Knowledge Management in Organizations: Case Study


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Knowledge Management in Organizations: Case Study

  1. 1. Knowledge Management in Organizations: Bridging People, Enterprise Content and Business Processes ATKINS Case Study Manal Rayess ( IT project in ATKINS: Towards a Knowledge- based Work Atmosphere Overview “We have aimed at making ATKINS a knowledge- based and knowledge-ready organization by bringing Country or Region: Dubai-UAE-ME Industry: Constructions Engineering and knowledge at our users’ fingertips, streamlining Consultancy processes and making work easier and more Customer Profile efficient” Clare Bradley, Regional Systems Manager, ATKINS Middle East & India Atkins is a multinational constructions company that provides innovative solutions With more than 40 offices all over the continents, the UK-based of leading architectural, engineering, planning and consultancy projects. Atkins constructions development and consultancy company, ATKINS, ME & India now employs around 3000 used to depend on its Web site (aka the blue pages) to display professionals to serve the constructions market sectors in the region. corporate-related news and information. However, this content was mostly concentrated on the UK office and of less (or no) relevance Business Needs Regional project managers and senior to other regional offices such as the UAE office. The case with executives required better means to bridge organizing and sharing enterprise content was no better. Massive people (within and across the different regions) with information to acquire easy redundant communication and navigation was the typical way of access, people with people to share finding a piece of information or sharing knowledge especially knowledge and people with business processes to have better productivity. among the geographically dispersed experts. Solution AXIS is developed as a new Web portal To overcome these limitations and to dramatically improve the based on Microsoft’s latest technology, organization and management of enterprise content, collaboration SharePoint, as an efficient mean to mainly manage enterprise content and facilitate and sharing of knowledge, the company decided to launch a project collaboration and the sharing of to build the right infrastructure. The newly developed portal for knowledge. Other technologies are employed to facilitate communication. collaboration and content management now gives project managers more comprehensive views of critical information, and Benefits Improved storage, organization and allows better collaboration and easy access of data and sharing of location of enterprise electronic content knowledge. Enhanced business insight through better reporting Improved sharing of knowledge Enhanced employee collaboration Enhanced employee productivity Ensured consistency of documents and business process
  2. 2. Situation partners. No customized area was dedicated for these stakeholders to connect virtually to In February, 2007, two instances of AXIS, the firm to get information relevant to their ATKIN’s new portal, were launched. One projects and needs. instance is based in the UK and the other is in the Middle East. The first noticeable The role of computers in managing projects impact of the new solution is that the number and teams during a project was limited to the of web pages shrank from around 6000 to use of MS Outlook for exchanging emails and 300 pages. the setting of meetings, and the use of the Before that date, information was not easy to network storage drivers for creating folders find, not only because of the huge number of for saving the projects data and the related web pages, but also because people used to documents. The problems of redundant keep a local copy of the same document in content, un-unified format, and un-unified their local folders or in some network folder. storage structure, had lead to consequences As a result, tens of replicas could be found of inconsistent reporting, poor user for the same document. The network driver experience, and un-easy access and had hundreds of unstructured, poorly-labeled gathering of data. folders with a folder for each employee. To locate some application form, for example, To meet these growing needs, ATKINS the most common and easiest way was to needed a solution that would: call or send an email to some colleague and ask whether she happened to keep a copy of Support the growing amount and the form on her local drive or at least know complexity of enterprise content in terms of where it could be found in the local network data, information and knowledge at the file server. Another common scenario that local and global levels. shows how information used to be assembled Enhance both the scope and detail of in an unstructured process is when a business insight for better visibility and multiregional manager wishes to have a decision making through central, up-to- report showing the latest data and status date, and real-time copies of data. about ongoing projects categorized by region. Improve the ways in which information can This could involve extra steps of collecting, be viewed, accessed and utilized in a updating, consolidating data as well as timely manner. unifying the format as each replica of the Support the need for exchanging same file could have different format. This knowledge through better means of would typically involve lot of collaboration. incoming/outgoing calls and emails. Streamline major business processes through unified routines. Another facet of the inadequacy of the old infrastructure was the difficulty of sharing and exchanging knowledge, lessons learned, discussions or experiences between the Solution engineers in different geographical regions. Recognizing the growing need for a new solution, the top management decided to Another weakness point in the old launch a project for revamping the firm’s infrastructure was that its design didn’t online and network systems. consider the special user class of clients and 2
  3. 3. Microsoft SharePoint Server and Services executive in the main UK office defined 2007 (MOSS) was picked as the new firm’s eleven knowledge areas and assigned a portal. SharePoint (SP) is a collection of ‘Network Chair’ for each of the defined areas. technologies ranging from a web browser to a Knowledge (specialty) areas include (figure platform for different enterprise content and 1): Bridge Engineering, Carbon Critical process management. MS SharePoint is Buildings, Commercial Due Diligence, geared to attend to the enterprise major Geospatial & Integrated Digital Solutions, concerns of efficiently connecting people, Geotechnical, Internal Project Management, content (data, information, knowledge, Master-planning, Strategy & Policy Planning, documents, etc) and processes with various Structural Engineering, Tall Buildings, and technologies to manage and serve each of Tunneling. these vectors. The ’Global Knowledge Exchange’ space ATKINS distinguished three layers through serves as a tunnel for the dispersed which it utilized the different technologies knowledge to flow between professionals in provided by SP to design its portal, named different locations. Professionals can share AXIS. These layers are: its web site, internal presentations, open discussions or sites and extranet for its clients and partners. ask/answer technical questions where 85% The SP web interface and accompanying web of questions got answers in short time. controls were first utilized to provide better user interface and experience through better look and feel interface and filtered updated Another less-structured space for knowledge content. sharing is the ‘Knowledge Site Index’ that Second step was to design and develop the doesn’t follow a pre-defined structure. It collaboration space on the intranet level. rather allows any professional to host a space Figure 1: New Web page for Three areas were defined: Knowledge space, for displaying material for or discussing any knowledge exchange with Team space and Project space. topic under some business area. To ensure links to the 11 technical non-overlapped redundant content, an networks Building the Knowledge Exchange Space application form should be submitted to In response to the emergent need of justify the need of the desired space and facilitating and organizing knowledge specify one business owner and two site exchange among ATKINS engineers, the chief owners who shall receive adequate training on how to use SP web controls. Building the Team Collaboration Space Each department was allocated a space on AXIS where it can employ the different controls that come with SharePoint to display its news and announcements, store its documents and forms, assign blogs to its staff, or automate some process. Departments that provide service support to other departments such as the IT, HR and marketing departments were among the first to migrate to AXIS. The move of such central 3
  4. 4. Figure 2: Web page for some department in the UAE office. The page contains a document library and a list to place the team holidays departments to the shared portal solved the o Tasks. Teams can use this list to problem faced previously by staff when they keep track of the assignment, wanted to browse some commonly-used status and completion of tasks that document or application form in the network are shared among team members. shared storage that used to contain hundreds o Issues. This list can be used to of folders. With the SharePoint portal, all manage and track the progress of important documents are placed in a issues assigned to a person or a document library (figure 2), which is an easy- team. to-use, out of the box web part that comes with SharePoint to serve as a list (or Automation of some common business container) with controls to add/edit/delete activities made possible with SharePoint’s documents. More than one document out of the box Workflow feature. This helps libraries can be created to hold different boasting the business productivity. A categories of documents. Site administrators common example where workflows can be receive training on how to set access rights employed is the document approval on different levels. For example, one process. In ATKINS, employees can now document (or document library) can be apply for their annual leaves directly by shared among everyone; another one can filling in the leave request application form, have limited access. which is placed in the HR document library, and submit it online and it will be directed Other SP out-of-the-box features that were automatically to the manager in charge. efficiently employed in AXIS team sites The manager will receive an email include: notification with options to approve or o Calendar. Team members can use reject the request. The requester receives the team calendar to add, view and a notification whether his application had get notified about upcoming been approved or rejected. events, deadlines, and meetings Other examples of process automation that related to the team. This calendar- were developed by the IT department using based list can also be linked to the SP and MS-InfoPath technologies include: Outlook calendar. New Joiner form, Book a Driver, and Order Stationary forms (figure 6). 4
  5. 5. Figure 3: Project management controls The new joiner form can be accessed from can view actual vs. forecasted costs and AXIS to let the new starter picks his IT track the cash flow of each project. requirements (hardware and software). Upon submission, the form follows the designated Another specialized tool that the Systems path to notify concerned people. team purchased and plugged into the firm’s SharePoint portal to direct the process of Building the Project Workspace bidding and delivering projects is what is For each new project (identified by a unique called in ATKINS the ‘Commercial Gate’ job#), a project workspace site can be (figure 4). This control comprises an Figure 4: The “Commercial created using the already available (but interactive graphical diagram (similar to what Gate”, a tool for directing the extensible) SP project workspace site could be generated using MS Visio) that can process of bidding projects template. direct the process of bidding by diagrammatically showing the required steps Besides the default lists available for any new and their status where each step can be site/page on SP (Announcements, Calendar, associated with the required documents to Links, and Tasks), a project workspace site be filled and submitted. includes the following specialized built-in lists for team collaboration and project management: Enhanced infrastructure for o Project Documents communication o Project Issues Besides the efforts put by ATKINS’s systems o Project Risks specialists in revamping the firm’s internet, o Project Deliverables intranet and extranet portals, the firm had Project managers and top management can also invested in other collaboration and easily track the progress of and efficiently communication tools such as Microsoft Office manage projects. To gain further insight on Communicator and CISCO IP Communicator business, ATKINS plugged another project applications so that people can be accessible management tool on AXIS for advanced whether at office, meetings or abroad. reporting on and risk management of projects (figure 3). Using this feature, central Using MS office communicator, an employee management can drill-down through projects can instant-message any employee whether by region, then by risk-level for example. It in the same physical location or in different overseas region. This can be ideal for short 5
  6. 6. notices, quick questions, or availability 300 pages. The network file server is no checking. longer used to store documents in a non- structured manner. Document libraries can Cisco IP Communicator is Windows PC-based be created on the web portal to store central softphone that can be used for voice and copies of documents. video calls through the PC (figure 5). This allows employees to access their corporate Enhanced business insight through phone number and voicemail, take or make better reporting calls from anywhere provided they have Aggregation and consolidation of data was no access to a PC with an Internet connection trivial job four years back in ATKINS. This was (since they can remotely access the due to the existence of multiple versions of corporate network through AXIS). the same data file that could be found in multiple locations saved by different Benefits employees. The new portal provided central data storage location through dedicated Revamping the ATKIN’s intranet, extranet and document and report libraries (SharePoint’ internet infrastructure and adopting new out of the box lists that can be added to the technologies for efficiently connecting people web page to manage documents and with people, data, knowledge and business developed data reports). processes provided great benefits to the Special dashboards (also known as multi- firm’s business productivity and to the way report summary pages) were developed to people do their work. Some of these benefits provide a unified but flexible view of data Figure 5: Softphone that is are listed below. pertinent to all projects run by ATKINS. reached through the Web Portal to make receive calls Project management controls are used for Improved storage, organization and advanced statistical reporting on projects. location of enterprise electronic content Enhanced business insight through better Improved sharing of knowledge reporting The new portal hosts multiple channels Improved sharing of knowledge through which the valuable yet intangible Enhanced employee collaboration corporate asset of knowledge can be Enhanced employee productivity dispatched for better acquisition and sharing. Ensured consistency of documents and This is manifested in the classification of business processes ATKINS knowledge areas into 11 classes and organizing them into 11 technical networks. A Improved storage, organization and special site is created for each area where location of enterprise electronic content specialists can meet, document, acquire and Despite the many types of content, such as exchange their knowledge. They can ask and documents emails, worksheets, and web answer technical questions, post material pages, that keeps getting larger and larger on and articles and access technical resources daily basis due to the ease of its creation, such as online libraries. ATKINS’ SharePoint-based portal had succeeded in providing a unified, well- organized, and easy to manage structure for documents, records, and web content. This is best manifested in the considerable reduction of web pages from 6000 to only 6
  7. 7. Figure 6: The New Starter form that can be accessed and submitted online. It has an embedded workflow to move it through the designated path to get the required approvals and notify the concerned staff Enhanced employee collaboration tracking of these tasks become easier and With the new technology solutions, an more efficient. employee can instant message any other Employees can start and interact with employee whether in the same regional office workflows directly in some 2007 Office or in other offices. Employees can make and programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint Figure 7: An example of a receive phone calls as if incoming to or and Outlook. For example, an employee can Workflow design outgoing from their office phone line from get an alert through his Outlook whenever he anywhere and at any time. Team members got assigned some task to do (reviewing or can share news, announcements and event approving a document for example). calendar. Ensured consistency of documents and Enhanced employee productivity business processes This was realized by three means: gathering This was realized by the use of shared data through browser-based forms that are document libraries to hold documents, and deployed to the SharePoint portal, the use of workflows to streamline and direct streamlining business processes by using business processes. workflows that are predefined in SharePoint portal, and greater integration with MS Office system desktop programs. Discussion Office SharePoint Server defines a workflow The growing need for more context- as a process that automatically moves dependent representation of facts, in such a documents or items through a sequence of way that guarantees better understanding of actions or tasks that are related to a the context, had caused the trend-line to go business process (figure 7). Workflows are from the need of merely managing and typically used for coordinating common processing data, as raw numbers or bits, to business processes that may involve more the need of managing information, relations than one party at different hierarchical levels, within data), to the recently emergent need of such as project approval or document review. managing knowledge, patterns (justified By automating the human tasks involved with beliefs about relationships) within those processes, the management and Information, (figure 8). An example of this 7
  8. 8. evolution can be felt in organizations when can revert to some documented knowledge some marketing manager initially asks for the (explicit knowledge). In both ways, this query email address of some customer. The ‘Data requires that the right systems, technologies Worker’ can revert to an Excel sheet where all and infrastructure necessary to discover, customer details are kept to get the capture, share and apply such knowledge are requested data. In this case the DW is in place. It also involves the people, as retrieving data, i.e. raw facts. In a later another source of knowledge besides the scenario the same manager would require earlier sources of data and Information. In the details of top buyers and top products. In that particular scenario, the human factor this case the ‘Information Work’ would revert (the domain expert) can be involved in the to some database that relates the tables of acquisition and justified understanding of the ‘Customers’ and ‘Products’ in a ‘purchase’ customer profile and the patterns that can be relationship (an Access or SQL database for deduced from the relationship between the example) to retrieve the details of the customer profile and the product catalogue. customers whose purchasing orders have the Whereas in the previous two cases using the highest totals. In this particular scenario, the right applications to store and organize the business unit needed an Information system data and Information would guarantee the to process relationships in the context of the retrieval of the desired answer. Figure 8: Data, Information firm’s business (a database management and Knowledge in terms of context-dependence and system). In a higher-level scenario, the same Knowledge management in organizations can understanding marketing manager can ask something like be seen as the systematic processes by ‘get me the prospect customers who might be which the knowledge which is needed for the interested in our new product’. In this case it success of the organization is discovered, is not a trivial query as it requires deeper captured, shared, and applied. This requires understanding of the context so that existing the right infrastructure, mechanisms, knowledge can be analyzed for new systems and processes to bridge all of the knowledge to be created. The answer would three enterprise pillars and sources of affect the decision and determine the action knowledge: enterprise content (data, to be taken by the management. The information, and knowledge), people and professional expert (Knowledge Worker) business processes (figure 9). This shall set Figure 9: The processes needs to figure out the patterns within the the right infrastructure required for required for bridging people, profiles of the customers who were previously knowledge to exist, accumulate and flow data and business interested in products similar to the new smoothly in the enterprise. product. The expert could have an intuition or To bridge people with people, tools for insight about the answer (tacit knowledge) or facilitating the collaboration are required. To bridge people with enterprise content, tools for facilitating enterprise content management (ECM) are required. To bridge people with business processes, tools for enhancing business productivity are required. To bridge enterprise content with business processes, tools for realizing business intelligence are required. The major technology that ATKINS employed to fulfill this objective of providing the right 8
  9. 9. infrastructure for knowledge management is units (HR, marketing, sales). The project was Microsoft’s SharePoint server and services kicked off by the central management (figure 10). identifying the main technical knowledge areas (11 areas were identified) and Figure 10: SharePoint feature With its features specifically catered to attend assigning an expert lead for each area. The areas to the enterprise needs of bridging people, project advanced through different stages content and business processes, the first from the initial stage of identifying the gaps in fruits of deploying SharePoint-based web the current settings and establishing the portal in ATKINS (called AXIS) were evident. specifications of the required solution, to the The new solution succeeded in bridging stage of research where different potential people in all of the firm’s 40+ worldwide solutions and technologies were assessed offices through better collaboration and and evaluated, and then came the stages of knowledge sharing facilities, bridging people implementation, testing, user training and with enterprise content through better post-implementation support. infrastructure for its content management via its new SharePoint-based portal, bridging The applied solution especially benefited the people with business processes through sharing and exchanging of knowledge among enhancing the business productivity via the the firm’s experts through dedicated sites on use of automated workflows and web-based the web portal (discussion boards). This has forms, and bridging enterprise content with also enabled the discovery of both tacit and business processes through the employment explicit knowledge. New explicit knowledge of business intelligence and reporting tools and content can be created through and dashboards. combining the already posted material whether they were articles, questions, ATKINS launched its ‘knowledge and answers posted by experts, available enterprise content management’ project in templates, or tools for mining the data the first quarter of the year 2007 with a through advanced reporting. Discovery of scope spanning around its business specialty tacit knowledge was facilitated by the areas and including all employees of its socialization and collaboration tools such as business domain units (engineers and the instant messaging application that consultants) as well as business support 9
  10. 10. connects all the firm’s employees in all its systems manager for the ME & India at regional offices. ATKINS. On another dimension, the application of To what extent has ATKINS succeeded in some specific knowledge, such as managing, creating a “knowledge-based environment”, evaluating and bidding projects, has been i.e. an environment where prior knowledge directed by the use of workflows that allow can be easily and efficiently retrieved and the automation of moving items or tasks new knowledge can be created and stored for through predefined actions or steps in a way the sake of leveraging business decisions that assembles automated routines or and insights? directions, where a step can be combined To answer this question, we first need to with some template to use or form to fill. distinguish the main processes required for retrieving and adding knowledge to and from the enterprise business-related knowledge Evaluation sources, i.e. people, enterprise content and business processes. Figure 11 illustrates “We have aimed at making ATKINS a these processes (a-j). knowledge-based and knowledge-ready organization by bringing knowledge at our We, then, can assess the availability of users’ fingertips, streamlining processes and different tools and technologies at ATKNIS making work easier and more efficient” that are required to fulfill these processes concluded Clare Bradley, the regional and the extent to which these tools are 11: Figure 11: Processes required for retrieving prior knowledge from and adding new knowledge to the enterprise business-related knowledge sources (people, enterprise content and business processes) 10
  11. 11. actually utilized by the firm. Table 1 ATKINS and showed how the project demonstrates these details. launched by the firm for establishing an infrastructure for knowledge management As evident in table 1, although the utilization benefitted the firm’s business and its two Table 1: Evaluation of availability 1: of technology tools for supporting processes valuables assets of people and knowledge. and level of utilization of of knowledge management is not fully technology tools required for the realized at the present time in ATKINS, but it This case study also discusses the applied different processes of knowledge also shows that the firm actually acquires a solution in the light of theoretical literature on management strong infrastructure and efficient technology knowledge management and concludes that solutions and tools that would enable it to the firm has successfully established an realize its aimed-for potential as a infrastructure rich enough to support the knowledge-based working environment. processes required for managing the enterprise knowledge in ways that would leverage the business insights and decisions. The Information about the ATKINS project studied in this case study was collected via Conclusion an interview meeting with Mrs. Clare Bradley, Regional Systems Manager for ME This case study sheds a light on how ATKINS, & India regions in ATKINS ( by Manal a global constructions firm, approached the Rayess ( . The objective of establishing a knowledge-based meeting took place at the ATKINS office in working atmosphere in such a away that Dubai (Bur-Dubai), on 6th November 2009. Mrs. Bradley reviewed and verified the knowledge can be easily created, discovered, contents relevena to ATKINS presented in shared, applied and stored. We described this document. the technology solution implemented by 11