Example of a Knowledge Audit for a tech startup by Mor Sela


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Example of a Knowledge Audit for a tech startup by Mor Sela

  1. 1.   BCI  Knowledge  Audit   Mor  Sela,  IKNS  4301,  November  3rd  2013   1 About  This  Paper   In  this  paper  I’m  assessing  the  knowledge  strategy  and  other  knowledge  management  elements   of   a   company   in   the   telecommunication   systems   space.   To   protect   the   confidentiality   of   the   company,   I’m   using   a   fictive   name   and   have   changed   information   that   could   make   it   easy   to   identify   the   company’s   identity.   The   Knowledge   Audit   portrayed   in   this   paper   is   based   on   interviews   of   director-­‐level   managers   at   the   company   and   on   my   personal   knowledge   of   the   company  as  I  worked  there  for  more  than  two  years.   2 Organizational  Context   2.1 Introduction   Best  Communications,  Inc.  (BCI)  is  a  venture-­‐funded  company  that  provides  telecommunication   solutions.  The  company  has  developed  unique  technology  that  enables  delivering  high  quality   communications  over  unstable  networks  (such  as  the  public  internet)  at  a  lower  cost,  compare   to   legacy   systems.   The   company’s   main   offering   is   a   platform   that   enables   users   to   communicate   and   collaborate   visually   using   a   range   of   devices   -­‐-­‐   from   personal   devices   such   as   PCs,  tablets  and  smartphones  to  large  room  systems.  In  addition  to  this  enterprise  offering,  the   company   licenses   its   Software   Development   Kit   (SDK)   to   3rd   party   developers.   The   company   has  280  employees,  ~35%  of  which  are  based  at  the  corporate  headquarters  in  NY,  ~15%  at  the   CA  office,  and  the  rest  are  spread  around  the  US,  Canada,  Europe  and  Asia  Pacific.     2.2 Mission,  Vision,  and  Values     The  company  does  not  have  a  stated  mission,  nor  does  it  have  stated  vision  or  values.  However,   when   I   asked   director-­‐level   managers   at   BCI   about   their   perception   of   these   attributes,   I   got   fairly  consistent  answers  that  allowed  me  to  define  the  following  implicit  definitions:   • • • Mission:   Making   visual   communications   both   affordable   and   usable,   to   enable   its   widespread   global   adoption   as   an   enabler   for   more   engaged   telecommunication   among   workers  and  people  in  general.   Vision:   A   world   in   which   visual   communications   are   as   prevalent   as   voice   communications.   Values:   The   key   value   that   uniquely   represents   BCI   is   innovation.   BCI   prides   itself   for   being  innovative  both  technologically  and  from  a  business  model  perspective.     Mor  Sela  -­‐  IKNS  4301  -­‐  Knowledge  Audit.docx     1   Columbia  University  
  2. 2.   2.3 Business  Strategy   BCI   is   a   latecomer   to   the   communications   space.   IP-­‐based   communications   has   been   around   since  the  late  90’s  and  is  currently  dominated  by  Cisco  who  has  more  than  50%  of  the  market.   However,   BCI’s   unique   technology   and   pricing   structure   has   the   potential   of   disrupting   the   current   status   quo   and   capture   a   significant   market   share.   Given   this   technology-­‐based   advantage,  and  given  BCI  broad  (implicit)  mission  statement,  BCI  has  decided  to  compete  head-­‐ to-­‐head   at   all   market   segments   with   the   incumbent   communication   players.   Given   its   competitors   are   far   larger   and   have   a   well-­‐established   market   presence,   BCI   is   trying   to   completely  disrupt  the  market  by  creating  a  unique  offering  that  none  of  the  incumbent  players   can  offer  today:  Better  user  experience  at  a  significantly  lower  cost*.     BCI   is   trying   to   penetrate   all   possible   market   segments   concurrently   –   SMB,   large   enterprise,   healthcare,   financial,   education,   government,   defense,   service-­‐providers,   and   app   developers;   and  in  all  global  territories.  Moreover,  in  addition  to  targeting  multiple  market  segments,  the   company  product  offering  is  very  wide,  providing  applications  for  mobile  devices  (iOS,  Android),   PC   (win,   mac,   Linux),   multiple   room   systems,   SDK   and   APIs.   In   my   opinion,   this   strategy   is   extremely  risky  for  a  small  company  who  enters  an  established  market.  This  strategy  of  going   after   all   possible   market   segments   can   be   explained   by   Porter’s   “The   Failure   to   Choose”   trap   and  “The  Growth  Trap”  (Porter,  1996)1.  The  main  risk  is  that  by  targeting  on  so  many  segments,   given   its   relative   small   size,   the   company   is   unable   to   fully   satisfy   any   of   the   segments   it   serves   and  is  prone  to  jeopardize  its  credibility  in  the  marketplace.   *Note:   by   “cost”   I   mean   Total   Cost   of   Ownership   (TCO),   not   just   the   direct   cost   of   buying/licensing   the   product/software.   This   includes   cost   of   operations   and   network   requirements.   2.4 Key  Strategic  Challenges   Unfortunately  I  did  not  get  a  chance  to  interview  the  CEO  for  this  project.  Instead,  I  asked  the   Director-­‐level  mangers  which  I  interviewed  the  following  question:  “In  your  opinion,  if  I  asked   the  CEO  to  identify  key  strategic  challenges  that  could  be  addressed  by  KM,  what  would  be  his   answer?”   The   answers   were   quite   consistent   with   the   following   four   challenges   clearly   being   the  top  priority:   • Agility:  Outperform  the  competition  by  having  agile  product  development  and  quick   response  to  the  ever-­‐changing  market  dynamics.     • Usability:  Improve  product  usability.   • Quality:  Improve  product  quality.   • Reduce  Cost:  Look  for  ways  to  reduce  the  cost  of  the  product  and  the  total  cost  of   ownership  (TCO)  by  customers.   Mor  Sela  -­‐  IKNS  4301  -­‐  Knowledge  Audit.docx     2   Columbia  University  
  3. 3.   I  later  asked  the  directors  to  define  the  key  strategic  challenges  based  on  their  personal   opinion.  As  expected,  this  question  did  not  lead  to  consistent  answers.  Each  of  them  had  very   different  views  of  the  top  priorities  (mostly  because  each  has  a  different  area  of  responsibility   within  the  organization,  but  also  due  to  difference  in  personality).   2.5 Organizational  Structure   2.5.1 Figure  1  represents  the  key  units  within  the  company:     Figure  1  -­‐  Organizational  Structure   CEO   General  Counsel   SVP  Engineering   SVP  Product   Management   SVP  Sales   SVP  Sales   Operakons  &   Customer  Support   CMO   CFO   Product  1  R&D   Product   Management   USA   Sales  Operakons   Product   Markekng   Finance   Product  2  R&D   Program   Management   EMEA   Produckon   Field  Markekng   IT   Product  3  R&D   Technical   Publicakons   APAC   Customer  Support   PR   HR   Product  4  R&D   QA   ROW   Sales  Engineering   Adopkon  Services   Business   Development   Channels   Verkcals     2.5.2 How  does  the  structure  help  the  organization  to  achieve  its  mission?   This   structure   is   fairly   typical   for   late-­‐stage   VC-­‐funded   technology   start-­‐ups.   To   save   cost   and  be  nimbler,  BCI  consolidates  few  typical  officer  functions  such  as  COO,  CIO  and  CHRO,   having  the  CFO  effectively  filling  all  these  functions.   The   structure   is   designed   in   a   way   that   allows   a   small   company   to   target   customers   worldwide  and  in  multiple  vertical  industries  in  a  fairly  efficient  way.     Mor  Sela  -­‐  IKNS  4301  -­‐  Knowledge  Audit.docx     3   Columbia  University  
  4. 4.   The  main  challenge  with  this  structure  is  that  for  the  most  part,  only  sales-­‐related  functions   are   distributed.   This   structure   does   not   allow   for   high   quality   localization   of   the   product,   its   marketing  and  the  professional  services  that  enterprise  customers  expects  to  get  with  it.     BCI’s  plan  is  to  modify  its  structure,  adding  more  capabilities  to  its  global  centers  following   the  next  round  of  financing  (most  likely  an  IPO).   2.5.3 What  type  of  work  provides  strategic  value/importance  to  the  organization?   Given   that   the   current   strategy   is   based   on   product   price   and   functionality   (which   is   arguably  not  a  strategy  that  meets  Porter’s  ‘sustainable  competitive  advantage’  strategy2),   the   types   of   work   that   provide   the   most   strategic   value   are   those   that   improve   the   product’s  usability  (in  a  broad  sense)  and  reduce  the  cost  associated  with  deploying  it.  Such   work  is  mostly  done  by  the  Engineering  and  the  Product  Management  organizations.     3 Current  Knowledge  Management  Practices   BCI  does  not  have  any  official  KM  function,  nor  does  it  have  defined  any  of  its  activities  as  a   “KM  practice”.  That  said,  here  is  a  sample  list  of  KM  practices  that  are  taking  place  at  the   company  (terminology  and  taxonomy  are  based  on  SMR  Briefing,  Sep  2012)3:   3.1 Communities  of  Practice   • • • Formal   Product  Management  &  Marketing  Forum:  Weekly  meeting  (using  videoconferencing)   with  all  members  of  both  the  NY-­‐based  product  management  team  and  the  CA-­‐based   product  marketing  team.  The  objective  is  to  exchange  information,  keep  each  team   updated  about  activities  of  the  other  team,  and  brainstorm  ideas  for  the  overall   improvement  of  the  product  and  its  marketing.   Semi-­‐Formal:     Yammer  Groups:  BCI  IT  has  launched  Yammer  for  all  employees  to  collaborate  internally   without  any  governance  or  guidance  about  how  to  use  it.  The  Marketing  team  and  few   marketing-­‐oriented  employees  from  other  departments  use  this  tool  to  discuss   marketing  ideas,  share  relevant  industry  news,  as  well  as  some  casual  “water-­‐cooler-­‐ like”  discussions.   Informal/Social:     Lunch  Groups:  During  lunchtime,  few  unstructured/social  COPs  would  typically  gather  at   the  cafeteria  or  in  the  company’s  meeting  rooms.  While  it  is  common  for  these  COPs  to   group  based  on  the  work  department/team,  few  of  them  would  include  employees  from   different  disciplines  in  the  organization.  It  is  a  fairly  effective  forum  to  share  knowledge   across  organizational  silos.   Mor  Sela  -­‐  IKNS  4301  -­‐  Knowledge  Audit.docx     4   Columbia  University  
  5. 5.   The  above  communities  of  practice  meet  Donald  Hislop’s  criteria4,  i.e.  they  develop  1)  a  shared   body  of  common  knowledge,  2)  a  shared  sense  of  collective  identity,  3)  some  overlapping   values.  The  traits  and  benefits  of  these  practices  are  summarized  in  Figure  2  below.   Figure  2  -­‐  Traits  and  Benefits  of  COPs     3.2 Content  Repositories   • Codified:     The  Company  does  not  have  an  intranet,  nor  does  it  have  any  other  common  depository   for   its   content.   Each   department/team   may   use   a   different   repository.   The   Product   Management   team   use   Confluence   collaboration   software   to   store   and   collaborate   on   all   internal   product   specifications.   Sales   use   salesforce.com   for   depository.   Customer   Support   use   Microsoft   Dynamics.   Many   employees   store   content   on   various   network   folders,  again  with  no  governance  around  taxonomy.  This  approach  makes  it  very  hard   for  employees  to  find  and  use  other  teams’  codified  information/knowledge.   Mor  Sela  -­‐  IKNS  4301  -­‐  Knowledge  Audit.docx     5   Columbia  University  
  6. 6.   • Tacit:     o Experts:  Several  employees  are  known  for  being  very  knowledgeable  on  various   topics,   which   are   not   necessarily   their   direct   responsibility.   Few   of   them   are   also   known  for  being  very  accessible  and  happy  to  share  their  knowledge  with  others.   For   example,   Chris   is   known   as   an   expert   about   customer’   operational   environment,  Paul  is  known  as  an  expert  about  database  technologies,  and  Mark   is  known  as  the  go-­‐to  person  for  product  demos.       o Staff  Directory:   There   is   no   indication   of   expertise   in   the   staff   directory.   There   is   no   codified   tool   that   may   assist   employees   in   finding   other   employees   or   consultants  with  specific  expertise,  other  then  their  direct  role.     o  Orientation   Training:   Once   a   quarter,   new   employees   are   invited   for   a   3-­‐day   orientation   training   at   the   company’s   headquarters.   This   training   includes   market,   company,   and   product   overview.   It   is   also   an   opportunity   for   new   employees   to   meet   the   CEO   and   other   executives   and   get   their   vision.   However,   other   than   that,   there   is   little   further   training   and   career   development   opportunities  other  than  online  courses  that  employees  may  take  at  their  (non-­‐ existent)  spare  time.   3.3 Information  Technology  and  Communication  Infrastructure   The   Company   has   a   very   liberal   and   experimental   approach   to   deploying   and   using   IT   applications.  There  is  little  central  governance  related  to  KM  related  systems.  As  a  result,  the   company   has   never   invested   in   creating   a   centralized   content   management   system   (CMS).   In   the   absence   of   a   central   CMS,   each   department   implemented   a   CMS   based   on   its   individual   preferences.   Marketing   use   SharePoint   and   Yammer;   Customer   Support   use   Dynamics;   Sales   use  Salesforce.com;  Engineering  use  CVS;  and  Product  Management  use  Confluence.  On  top  of   that,   email   is   extensively   used   to   share   information   and   many   employees   also   use   shared   network  folders  to  store  &  share  documents.     While  this  lack  of  governance  and  unity  across  the  company  has  some  advantages  (e.g.  CMS  is   better  optimized  to  the  unique  needs  of  each  department)  the  negative  impact  of  this  approach   is   inefficient   content   management   and   ineffective   inter-­‐departmental   communications.   Knowledge  acquired  by  one  department  is  rarely  available  to  the  rest  of  the  company.     From  communication  infrastructure  perspective,  the  company  is  very  advanced.  The  company   is   using   its   own   product   to   visually   collaborate   between   employees   and   with   partners   and   customers.  The  company  also  leverages  Microsoft  Lync  unified  communication  platform,  mostly   for   instant   messaging   and   voice   calls.   Yet,   while   many   of   the   employees   collaborate   regularly   using   these   advanced   technologies,   the   shared   tacit   knowledge   is   rarely   codified   in   a   manner   that  allows  future  use  of  it.     Mor  Sela  -­‐  IKNS  4301  -­‐  Knowledge  Audit.docx     6   Columbia  University  
  7. 7.   4 Information  and  Knowledge  Flow   Information  and  knowledge  (I&K)  reside  in  any  part  of  the  organization,  some  of  it  is  codified  in   digital  format,  some  is  in  written  documents  (very  few  though),  and  the  majority  is  tacit  I&K   that  resides  within  the  employees’  minds.     It  would  have  been  not  feasible  to  analyze  each  possible  I&K  flow  within  the  time  limits  of  this   project.  Therefore,  I’ve  decided  to  analyze  the  flow  of  just  two  types  of  I&K  assets:  Product  I&K   and  Customer  Insights  I&K.    Table  1  addresses  the  following  questions  for  these  I&K  resources:   • How  does  the  I&K  flow  from  the  units  who  hold  the  knowledge  to  the  units  who  use?     • What  tools  and  investments  has  the  organization  made  to  improve  the  flow?   • What  functions  and  positions  help  to  organize  and  improve  the  flow?     Table  1  -­‐  Information  and  Knowledge  Flow   I&K  Asset  Type:   Units  who  hold  it   Units  who  use  it   How  does  it  flow?   What  tools  and   investments  has  the   organization  made   to  improve  the   flow?   Product  I&K     (e.g.  features,  specifications,   competitive  positioning)   Product  Management   Sales  and  Marketing   Product  Documentation  –   Product  Management  is   responsible  for  documenting  all   product  functionality,   specifications  and  user  guides.     Sales  Training  (virtual  and/or  in-­‐ person)  –  typically  once  a  quarter   or  when  having  a  major  new   product/version  release.     Weekly  ‘sync’  meeting  between   the  product  Management  team   and  the  Product  Marketing   teams  (virtual).     Online  repository  of  product   specs  and  documentation   (Confluence)     The  use  of  video  conferencing   technology  makes  both  the  sales   training  and  the  weekly  “sync”   meeting  more  engaging  and   efficient  for  remote  participants.   Mor  Sela  -­‐  IKNS  4301  -­‐  Knowledge  Audit.docx     7   Customer  Insights  I&K    (e.g.  customers’  requirements,   needs,  deployment  environment)   Sales  &  Sales  Engineering   Product  Management   Feature  Request  Process  –  Both   customers  and  their  sales   representatives  are  encouraged   to  submit  feature  requests  (FR).   The  FRs  are  codified  in  a   standard  form  by  the  relevant   sales  representative.  It  is  then   being  reviewed  and  prioritized  by   an  FR  Committee,  headed  by   product  management  and   participated  by  stakeholders   from  Engineering  and  Sales   Operations.  The  person  who   submits  the  FR  gets  the   opportunity  to  “defend”  it  in   front  of  the  FR  committee.  All   FRs  are  prioritized  and  stored   online  for  future  reference.   This  process  required  very  little   investment  as  it  is  mostly  based   on  manual  work.     BCI  should  consider  investing  in   Columbia  University  
  8. 8.     Confluence  is  a  fairly  recent  tool   that  was  initially  introduced  by   the  Engineering  team  and  was   adopted  by  the  Product   Management  team.  It  is  a  useful   and  effective  tool  for  content   management,  file  sharing,  and   textual  collaboration.     What  functions  and   positions  help  to   organize  and   improve  the  flow?     an  online-­‐based  FR  application   tool  that  will  allow  both   customers,  channels  and   employees  to  easily  submit  FRs   and  track  their  progress.     Moreover,  such  tool  should  allow   voting  and  comments  by   others…to  gain  more  insights   about  the  demand  for  the   feature  and  a  richer  description   of  it.       The  Product  Management  and   The  FR  process  requires  active   Product  Marketing  teams  are  the   participation  mostly  by  the   functions  that  drive  the  above   following  functions:  Sales,  Sales   initiatives.  It  includes  the  SVP  of   Engineering  and  Product   Product  Management,  VP   Managements.  Additional   Product  Marketing,  product   functions  involved  are   managers,  product  marketing   Engineering  and  Sales   managers,  program  managers   Operations.   and  technical  writers.     5 Implicit  Knowledge  Services   As  mentioned,  the  company  does  not  have  explicit  knowledge  management  or  knowledge   services  practice.  Nobody  is  directly  responsible  for  knowledge  development  and  knowledge   sharing.  However,  there  are  certainly  many  implicit  practices  that  pertain  to  knowledge.     Based  on  my  understating  of  the  company’s  strategy,  its  long  term  challenges,  and  my  IKNS   education;  I  would  suggest  the  following  mission,  vision,  and  the  value  of  BCI’s  knowledge   services:   5.1 Mission   Leverage  the  organizational  knowledge  development,  sharing,  and  analytics  to  drive  constant   innovation,  operational  excellence,  and  more  informed  decisions.     5.2 Vision   A  company  that  embraces  knowledge  development,  knowledge  sharing,  and  knowledge-­‐based   decision  making  as  core  enablers  of  its  competitive  advantage  sustainability.   Mor  Sela  -­‐  IKNS  4301  -­‐  Knowledge  Audit.docx     8   Columbia  University  
  9. 9.   5.3 Value   The  value  of  BCI’s  knowledge  services  should  be  directly  related  to  the  company’s  strategic   goals  and  objectives.  The  knowledge  services  should  address  the  key  strategic  challenges   mentioned  in  section  2.4  (Agility,  Usability,  Quality,  and  Reduced  Cost).   5 Figure  3  -­‐  The  Value  of  Knowledge  Services     Table  2  maps  the  current  implicit  knowledge  management  practices  (knowledge  services)   described  in  sections  3  and  4  with  the  value  they  bring  and  the  strategic  challenges  they  aim  to   address:   Table  4  -­‐  Knowledge  Service  Value  Map   Knowledge  Service   Value   Product  Management  &   Marketing  Forum   Improving  alignment  and  collaboration  between  the   two  teams.  Hence,  increasing  the  likelihood  of   having  a  product  that  is  more  aligned  with  market   requirements  (Usability),  faster  response  to  market   Mor  Sela  -­‐  IKNS  4301  -­‐  Knowledge  Audit.docx     9   Strategic   Challenge  it   Addresses   Usability   Agility   Quality     Columbia  University  
  10. 10.   trends  (Agility),  and  more  effective  &  accurate   marketing  communications  (Quality).   Yammer  Groups   Creating  better  relationships  and  collaboration   across  the  organization.  Hence,  increasing  the   likelihood  of  finding  faster  solutions  to  problems.   Lunch  Groups   Creating  better  relationships  and  collaboration   across  the  organization.  Hence,  increasing  the   likelihood  of  finding  faster  solutions  to  problems.   Orientation  Training   Quickly  bringing  new  employees  up  to  speed  and   increasing  their  knowledge  on  a  variety  of  subjects   beyond  their  direct  area  of  responsibility.  Hence,   increasing  the  speed  in  which  new  employees   becomes  effective  and  increasing  the  quality  of  their   work.   Product  Documentation   Customers  perceive  documentation  as  an  integral   part  of  the  product.  Hence,  quality  documentation   adds  to  the  perceived  quality  of  the  product.  It  also   improves  the  usability  of  the  product  and  reduces   customer  service  calls,  which  reduces  BCI’s   operational  cost.   Feature  Request  Process   This  process  helps  BCI  understand  what  customers   are  looking  for.  Hence,  it  helps  improving  the   usability  of  the  product.   Agility   Agility   Agility   Quality   Quality   Usability   Lower  Cost   Usability   6 Conclusion   Like   many   start-­‐up   companies,   in   its   early   years   of   existence   BCI   focused   its   strategy   and   management   attention   on   activities   that   would   enable   the   creation   a   competitive   offering   (financing  and  product  development)  and  initial  market  success  (marketing  and  sales).   While  BCI  does  implement  implicit  Knowledge  Development  and  Knowledge  Sharing  practices   that  add  clear  value  and  address  the  company’s  strategic  challenges  (see  Section  5.2,  Table  2),   these  activities  are  sporadic  and  rather  narrow  in  their  scope.  There  is  much  more  that  could  be   done  in  the  knowledge  domain  to  drive  constant  innovation,  operational  excellence,  and  more   informed  decisions.     As   the   company   moves   beyond   the   “start-­‐up”   stage   to   the   “growth”   stage,   it   should   start   to   shift   its   strategy   and   allocate   more   management   attention   to   the   long-­‐term   sustainability   of   its   competitive   advantage.   Such   long-­‐term   strategy   can’t   rely   merely   on   the   current   inherent   technology   advantage   of   its   product.   Just   as   BCI   disrupt   the   current   market   status   quo,   soon   enough,  new  innovators  will  arrive  to  the  market  and  will  aim  to  disrupt  the  status  quo  once   again.   To   effectively   compete   in   such   dynamic   environment,   BCI   has   to   develop   unique   Mor  Sela  -­‐  IKNS  4301  -­‐  Knowledge  Audit.docx     10   Columbia  University  
  11. 11.   Knowledge  Management  (KM)  initiatives  that  would  result  in  constant  and  fast  innovation  of  its   market   offering   so   that   it   effectively   addresses   the   ever   evolving   needs   of   it   customers.   In   addition,  the  KM  initiatives  should  result  in  operation  excellence,  driving  down  cost  and  time-­‐ to-­‐market,  while  maximizing  product  and  service  quality.  Also,  organizational  knowledge  should   be  leveraged  for  more  educated  and  data-­‐driven  decision  making.   7 Additional  Work  Required   Following  this  analysis  of  BCI’s  current  KM  status  and  challenges,  my  next  step  is  to  suggest  a   knowledge  strategy  that  addresses  these  challenges  and  provide  a  comprehensive  roadmap  for   the  realization  of  that  strategy.       Sources:                                                                                                               1 Porter,  Michael  E.,  What  Is  Strategy?  (Harvard  Business  Review,  1996)  96608,  75     2  Porter,  Michael  E.,  What  Is  Strategy?  (Harvard  Business  Review,  1996)  96608,  61-­‐78   3  SMR  Briefing,  The  Knowledge  Audit  (SMR-­‐Knowledge.com,  Sep  7,  2012)   4  Hislop,  Donald,  Knowledge  Management  in  Organizations  (Oxford  University  Press,  2008)  158-­‐167   5  Powell,  Tim,  The  Knowledge  Value  Chain®  (presented  at  IKNS  4301  on  10/10/2013)       Mor  Sela  -­‐  IKNS  4301  -­‐  Knowledge  Audit.docx     11   Columbia  University