Throughout human history people have passed their knowledge of crafts and trades on to apprentices, and family businesses have passed on their accumulated knowledge to the next generation. However, knowledge management (KM) as we now understand it really began to take off in the 1980 and 90s.
In a nutshell, KM is about making the right knowledge available to the right people when they need it. It’s about making sure that the organisation can learn and then retrieve and use that knowledge to gain benefits and, hopefully, competitive advantage!
Astute CEOs recognised that intellectual property was a huge asset, and that, carefully categorised, stored, made accessible and used effectively, it could drive major bottom line improvements. Management consultancies, for whom knowledge is undoubtedly a core asset, were among the first companies to join the rush to aggregate their knowledge. Rapid engagement with new information technology enabled them to gain easy access to their wealth of accumulated knowledge and drive value.
Nowadays knowledge management is a familiar buzz term in most mid-size to large businesses, but as I have seen across a wide range of industries around the world, it’s often ineffective.
In recent projects in chemical manufacturing in Asia, public transport in New Zealand and telecommunications in the UK, we’ve encountered similar issues with the clients’ KM programmes. These have included a lack of attention to categorisation, poor accessibility, incorrect and missing data and, crucially, inability to use the huge amount of data that is available to any beneficial effect.
Truly effective KM provides systematic management of an organisation’s knowledge assets, creating value and meeting tactical and strategic requirements. It encompasses all the initiatives, relevant processes, strategies and systems that sustain and enhance the storage, assessment, sharing, refinement and creation of knowledge.
If you suspect you’re not getting knowledge management right within your organisation, it’s a good idea to go back to basics. Here are some key points to consider:
1. Where and in what forms knowledge exists within your organisation
2. How best to generate or acquire new relevant knowledge
3. How to promote a culture conducive to learning and sharing knowledge
4. How to make the right knowledge available to the right people at the right time
5. How to manage these factors to enhance performance, considering your organisation’s strategic goals and short-term opportunities and threats
Like many of our clients, a consulting company’s foremost asset is its inherent knowledge, so of course it’s crucial that we make the most of it. So how have we ourselves walked the talk?
When I spoke to our Knowledge Manager, Rick Smith, he confirmed that our dynamic KM infrastructure, supported by our culture of knowledge sharing, is crucial to delivering the highest level of consulting services to our clients. He explained that when he joined Renoir in 2011, while our intranet had some good features to work with, its functionality was insufficient, outdated and unintuitive. It also wasn’t easily scalable. These downsides vastly outweighed the positives.
He calculated that our knowledge-dependent staff (70% of our workforce) were each spending around four hours per week searching for relevant documents and templates, and around six hours per week ‘reinventing the wheel’. An internal analysis suggested that a more robust knowledge management and search solution could save us over £500,000 a year through improved productivity.
That business case gave him the go-ahead to revamp our KM system and interrelated processes, focusing mainly on document management and client engagement.
Rick decided that the best approach would be to split our document management into two areas:
- Sample documents focusing on each industry vertical and relevant methodologies, tools, templates and best practices
- Client-specific files relating to sales, analysis, project administration and deliverables
This efficient system would enable us to provide the relevant people with easy access to the right information, increasing our core competencies with immediate positive effect.
When it came to the implementation, Rick and his team applied KM best practices and customised techniques proven to work in the consultancy arena. This enabled them to save valuable time, so we and our clients could start benefiting from the new system as soon as possible.
What difference did it make?
With more than two decades of consultancy experience, we have worked with clients around the world in virtually every conceivable industry. Today, before embarking on a project, our KM system allows our consultants to gather data from relevant past projects, such as typical industry findings and pitfalls, areas of opportunity and returns on investment. This enables them to truly hit the ground running.
Renoir consultants can now fluidly and effectively use our knowledge base to help companies improve their productivity and profitability. Easy access to the information they need means they can work more efficiently and spend more of their time actually helping clients.
Our KM systems also enable consultants to identify and contact colleagues with relevant expertise and specialist knowledge when they need advice, information or assistance.
So now, when they engage Renoir Consulting for a project, clients can feel confident that they will benefit from the collective knowledge of the entire organisation.
Talk to us to find out how you can benefit from the collective expertise of every one of our employees, across more