Knowledge Management Strategies: Formulation and Evolution

Knowledge Management Strategies: Formulation and Evolution


by Madanmohan Rao; August 22, 2010

Editor, KM Chronicles



If you are ever in Bangalore on the third Wednesday of any month, you must attend the Bangalore K-Community: the monthly gathering of knowledge management professionals! This time panellists from four companies – Oracle, Wipro, Unisys, Nokia – discussed the formulation and evolution of knowledge management (KM) strategies in their organisations.


The event was hosted in the Oracle offices near Bangalore Dairy Circle, and the canteen has spectacular views of the city’s green cover (and concrete jungle!). As usual, questions flew fast and deep, and I had to cut off the discussion at closing time to enable attendees to brave evening traffic…      ;-)


Categories of KM Strategies


Nirmala Palaniappan, Senior Manager, KM, Oracle APAC, began by outlining key foundations for an effective KM strategy: organisation culture, management philosophies, HR policies and fundamental skills (eg. in conversing, collaborating). To ensure KM “stickiness,” organisations should focus on the branding of their KM initiatives, regular communication, daily usage of KM, and effective tools (with useful and innovative features).


Nirmala classified KM strategies into five types: dictator, broker, psychologist, peacemaker, and doctor/surgeon. In the dictator approach, everything in KM is integrated, centralised, and controlled from one place. In contrast, the broker strategy is to connect everyone in the organisation, and is not focused just on assets and capture. This approach has a strong focus on communities, relationships, conversations and expertise location.


The psychologist approach is centred on personal knowledge management and is IT-savvy in nature (eg. it relies on tools for artificial intelligence and business intelligence). As the name suggests, the peacemaker strategy for KM embraces differences, and uses multiple approaches and tools. No KM manager or committee forces employees to use one approach and not another (this is the KM style adopted at Oracle).


In the doctor or surgeon’s strategy, the management strongly believes in KM and leads by KM (eg. Buckman Labs). It is possible of course for an organisation to migrate from one strategy to another as it evolves.


Evolution of KM Strategy


Ved Prakash, Chief Knowledge Officer, Wipro Technologies, and Ravi Shankar Ivaturi, Operations manager, Unisys Global Technology Centre, described how their KM strategies evolved over the years in response to external shifts in technology and business as well as internal restructuring and priorities.


Ved began by describing the business evolution at Wipro Technologies (a global MAKE Hall of Fame winner). Twelve years ago, the business buzzword was Web solutions, and the company had to scale its strategy and operations to a global level. The group CEO Azim Premji established the need for KM, and a group was formed with members from other teams such as Six Sigma and training. An early challenge faced by this group was that back then there was no major industry body of knowledge on KM.


“We decided that tech would be a key KM enabler, and brought in the CTO for the KM initiative,” explained Ved. Early sweet spots for quick KM wins were sales proposals and reusable components (in technology).


Another inflection point in the KM journey was with a strong addition of productivity and quality factors to increase efficiency of delivery. The Quality Group which had a reach into most of the organisation was brought in at this stage.


Culture building remained a continuous process throughout the KM journey. Other changes came along with the String of Pearls strategy for company acquisition. Wipro Technologies was doubling every year, and was acquiring companies by domain, geography and technology.


“With M&A activity, knowledge integration and expertise retention was key,” Ved explained. Managing complexity of projects and client relationships later became another objective of KM.


“How to make Wipro a learning organisation also became a major thrust of KM. This involved going beyond training, which was one-way or one-to-many and used canned content. A learning organisation has to facilitate many-to-many learning,” according to Ved.


Subsequent stages in KM strategy evolution included extending KM to the non-IT arms of the Wipro group (eg. consumer, retail) and to its business partners and clients. For instance, many learnings from the Indian supply chain sector can be taken globally (there is more complexity in emerging economies). Boosting innovation is a KM thrust as well.


Ravi Shankar Ivaturi, who manages operations for Unisys in India, China and Australia, traced the 130-year history of the company from custom hardware into IT services.


“A challenge we face is that we are many companies rolled into one,” Ravi began. KM drivers at Unisys were: knowledge retention to deal with attrition; providing support across the global organisation; and dealing with a huge influx into the workforce.


“We created an e-zine called Unibytes, to tell the rest of the global organisation what was happening in India,” said Ravi. They had to pick their KM tools with care so as to be useful for all parts of their matrix organisation.


The CEO sent out a strong message that collaboration is the key for organisational success, and this was a good boost for the KM initiative. The CEO also leads by example, and himself communicates by blogs and personal sites rather than just emails. Innovation is promoted by prototype competitions and organisation-wide voting.


From Organisational to Societal Knowledge


The focus of the discussion changed with the next speaker, Bhanu Potta, Global Product Manager for Emerging Markets, Knowledge and Information Services, Nokia. His group is focusing on the intersection between KM, education and mobile content. The aim is to align internal KM strategies and roles with external knowledge needs for the consumer sector in emerging economies (particularly Asia and Africa).


“There are two billion people in India, China and Nigeria living at below $5 a day. What are their information needs? We found that they asked for ‘how to’ information and access to knowledgeable people on leading better lives,” Bhanu began.


Nokia’s Life Tools offers a range of services such as general knowledge (in education), agricultural news and guidelines, and actionable health tips.


“Mobiles can help ease consumer knowledge pains. Geo-targeting can help offer different kinds of information services,” explained Bhanu. Content partners roped in range from the Spices Board of India and ITC to BBC and the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria. The LifeTools editorial desk collates, categorises, creates and delivers profiled hyper-localised information.


“Mobiles can help in societal knowledge endeavours and help create a knowledge society for all,” Bhanu concluded. A lively discussion followed, urging that such information services be extended to non-Nokia phones as well and to all community members (not just experts)!


Speakers and attendees also concurred that Personal Knowledge Management skills are becoming increasingly important, and should be taught at inductee and senior student levels. Mentoring is also key, and new roles are emerging for knowledge custodians, caretakers and curators.


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Panellist Bios:


Nirmala Palaniappan is Senior Manager for KM at Oracle. She leads KM for Oracle’s APAC business. She has almost eleven years of experience in KM and has had the opportunity to lead KM initiatives in multiple organisations. She led an Intranet initiative from scratch at a small organisation, has been a KM evangelist for the second largest business unit at one of the top three IT service organizations in India, has been the lead KM consultant to a utility company in the UK, and now leads KM for Oracle’s APAC region. She has conceived, designed and rolled out an innovative E2.0 application that fits into the Oracle environment. She was awarded a patent for her work on a KM framework, methodology and toolkit by the US patent office earlier this year.


Ved Prakash is the Chief Knowledge Officer of Wipro Technologies. He has set the strategic KM Vision for Wipro which includes ‘One-KM’ for both IT and non-IT businesses of Wipro. He has been driving transformation of KM within Wipro to make it more people and community centric, and more relevant to business. Wipro has been inducted into the elite Global MAKE Hall of Fame. Ved Prakash has been with Wipro since the last eighteen years. He holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Engineering (Gold Medalist) from GB Pant University, Pantnagar, and an MBA from Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.


Ravi Shankar Ivaturi is the Operations manager of Unisys Global Technology Centre, India, Australia and China. His Operations portfolio includes Knowledge Management. GTC KM is based on the foundational principles of knowledge acquisition, retention and propagation. Ravi has filed for a patent application (jointly with his Unisys colleague) recently in India and the US. Ravi’s interest includes tracking emerging global cricketing talent, and likes to explore India by road.


Bhanu Kiran Potta has over 14 years of experience in the world of knowledge, content, learning & OD initiatives. Currently in Nokia, he spearheads R&D and deployment of societal knowledge & information services over mobile devices into 22 emerging market countries. He also oversees IPR, patents & copyrights liaison across countries for this portfolio.  Earlier Bhanu was associate director – KM group at Perot Systems, where he lead the Global Knowledge Management Program and set up its customer facing advisory & consulting practice. He previously was with NIIT.


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