Knowledge Management: Frameworks and Case Studies

Knowledge Management: Frameworks and Case Studies


by Madanmohan Rao; August 9, 2010

Editor, KM Chronicles



A two-day workshop on evolution of knowledge management and organisational case studies was held recently in Bangalore at the campus of Xavier Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship ( Workshop leaders included KM practitioners, authors and academics, and the attendees were from the private and public sector.


One of the attendees remarked that average age in his organisation was 55, and he expected that knowledge retention after employee retirement would be a huge problem. Another attendee was of the opinion that KM works better in private sector companies than public sector or government organisations. Yet another opinion expressed was that KM seems to work better in younger organisations than older ones!


Speakers at the workshop showcased how KM has benefited organisations in a number of ways: speedier response to customer queries (Xerox), bringing operational knowledge to onshore engineers (Schlumberger), reducing operational costs (Chevron), using experiences for future use (World Bank), reduced knowledge attrition despite a retiring workforce (Harvard Pilgrim), and quantifiable effort savings in accounts/projects (Infosys).


KM Frameworks


Prof. Kanti Srikantaiah ( from Dominican University kicked off the workshop by explaining key drivers of KM today: rapid product change (every six months, not just 18 months), need for innovation, globalisation, and attrition. He traced the alphabet soup of antecedents of KM: DBMS, MIS, DSS, ERP, JIT, TQM, BPR, benchmarking, datamining and competitive intelligence.


KM has evolved in three phases, according to Kanti. The first phase revolved around best practices and lessons learned, and was IT centric (tools, Internet/Intranet). The second phase was defined by the view that “knowledge assets are no good if the people can not use them,” and was dominated by a human relations movement: CoPs, organisational culture, formal/informal, learning organisation, tacit knowledge. The third phase was centred more on discovery (“It’s no good if people can’t find it”) – with a focus on taxonomy and a growing inclusion of information professionals. (Interestingly, KM author Nancy Dixon has her own version of three phases of evolution of KM: see


Kanti also addressed why people may not share knowledge: the organisation has no formal process or dialogue space, employees do not know what they know, the organisation’s environment may be excessively competitive, there is lack of trust and time, and there is no air of curiosity in the organisation. Organisational transformations needed to create knowledge today include comparison, connections, and conversation, Kanti summed up.


I explained the role of tools in KM initiatives, running through classifications of knowledge processes and roles, activities for each, and relevant tools. I covered the “alphabet soup” of KM tools, in three phases of evolution: content, collaboration and narrative (social media).


I showed the power of global social media with a couple of slides of tweets, re-tweets and realtime feedback about the workshop, which is always an eye-opener to those who have never before seen the power of Twitter! I also covered upto 15 reasons why emphasis only on technology or tools can cause KM initiatives to fail (more details in my KM books:


Case Study I: Infosys


A. Latha, Group Head for KM at Infosys, presented an excellent case study of its KM journey which has won multiple MAKE Global/Asia/India awards. She said key drivers of KM are pervasion of knowledge infusion in decision making, and need for knowledge stocks and flows.


KM scope and scale should be broadened and deepened in organisations. For instance, strategic planning usually involved a conclave for top management for three days – but this year Infosys opened it up to newer employees also via Knowledge Cafes.


The KM initiative at Infosys is fueled by its cross-disciplinary aspects: cognitive sciences, organisational behaviour, information sciences, epistemology, and economics (eg. theory of value exchange).


KM eventually should become a regular part of work. The ultimate objective of a formal KM programme, according to Latha, should be: Build, Own, Operate, Disappear! KM is a journey, not a programme or project.


KM at Infosys has helped with quicker responses to market changes and client needs, and dealing with people movement/turnover in projects. Key success factors for KM include high level sponsorship, mid-level support and drive, and participation at all levels. Managers must set the example here; one of the Infosys managers in China set a good example to employees by personally committing to contribute knowledge assets.


At the same time, organisations should accept that only a small percentage of knowledge can be codified. The extent of codification needs to be tempered with organisational realities, advised Latha. “It is critical to let go of old knowledge,” she added; knowledge currency should be recognised, and eventually some knowledge becomes outdated (eg. Y2K solutions).


The launch of KM in Infosys was sponsored by the then CEO of the company. Infosys has a KM steering committee with regular reviews of KM maturity, mapping knowledge gaps in processes, architecture, KRAs and measures.


Today, Infosys has a Body of Knowledge as well as a KM Showcase on InfyTV, an internal channel. Infosys based its KM journey on the four principles of sharing: reciprocity, repute, altruism, trust.


Organisations should also focus on “stealth” initiatives which do not require change management, eg. Kmail, Project Snapshots at Infosys. The company has an automated tool called Infosys KMail – employees send queries first to this specific id; and a database is searched for responses.


As for metrics, Latha said KM measurement is primarily to feed to the KM culture and demonstrate quick wins. Pockets of KM gains are measurable. A pre-launch audit identified barriers to knowledge sharing (who to ask, where to look, too many portals, too much information, poor quality, too busy, not a priority, geographic spread).


Without proper planning and evolution, KM approaches tend to get into a “whirlpool of value erosion” due to lack of vision, alignment, consistency and synergy. KM initiatives cannot just be translated from one office of a company to another office in another country – the local cultures and business practices need to be studied.


Today, the KM initiative at Infosys is active in 4,000 knowledge areas, reflecting the growth of technologies and business offerings. The company has filed a patent for its mechanism of knowledge assessment and ratings called Knowledge Currency Unit. Infosys also has a brand manager specifically for the KM group, whose brand personality is defined as reliable, responsive and sensitive.


Over the past dozen years, KM at Infosys has evolved over a number of phases: e-learning, Sparsh Intranet (pre-1998); KM launch, KShop (1999-2002); KM in projects, accounts; blogs (2003-2006); integrated framework, Wiki, federated search, InfyTV (2007 onwards); and KM brand measurement, deepening engagement in geographies (planned).


“Evolve your strategy over time. Find the balance between decentralisation and centralisation. Bring in outside consultants,” Latha added. An adaptive architecture also helps (eg. with open source components such as T-Wiki, MediaWiki). “For promoting KM, start with incentives, then switch to recognition,” Latha advised.


Case Study II: Honeywell


Maria Christine, Lead at Honeywell Technology Solutions, began her case study with a superb magic trick featuring a box with multiple opening flaps (a great beginning for a post-lunch presentation!). She later included a “prisoner’s dilemma” exercise among groups of attendees to explain employee knowledge sharing.


Honeywell’s KM initiative is called KALEIDO: “Knowledge and Learnings I Do,” and reflects the kaleidoscopic nature of knowledge work.


In addition to mentoring, CoPs, expert validation, and best practices (for software reuse), KM at Honeywell includes social network monitoring and analysis. “We used sociometric analysis to discover informal knowledge networks in knowledge areas, knowledge actors and knowledge flows,” said Maria.


Graph theory helped come up with maps of expertise and people connectivity with experts; this was used to help improve collaborative links. For instance, low connectivity was perhaps an indicator of a potential knowledge attrition point.


Maria focused on many of the human dimensions of knowledge sharing, and even joked that sometimes knowledge contributions increase close to appraisal times and bonus evaluation periods! She also cautioned that KM rewards and incentives schemes have to be transparent; they should not be seen as biased or as favours from the management.


Contrary to popular perception, looking at others’ solutions does not hamper creativity but helps improvise or extend them. “The business context has time pressures, and knowledge sharing definitely helps here,” Maria added.


Honeywell has developed elaborate schemes for tracking knowledge competencies (eg. create, validate, store, share), across timeframes – which are then colour coded for effective visualisation.


 “KM has helped Honeywell build global talent, enable synergy across product lines, given better career prospects for employees, and spurred innovation,” Maria summed up.


Case Study III: Perot/Dell


C.S. Shobha, Head of KM, Quality and Training at Dell Services (formerly Perot Systems), covered the objectives and outcomes of the company’s KM initiative in areas such as project management.


The objectives of the company’s KM Office include: elevate knowledge work to a key focus direction, maximise value of collective learning in project teams, integrate KM into daily workflow and longterm planning, deliver innovative solutions to customers in a sustainable manner, and make the organisation an attractive choice for knowledge workers


The initial knowledge audit was driven by the “8 Cs” framework ( background: I was the external KM consultant at Perot Systems): connectivity, content, community, capacity, culture, cooperation, commerce, capital.


“KM has helped our project management performance,” explained Shobha, who also has a chapter on this topic in a forthcoming KM book. KM in projects helped build testimonials/credentials for customers (new services as well as upselling/cross-selling).


“We created part-time roles for each project called Knowledge Champions, chosen by project managers,” Shobha explained. Knowledge Champions received induction kits about expertise mapping, facilitating knowledge sharing sessions, preparing case studies, and focusing on reusability and innovation.


Dimensions of KM in project ecosystems include: methodology, technology, applications, domain knowledge, customer knowledge, and project management. Different kinds of projects in varying environments – product, services, maintenance – entail different flavours of KM. KM has proven to be useful at all project phases in Dell: feasibility analysis, initiation, planning, execution, and closure – including case studies, best practices, expertise maps and reusable artefacts.


KM has helped create a perception shift in the way in which project and service managers were regarded: delivery heads (knowledge leaders), project leads (knowledge champions), team member (knowledge workers).


The company’s portal is called K-Edge, and there are 30 CoPs, some of which involve customers in co-creation of knowledge assets and the KM plan. Dell also has an ideas management tool with a number of “thumbs up or thumbs down” features for rating and validating innovations. KM metrics and assessment include percentages of employees involved in different kinds of knowledge activities.


Leadership plays different roles in different stages of knowledge maturity, explained Shobha: “You need strong initial support of organisational leaders for launch. Then you need to explain RoI to them!”


The initiative is 30 months old now, and KM is a part of project compliance. “The company has quarterly Knowledge Champion conclaves. Many went on to become better project managers. More employees want to become Knowledge Champions,” she explained. KM success factors include investment and perseverance, Shobha summed up.



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