The Knowledge Movement: Trends and Opportunities

The Knowledge Movement: Trends and Opportunities

by Madanmohan Rao
Editor, The KM Chronicles
Pune; February 29, 2012

The knowledge movement in India has gained another new community member, with the launch of the Pune K-Community! The inaugural session featuring a panel discussion on trends, opportunities and challenges in KM. KM as a formal discipline is close to 20 years old now. Panelists from Unisys, eClerx and Zensar addressed a wide range of KM frameworks, concepts, impacts, and trends. What have been the key contributions of KM? What are the success factors of KM in the long-term? How does KM boost organisational innovation? What does it take to reach industry leadership in KM and win awards? What career prospects are there in KM? The panel was followed by interactive discussions between the panellists and audience.

Other attending companies included TCS, Wipro, Siemens, Tata Chemicals and Mindtree. The hosting organisation, analytics outsourcing firm eClerx, also added a nice local Pune touch by offering snacks which included bhakarwadi! It was a personal delight for me to be part of the Pune K-Community launch since I grew up in Poona (as it was then called!). Here are some of my key dozen takeaways from the two-hour event.

1. Mature KM initiatives address not just internal collaboration but external collaboration as well. Internal collaboration has been achieved by a range of KM initiatives, but the challenge is to involve external business partners and customers in process design, service offerings and co-creation. Proctor&Gamble and Nike shoes are good examples of advanced knowledge strategies in this regard. Unisys has a conference called Unite where they invite inputs from their valuable customers; these are used in drawing the product roadmap. Practitioners of some mature KM initiatives are themselves becoming consultants for launching KM in other organisations.

2. Well-designed KM initiatives pay proper attention to branding of KM and communicating the knowledge message. Some organisations have KM brand managers. Others chose names of their newsletters and events which cleverly reflect the names of the organisations, eg. Unisys has an annual KM festival in India, China and Australia called Unilight. Its KM leaders’ forum is called Talking Heads. Zensar’s Intranet is called Zen Lounge, its chat utility is called Zen Talk, and technology incubation forum is called Zen Lab. (Last week I conducted a KM workshop at the first annual KM festival of airport infrastructure company GMR in Delhi; the festival was called Gyaanotsav (‘knowledge festival’) and it featured a KM skit, KM graffiti sheets, and even a chocolate KM cake!)

3. Social media are playing an increasing role as knowledge narrative, and mobile cloud is a key trend in workflow infrastructure. Some companies are developing their own hybrid social media tools which integrate the best features of consumer social media tools. The rise of Gen Y is a major opportunity – and challenge – for Gen X-dominated organisations, and there is a need for those in between who can bridge the gap (Gen X.5?    ;-)

4. Organisations should find the right balance between creation and re-use of knowledge assets. Wipro has developed useful metrics in this regard, eg. Contribution Index (percentage of employees contributing knowledge assets), Engagement Index (percentage of employees using existing knowledge), and Usage Index (percentage of assets being accessed and reused).

5. Gamification is a growing practice in KM, eg. conducting coding contests and competitions for best personal KM (MySite) at Unisys, as well as a best paper contest to showcase thought leadership in a field.

6. Academic research and foundations are finding increasing acceptance among KM practitioners. Zensar’s CEO has authored two books on KM and has a PhD in KM; their CIO has a master’s degree in KM. Zensar has developed fundamental ‘tenets’ of KM practice such as ‘knowledge is socially constructed and consumed.’

7. Mature KM practices from India are winning awards around the world, eg. eClerx has just won the MAKE India award and Unisys hopes to win the MAKE award in 2013.

8. The true success of KM is when it ‘disappears,’ ie. KM processes are embedded in workflow, eg. in project closure documentation. 90% of the knowledge contributions in Wipro happen as part of the normal workflow and are not created via additional activities. There will always be a need for KM professionals, however, in designing and upgrading such workflow tools, analysing knowledge conversations and lifecycles, and keeping up to speed on harnessing ‘supply side’ factors like emerging social media and cloud tools.

9. The scope and metrics for KM are becoming increasingly sophisticated. KM is being used within organisations not just for activities like project management but also discussing and defining high-level organisational vision and market strategies, eg. in Zensar. There are metrics at the level of projects, associates and customer satisfaction.

10. Idea management will become intertwined with KM, as a range of tools (such as Mango Apps) emerge to manage idea pipelines. Many KM practices of knowledge validation, ranking and rating are also applicable to idea management (eg. MindTree’s Neuron portal for ideas). Some organisations open up ideation to all kinds of activities in order to encourage the flow of creative juices, eg. some companies have even toyed with creating internal matrimonial matchmaking services!

11. To broadbase the KM movement in India, practitioners will have to go beyond English and tap local languages as well. Tata Chemicals now encourages employees to submit ideas in their own local languages.

12. KM has different flavours in different industries. White collar IT and services firms have the advantage of using advanced IT tools; new strategies will have to be devised to harness and unleash knowledge flows from blue collar workers who have their own forms of expertise. Public sector and government agencies have their own cultures and knowledge dynamics, and KM strategies will need to be different as compared to profit-centred companies.

The discussion wrapped up after an eventful two hours (also touching on topics like the difference between frugal innovation and jugaad!), and by then the traffic from the Hinjewadi tech parks to the city areas had mercifully diminished. The next Pune K-Community meetup will be hosted by Zensar, followed by Mindtree and then TCS.

With its strong local base of R&D labs, manufacturing/automotive, pharma, IT and BPO services firms, the Pune K-Community is off to a good start, and will be able to create useful synergies with the neighbouring Mumbai K-Community. The challenge will be in deciding when exactly to have the first anniversary celebrations: the inaugural event was held on February 29, and the next February 29 will only be in 2016!


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