bodies. And while the firms actually implementing KM procedures and systems remain in the minority in the country, understanding as to the importance of knowledge as a strategic asset is steadily becoming more pervasive.
Unsurprisingly, though, SMEs operating in more traditional industrial sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing still lag behind. According to De Tena, this is particularly the case with the smallest firms. Equally, the majority of KM initiatives continue to focus primarily on information technology. While this does seem to be changing, projects that are chiefly concerned with creating a knowledge-sharing culture and increasing levels of staff training and motivation remain the exception rather than the norm.
And though this is not uncommon, even in those countries in which KM has made the greatest impact, Spanish companies need to address a number of crucial issues if the situation is to change. Specifically, Van Leeuwen points to the rigid hierarchical structures that characterise many Spanish firms and in turn hinder the free flow of knowledge, in addition to a pervading sense of job insecurity that discourages workers from actively sharing what they know. But Spain’s businesses have on their side the Mediterranean character, described by Van Leeuwen as being open to interaction on both a personal and a social level, which she feels can only help foster increased collaboration in an organisational environment.
Press coverage is also increasing. “Research and specialist magazines started publishing articles related to KM by the end of the 1990s,” says De Tena. “Although these did not reach the general public as they were aimed at the research community, throughout the past two or three years Spain’s leading newspapers and magazines have also run articles on knowledge management.” These features tend to discuss KM in very general terms, making the information more accessible to a larger audience, as De Tena says. Reference is often made to practical examples of how KM is being implemented, which also helps to extend levels of awareness and understanding.
Indeed, such success stories are crucial in any KM initiative, and Van Leeuwen believes the development of reference models to provide a guide to good practice is vital if knowledge management is to continue to play a role in the Spanish economy. Both Van Leeuwen and De Tena are confident, though, that instances of KM implementation will become more common, and that technology will soon take a back seat to questions of people and culture. It may take a bit of time before this becomes the reality, but already there are signs that the evolutionary process is underway.
Manon van Leeuwen can be contacted at email@example.com
Raúl de Tena can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org