Mechanisms for Knowledge Management Systems Effectiveness: An Exploratory Analysis

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Mechanisms for Knowledge Management Systems Effectiveness: An Exploratory Analysis

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Knowledge management systems (KMS) have been implemented in many organizations, yet little research exists to guide their successful development and implementation in practice. In fact, while some firms achieve successful outcomes with regard to their IT endeavours, others continue to fall victim to the technology productivity paradox. Further, little is known about the diversity of both systems and organizations that have successfully implemented them. This article, through an analysis of successful case studies of knowledge management systems, explores the underlying mechanisms under which knowledge management systems effectiveness is most likely to occur. The findings imply that three categories of mechanisms constitute important preconditions for knowledge management systems effectiveness;......

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  1. Knowledge and Process Management Volume 12 Number 3 pp 203–216 (2005) Published online in Wiley InterScience ( DOI: 10.1002/kpm.231 & Research Article Mechanisms for Knowledge Management Systems Effectiveness: An Exploratory Analysis Hind Benbya* and Nassim Aissa Belbaly e-Business Management School, University of Lecce–ISUFI, Lecce, Italy Knowledge management systems (KMS) have been implemented in many organizations, yet little research exists to guide their successful development and implementation in practice. In fact, while some firms achieve successful outcomes with regard to their IT endeavours, others continue to fall victim to the technology productivity paradox. Further, little is known about the diversity of both systems and organizations that have successfully implemented them. This article, through an analysis of successful case studies of knowledge management systems, explores the underlying mechanisms under which knowledge management systems effective- ness is most likely to occur. The findings imply that three categories of mechanisms constitute important preconditions for knowledge management systems effectiveness; they range from cultural to structural and managerial mechanisms. Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. INTRODUCTION manage the knowledge it possesses. This aware- ness is one of the main reasons for the exponential It has become largely agreed today that organiza- growth of knowledge management systems (KMS). tional knowledge such as operational routines, KMS are enabling technologies that support knowl- skills or know-how are the most valuable organiza- edge management in organizations (Ruggles, 1997). tional resources of a firm. This perspective builds There are a number of perspectives on KMS, upon and extends the resource-based view (RBV) and different typologies concerning such systems of the firm initially promoted by Penrose (1959) have been developed in the literature. In fact, while and expanded by others (Barney, 1991; Prahalad Hansen et al. (1999) distinguish them under the and Hamel, 1990; Teece et al., 1997). The premise personalization/codification perspective, Ruggles of the RBV is that organizations employ a mix of (1997) classifies them according to the knowledge acquisition and configuration of resources to management process they support. While this change how their business is accomplished. Knowl- growing literature is a good indication of the edge is often the basis for the effective utilization of importance of such systems for both theory and many important resources. In this context, informa- practice, little research exists to guide their success- tion and communication technologies may play an ful development and implementation in practice important role in effectuating the knowledge-based (Alavi and Leidner, 1999). In fact, while some firms view of the firm by enhancing a firm’s capability to achieve successful outcomes with regard to their IT endeavours, others continue to fall victim to the technology productivity paradox. Further, little is *Correspondence to: Hind Benbya, e-Business Management known about the diversity of both systems and School, University of Lecce–ISUFI, Via per Monteroni sn 73100 Lecce, Italy. organizations that have successfully implemented E-mail: KMS. To address these issues, the current study Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
  2. RESEARCH ARTICLE Knowledge and Process Management reports the result from a multiple case study of resources and outputs associated with business KMS. In particular, this article has two main objec- processes. Taking into account that the goal of pro- tives. The first is to show through examples the role cess modelling is to reach a common understand- and practical applications of KMS. The second is to ing about how activities should be carried out analyse how some companies succeeded in deploy- (e.g. in which order) and what it produces, it has ing KMS, in particular with regard to the mechan- become largely agreed that knowledge manage- isms they deployed to achieve success. The paper is ment activities should be integrated within day- organized as follows. The first section presents a to-day business processes to ensure continual short overview of previous literature concerning process improvement and facilitate learning and KMS. In the second section the research methodol- the gradual development of organizational ogy will be explained, while the third section dis- memory. The main approaches that have tried to cusses our main findings concerning KMS types develop a systematic method to integrate knowl- in practice and mechanisms for success. Finally edge management into business processes are the we present the conclusions and indicate future common KADS methodology (see Schreiber et al., research issues. 1999), the knowledge value chain approach (Weggeman, 1998), model-based knowledge management (Allweyer and Loos, 1998) and the model-based design of knowledge-oriented pro- THEORETICAL BACKGROUND cesses. Furthermore, research indicates that compa- nies focus on specific business processes to KMS origins and definitions implement knowledge management (Mertins et al., Traditionally, most research in strategic IT has 2001). In particular, organizations try to sustain focused on the ability of IT to add economic their core processes which represent the core com- value to a firm either by reducing a firm’s costs petence and most important capability of the firm or by differentiating its products and services. A (e.g. aerospace organizations start their initiatives principal argument in this line of reasoning is focusing on the design and R&D process). Nissen that the competitive use of IT has the potential to et al. (2000) suggest that the first stage of knowledge provide sustainability and competitive advantage system design involves process analysis; in fact, (Kettinger et al., 1994; Clemons, 1991). As knowl- until one understands the process, with its various edge is often the basis for the effective use of a opportunities and required knowledge, it makes firm’s resources, a new line of IT-based systems little sense to begin designing systems. Therefore, to support organizational knowledge management business processes determine the underlying KMS has emerged called knowledge management sys- because they use all the flows necessary to repro- tems. KMS have been defined as a line of systems duce the real working of the business processes which target professional and managerial activities (Figure 1). by focusing on creating, gathering, organizing and disseminating an organization’s ‘knowledge’ as KMS taxonomy opposed to ‘information’ or ‘data’ (Becerra- Fernandez, 2000). The development of KMS There are a number of perspectives on KMS, and demands that knowledge be obtained, produced, different typologies concerning such systems have shared, regulated and leveraged by a steady con- been developed in the literature. In fact, a first glomeration of individuals, processes and IT but approach to providing a taxonomy of KMS is to still to be effective KMS should fit the overall orga- distinguish them by where knowledge resides nizational culture and structure. The first and early and the extent to which knowledge is structured adopters of KMS have been large consulting com- (Hahn and Subramani, 2002). Becerra-Fernandez panies; today, such systems are used in a variety (2000) also provides a classification of KMS in of areas such as medicine, engineering, product terms of knowledge dimensions (tacit/explicit) design and construction (Hendriks and Vriens, and the extent of codifiability they require. These 1999; Davenport and Prusak, 2000; Tiwana and two classifications are an extension of the taxon- Ramesh, 2000). omy proposed by Hansen et al. (1999), which distin- KMS design finds its origins in knowledge-based guish mainly between two strategies: codification systems and information systems which are mainly versus personalization strategy. While the codifica- used in intranet development and business process tion strategy relies extensively on codifying and re-engineering. These techniques rely heavily on storing knowledge in databases, the personaliza- business process modelling, which allows the cap- tion strategy focuses on the tacit dimension of ture of the significant flows, events, inputs, knowledge and invests in networks to facilitate 204 H. Benbya and N. A. Belbaly
  3. Knowledge and Process Management RESEARCH ARTICLE Information systems Knowledge-based systems Knowledge management systems Core processes Value Creation Figure 1 Knowledge management systems foundations knowledge exchange via person-to-person con- the tacit dimension of knowledge. This category tacts. Another taxonomy of KMS differentiates includes: them according to the knowledge management  expertise location or what’s called ‘yellow pages’ process they mainly support (creation, storage, or ‘people finder’ that capture and inventory the transfer and application) (Alavi and Leidner, knowledge, experience and backgrounds of the 2001; Ruggles, 1997; Tiwana and Ramesh, 2000. firm’s experts and act as connectors between However, the main important distinction between knowledge and expertise seekers and holders; the various KMS that exist remains the one that dis-  communities of practice that provide a social for- tinguishes between the tacit versus explicit dimen- um to groups of people who share a concern, a sion of knowledge. Accordingly, following this set of problems and who deepen their knowl- articulation of knowledge in tacit versus explicit edge and expertise in this area by interacting dimensions, KMS can be classified into three cate- on an ongoing basis (Wenger et al., 2002). gories: dynamic systems, process-oriented systems and integrative systems (Figure 2). Process-oriented knowledge management systems Dynamic knowledge management systems Organizations with significant intellectual capital Dynamic KMS support mainly interactive commu- require eliciting and capturing knowledge for nications between experts or team-based manage- reuse in new problems as well as recurring old pro- ment and are consequently more concerned about blems. They focus mainly on the technical side of Class Objective Example Locate knowledge carriers and seekers - Expert networks - communities of practice - Create a social forum - Access to experts - Yellow pages Dynamic systems - Support cross functional teams - provide cross- skills set for projects - Best practices KMS Process oriented systems - Capture knowledge for reuse in solving recurring problems - Process descriptions - Improve processes databases - Knowledge repositories - Integrate knowledge - Corporate portal Source and provide a - Extranet portals Integrated systems Single point of access - Intranet portals Figure 2 Knowledge management systems classification and examples Knowledge Management Systems Effectiveness 205
  4. RESEARCH ARTICLE Knowledge and Process Management knowledge and can be an important support for despite tremendous improvements in sophistica- new product development (e.g. a system to store tion of technologies and major gains in related marketing-oriented documents or more focused price–performance ratios. These conflicting results on R&D). These systems include lessons learned may be attributable to: (1) incomplete or inap- systems, processes description databases, knowl- propriate measures of success; (2) lack of theoreti- edge repositories and best practices databases. cal grounding of the causal mechanisms of KMS success; or (3) myopic focus on financial perfor- mance indicators. Integrative knowledge management systems In light of the above motivations, in this section While the preceding KMS categories focused we will review the literature related to these issues, mainly on one dimension of knowledge over the with a particular focus on the measures used to other—either tacit knowledge in the case of expert assess the effectiveness of KMS. networks and communities of practice or more Several perspectives deal with the assessment of explicit knowledge focused in the case of codifica- KMS (Lindsey, 2002; Jennex and Olfman, 2004). tion systems in databases—today, most contem- One approach is whether these systems perform porary approaches to KMS design rely on an knowledge management processes effectively, integrative perspective on managing both explicit and consequently if each step of the knowledge and tacit knowledge dimensions because it offers process is performed well the system reaches its unrestricted possibilities for uniformly accessing objectives. Other authors also take into considera- knowledge across a variety of sources. This is the tion the organizational context as they recognize case for the corporate portal which integrates dif- that knowledge management is an organizational ferent applications from collaboration tools to a change process and that its success could not be database supporting knowledge embedded within separate from organizational change success. business processes (Benbya et al., 2004). This is the case for Lindsey, who defines knowl- edge management effectiveness/success in terms of two main constructs: knowledge infrastructure KMS effectiveness capability and knowledge process capability. The benefits of using KMS are high because they Knowledge infrastructure capability represents include the ability of organizations to be flexible social capital; the relationships between knowledge and to respond more quickly to changing market sources and users; and is operationalized by tech- conditions, and the ability to be more innovative nology (the network itself), structure (the relation- as well as improve decision making and productiv- ship) and culture (the context in which the ity (Harris, 1996). Some authors provided empirical knowledge is created and used). Knowledge pro- evidence based on qualitative cases with regard to cess capability represents the integration of KM the performance implications of KMS (Hansen et al., processes into the organization, and is operationa- 1999; Gupta and Govindarajan, 2000; Szulanski, lized by acquisition (the capturing of knowledge), 2000). In particular, KMS are expected to contribute conversion (making captured knowledge avail- to the competitive advantage of companies by sup- able), application (degree to which knowledge is porting and enhancing organizational knowledge. useful) and protection (security of knowledge). For example, KMS foster the systematic identifica- Jennex and Olfman (2004) propose a model for tion of central knowledge and expertise, encourage KMS success based on the Delone and Mclean IS converting knowledge into manifest forms (e.g. success model. The proposed model on KMS suc- explicit knowledge) and make information accessi- cess evaluates as an improvement in organizational ble to others in the firm for local use in terms of effectiveness based on the use of and impacts from knowledge reuse and as input for knowledge the KMS. The model uses the following dimensions development. Thus, KMS may ease the integration to measure KMS success: of dispersed knowledge (Grant, 1996), speed up the replication of best practices across time and place  System quality. Defines how well the KMS per- (Nelson and Winter, 1982), avoid double invention, forms the functions of knowledge management facilitate leveraging across uses and users (Quinn, (creation, transfer, storage . . . ). 1992; Quinn et al., 1996) and reduce costs of search-  Knowledge/information quality. Ensures that the ing and transforming available knowledge for local right knowledge with sufficient context is cap- use (Hedlund, 1994). While potential benefits of tured and available for the right use at the right KMS have been addressed theoretically in the lit- time. erature, less is known about how these can be rea-  Use/user satisfaction. Reflects actual levels of KMS lized in practice. Significant failure rates persist use as well as the satisfaction of KMS users. 206 H. Benbya and N. A. Belbaly
  5. Knowledge and Process Management RESEARCH ARTICLE Table 1 Example of mechanisms studied that affect KMS effectiveness Source Cultural mechanisms Structural mechanisms Managerial mechanisms studied studied studied Bartol and Srivastava (2002) — — Reward systems Janz and Prasarnphanich (2003) Organizational culture — — Argote et al. (2003) Social relations person– Organizational boundaries Rewards and incentives organization fit Rules and routines McEvily et al. (2003) Level of trust — — Gold et al. (2001) Organizational culture Structure Management support Mofett et al. (2002) Organizational climate Knowledge roles — Connelly and Kelloway Social interaction culture — Perception of management’s (2003) support Mason (2003) Organizational culture — —  Perceived benefits. Measure perceptions of the ben- standard techniques for conducting qualitative efits and impacts of the KMS by users and is case study research were followed (Yin, 1994). In based on the perceived benefit model. the first stage, qualitative research was carried  Net impact. An individual’s use of a KMS will out with the objective of gaining an in-depth produce an impact on that person’s performance understanding on knowledge management sys- in the workplace. tems and the mechanisms identified from previous research. The mechanisms identified from the lit- KMS and IT in general can only add value to an erature and classified as structural, cultural or man- organization when they are used, and that value to agerial, on the one hand, and the classification of individuals arises when use of the knowledge in KMS as dynamic, process-oriented and integrative the KMS enables them to perform their work in on the other, were also found significant in the ways that are more efficient, more effective and/ substantial number of surveys about knowledge or more satisfying. In this article we define the management (KM) reported in the literature (e.g. effectiveness of KMS as a value judgment made APQC, 1996; KPMG, 1998; Heisig et al., 2002). by its users and which allows organizations to These surveys, together with an abundance of accomplish more efficiently what it could not any case studies, give an initial overview of the state other way. We distinguish between the context in of practice of KM and in particular addresses which the system is used and its related outcomes. KMS types adopted by some organizations and We refer to the factors acting on KMS effectiveness the conditions that were conducive to success. To as mechanisms. further our exploration on KMS types, main bene- The study of published reports on KMS has iden- fits and mechanisms, we studied the 20 multina- tified a number of mechanisms for KMS effective- tional organizations that were selected for the ness. The results of the studies summarized in 2003 ‘MAKE’ (Most Admired Knowledge Enter- Table 1 show that they can be clustered into three prises) study as best practices. groups: structural, cultural and managerial. First is These organizations are, according to MAKE, the emphasis by so many on the importance of ‘leaders in effectively transforming enterprise structural mechanisms that incorporate all the knowledge into wealth creating ideas, products functional elements of the company that support and solutions. They are building portfolios of intel- and facilitate knowledge management, such as a lectual capital and intangible assets which will dedicated structure, rules and routines. Second is enable them to out-perform their competitors in the frequent mention that an organizational culture the future.’ The classification of these best practices of knowledge sharing is a correlate of success. is based on a Delphi methodology, where a panel Third is the prevalent, though not universal, use of experts on KM validated the results. of incentives to change behaviour and encourage Table 2 summaries the industry sectors repre- system usage. sented and the types of systems that these organi- zations deployed. RESEARCH DESIGN Thematic analysis of the research findings of the first phase, together with the analysis of published This research was undertaken through a multiple documentation and the information provided by case study (Yin, 1994). In gathering the data, these companies on their initiatives, served to Knowledge Management Systems Effectiveness 207
  6. RESEARCH ARTICLE Knowledge and Process Management Table 2 Knowledge management initiatives deployed by best practices organizations Organizations Industry KMS type Accenture Consulting Integrative solution (best practices, experts . . . ) Shopping site Integrative solution ( best books, experts . . . ) BP Oil and gas Knowledge repositories Buckman Laboratories Chemicals Interactive networks (forums, case history . . . ) Canon Networking and imaging technology Extranet portal ( CRM, SCM system) Ernest & Young Professional services Integrative solution (best practices, experts . . . ) General Electric Diversified Knowledge repositories Hewlett Packard High technology Corporate portal Infosys Technologies Software consulting and IT services Interactive networks IBM Computers and office equipment Corporate portal McKinsey & Company Consulting Intranet knowledge portal Microsoft Computer software Communities of practice Nokia Mobile communications Knowledge repositories Price waterhouse Coopers Consulting Integrative solution (best practices, experts . . . ) Royal Dutch/Shell Energy company (oil, gas, solar) Distributed teams and communities Siemens Diversified Integrated solution (sales documents, forums) 3M Analogue devices Knowledge repositories Toyota Motor Automobile Best practices database World Bank Bank Communities of practice Xerox Computer and office equipment Best practices database (technical tips) confirm the taxonomy of KMS proposed in the arti-  What, according to them, are the main mechan- cle and to confirm the classification of mechanisms isms (cultural, structural and managerial) that that these organizations deployed in three groups contributed to achieving the foremost benefits? (cultural, structural and managerial).  What measurement systems are they using to The second phase consisted of an in-depth analy- assess these benefits? sis of four organizations from the above for further The major method of data collection was based investigation; these were Siemens, Buckman on semi-structured interviews; in fact, the themes Laboratories, Xerox and Shell. These organizations above were explored with a series of key informant have been selected consecutively by the MAKE interviews involved in the different initiatives. study as best practices for 3 years; they belong to In addition to the interview data, researchers different industries and have adopted different have collected and analysed a variety of company types of KMS. Another selection criterion related documentation, which included: conference pre- to the effectiveness of the KMS deployed in these sentations and papers developed by their own organizations that are, according to their managers, employees and with other researchers, and describ- not only fully used within their organizations but ing their main KM initiatives; internally circulated also allow their users to accomplish better what manuals for KMS users; reports and statistics on they could not otherwise. their use and participation levels. This analysis fulfils a dual function in assessing From the data collected on KMS under investiga- the mechanisms that constitute preconditions of tion in this study, many comparisons and contrasts KMS effectiveness in organizations, as well as can be made. They are detailed in terms of KMS forming the basis for the development of a concep- types and characteristics (Table 2) and in terms of tual model of ‘Mechanisms for KMS effectiveness’ mechanisms (cultural, structural and managerial) to be tested empirically in the third phase of the used to achieve success and benefits date (Table 3). project. Within this context, the qualitative analysis of the cases is aimed at answering the following research DISCUSSION OF THE RESULTS questions: KMS types  What were the main functionalities of the used KMS? The majority of the cases studied were concerned  What were the main benefits they achieved from with, bridging the gap between explicit versus tacit their KMS? knowledge. Personalized knowledge, bound to the 208 H. Benbya and N. A. Belbaly
  7. Table 3 Summary results of the best practices analyzed Siemens case study ShareNet Description of the system ShareNet is a global knowledge database that links the salespeople of Siemens Information and Communication Networks (ICN) worldwide, making each salesperson’s accumulated learning experiences accessible to the entire sales force. Main functionalities  Customer solutions with their accompanying sales arguments, descriptions of successful projects, presentations, relevant business plan  Contact persons for technical issues and financial concepts  Chat rooms, community news, discussion groups on special issues and urgent requests  Sections: market knowledge, competitor knowledge, technology knowledge, complementor knowledge, customer knowledge Structural mechanisms Cultural mechanisms Managerial mechanisms Benefits  New organizational positions and  Promoters of ShareNet worked Leadership  The savings of costs. e.g. by reusing Knowledge and Process Management roles were appointed to support hard to spread messages  Management support along knowledge on how to simplify the initiative encouraging knowledge sharing the initiative through signals to processes  ShareNet Committee: highest and reuse and to create a culture channel organizational resources  Increased revenues, e.g. by increasing decision body for the future conductive to knowledge sharing and individual commitment the quality of tenders by reusing development of ShareNet including  Another concern was to develop towards this element was knowledge of the success factors of Knowledge Management Systems Effectiveness the CEO, which act as facilitators empowerment instead of strong important in making global tenders, or by simply being faster than and trainers ensuring the roll-out hierarchy that naturally directed knowledge sharing happen the competition by reusing documents  Global editors: they act as responsibility towards the top  Management helped to  The alignment with customer needs, by mechanisms for making knowledge communicate the idea of ShareNet recognizing important trends and richer, more general and reusable across organizational levels and developments worldwide  ShareNet managers: support functional departments to ensure contributors in capturing the its added value was understood and project experiences and marketing appreciated know-how; drive the development of reusable knowledge Reward system  Contributing and reusing knowledge is rewarded by ShareNet ‘shares’. Depending on the number of shares accumulated during a year, employees are rewarded with several incentives, such as conference participation or telecommunications equipment  The number of shares given to the contributor depends on the reuse feedback of the taker of knowledge, thus rewarding the usefulness of the transferred knowledge  The feedback mechanism is an important part of the quality assurance system too 209 RESEARCH ARTICLE Continues
  8. Table 3 Continued 210 Buckman Laboratories case study K’Netix Description of the system K’Netix is the Buckman knowledge network for help answering very specific questions. The heart of the system was its forums. The majority of them aim at improving customer productivity and are organized by business area Main functionalities  Customer information centre: Buckman’s customers, internal memos, documents and sales orders  Tech forums, each with its own message board, a conference room to facilitate debate and a library section where the RESEARCH ARTICLE communication threads and other pertinent knowledge would be stored  Case history, product data sheet, technical library Structural mechanisms Cultural mechanisms Managerial mechanisms Benefits  New organizational positions  A code of ethics was created to Leadership  Increase of sales from new products and roles were appointed to act as a glue to hold the company  Management support for the  Increase the speed of response to support the initiative together and provide the basis initiative by triggering personnel customers’ needs  Knowledge transfer department for the respect and trust necessary through messages and enticements  Increase customer intimacy and meet which aims at planning, in a knowledge-sharing environment was clear: ‘Those of you who have customer requirements organizing and managing  Another concern was to develop something intelligent to say now  Increase customer satisfaction information system applications empowerment instead of strong have a forum in which to say it. and associated resources hierarchy that naturally directed Those of you who will not or cannot to respond to the information responsibility towards the top contribute also become obvious. and knowledge needs of If you are not willing to contribute or Buckman Laboratories worldwide participate, you should understand that  Systems operators (Sysops) were the many opportunities offered to you in appointed to monitor the the past will no longer be available’ discussions in the forums, track requests and make sure they Motivation and incentives were answered  Employees were encouraged to use the  Sysops would try to get answers system in a relaxed atmosphere, such as in 24 hours; if not they would from their homes contact people directly and ask  When the marketing department reviewed them to respond. Additionally and accepted a ‘case history’ submission, they were to give positive the submitting sales associate received feedback to those who did respond $100, which was raised later to $200  Content experts, two industry  Selection of ‘the 150’ best knowledge experts or section leaders in each sharers were invited to a fashionable forum were assigned to provide a resort measure of quality assurance regarding the advice given by others H. Benbya and N. A. Belbaly Knowledge and Process Management
  9. Shell case study Wells global network Description of the system Wells global network includes technical networks and communities centred around commercial practice, procurement, benchmarking, competitive intelligence and knowledge sharing Main functionalities  Expertise directory, global consultants, global networks, centres of excellence  Standards procedures, policies, best practices, discussions with peers and colleagues Structural mechanisms Cultural mechanisms Managerial mechanisms Benefits  New organizational positions  Promotion of a spirit built on Reward system  Facilitates the sharing of lessons learned, and roles were appointed to friendship and a genuine desire  Curiosity and gaining recognition and helps avoid repeating the same support the initiative to help each other, sharing a from peers are the main motivators mistakes or reinventing the wheel  Global coordinator (community sense of pride in work and for participation  Cost savings builder, energizer, ambassador, having fun  ‘Appearing in the Expertise  Be able to provide timely cost-effective Knowledge and Process Management chaser)  Trusted relationships and Directory, is the confirmation of advice which proved to be of particular  Facilitator (experienced in confidence that comes from a an individual’s credentials to benefit during the development of various kicking off new networks) community with common values perform the service which has been front-end philosophy documents  The organizational performance and a common story about their brokered by a more personal contact’  Allows more optimal allocation of and learning team helped history, however short  Interest in solving specific problems, share resources without physical relocation Knowledge Management Systems Effectiveness restructure, reinvigorate and feedback and experience  Provides access to expertise beyond expand the computer-based current establishment global networks  Gain quick, informative responses and clear practical advice and experience Xerox case study Eureka Description of the system Eureka is a community-based knowledge-sharing solution for customer service engineers through tips and best practices contributed by the service technicians themselves and available to customer service technicians worldwide Main functionalities  Submission of a tip (context of the problem and the solution that was developed)  Evaluation and validation within 14 days  Database maintenance was everyone’s responsibility through votes and feedback Structural mechanisms Cultural mechanisms Managerial mechanisms Benefits  New organizational positions  Sharing is voluntary; however, Leadership  Improvement of employees’ satisfaction as and roles were appointed to the organization focused on the  Management support is key for the it made engineers’ job easier and quicker support the initiative opportunities to create growth success of any a initiative: ‘In some and allowed Xerox to create intellectual  Appointment of someone in and the proactive sharing of best locations the managers took the time to work capital and social capital at the same time the strategy office to the position practices through empowering with the teams and developed and showed  Improving service to customers and of Director of Corporate strategy people them video testimonials from financial performance of the business and knowledge Initiatives through: 211 RESEARCH ARTICLE Continues
  10. RESEARCH ARTICLE Knowledge and Process Management individual mind, is difficult to articulate and can-  Number of available solutions in the — reduction in the length of repair time — savings costs in engineer’s time (5%) not be transferred easily. Knowledge codified in — increased customer satisfaction and  Number of problems solved via databases, manuals and project debriefings, how-  Time it takes to validate tips  Number of created field tips ever, can be transferred with relative ease. Yet both are needed to make true knowledge sharing happen. Tacit knowledge is usually transferred by people exchanging knowledge through social inter- action, e.g. during meetings, videoconferences or in discussion groups. Transferring codified knowl- edge by means of a codification strategy is realized Measurement database by capturing and storing knowledge in documents Eureka retention and transferring it via databases or similar means. (5%) Benefits In fact, in their preliminary stage, organizations used knowledge repositories where knowledge is codified without contextual information. Specialists were assigned to remove the context of the source expert is what gives participants credit was good deployment and high usage of  Being recognized as the subject matter material to make them more generally applicable; engineers just installed the software on other individuals. In these teams there successful because the managers did in doing this, knowledge loses its meaning. not make Eureka a priority and the Eureka. In other places it was less their laptop but did not use it the Furthermore, people often did not find answers to and status in their community’ their questions in these repositories. Therefore, we believe that contextual information should be included in a knowledge repository and both types Managerial mechanisms Motivation and incentives of knowledge have to be transferred to make true knowledge sharing happen. In the case of Siemens Continued bridging this gap was even considered as a dilem- ma since an overemphasis on codified knowledge same way can miss out on important tacit elements that con- stitute an integral component of the added value that solution selling provides. Consequently, Sie- Table 3 mens based its approach on an interactive solution that starts with informal discussions through ques- of KM initiatives across national tions and answers that, once mature enough,  Cultural barriers in the transfer become documented as a ‘case history’; this is the approach used also by Buckman Laboratories to update knowledge within the system. Shell, on boundaries still exist the other hand started with a codification strategy. Cultural mechanisms The organization spent millions building databases of detailed technical documents; the problem, how- ever, was that nobody searched them and they were quickly out of date. Consequently, Shell aban- doned this approach and now focuses on e-learn- ing packages that deliver a mix of standards and a connection to a global network. checking duplicates and outdated  Validators were responsible for  Involving research laboratories  A community of champions KMS mechanisms for success supporting KM initiatives Cultural mechanisms Structural mechanisms Organizational cultures are central to knowledge creation, sharing and use and they are increasingly recognized as a major barrier to leveraging intellec- tual assets (De Long and Fahey, 2000; Gordon and Di Tomaso, 1992). Several scholars and consultants (Davenport and Prusak, 1998) have argued that tips creating a culture that values creativity, continuous improvement and the sharing of ideas is necessary 212 H. Benbya and N. A. Belbaly
  11. Knowledge and Process Management RESEARCH ARTICLE for knowledge management initiatives to succeed. cases, e.g. Shell, the overall initiative was the However, despite increased research interest and responsibility of an existing unit, ‘the organiza- industry discussion on organizational culture and tional performance and learning team’, which its criticality for knowledge management, there is helped restructure, reinvigorate and expand com- no consensus about what exactly the term means. puter-based global networks. The steering commit- Considerable agreement and overlap do exist, how- tee, in some cases supported by the CEO, was ever, regarding the key elements and dimensions of responsible for: organizational culture; they include shared mean- ings, norms, values and beliefs (Denison, 1996).  design and implementation of an initiative Organizations do not possess values apart from aligned with organizational objectives; the values of their members. Thus, an organiza-  management of supported resources and tional value system (or culture) is said to exist enabling factors such as motivation and enabling when (1) individuals know that group support for culture. a given belief exists, (2) a majority of active mem- bers are in agreement, and (3) the core values of Another structural mechanism which played a an organization are intensely held throughout the crucial role in the success of the overall initiative organization (Chatman, 1991). Furthermore, cul- was the establishment of a key position named ture has turned out to be a subtle and often diffi- ‘Systems operators’ in the case of Siemens and cult-to-manage phenomenon because of its Buckman, who were responsible for the coordina- dynamic interaction with basic organizational pro- tion of knowledge sharing and acquisition within cesses such as communications, decision making, the business units. They act as change agents for change and power and therefore its potential to the organization as they track requests and make facilitate and/or inhibit the adoption of new tech- sure that they are answered. If necessary, they con- nologies (Schein, 1985). In the case of Shell, we tact people directly and ask them to respond. Addi- have seen how the promotion of a spirit built on tionally, they act as cheerleaders, giving positive friendship and a genuine desire to help each other feedback to those who do respond. Finally, content and sharing a sense of pride supported effective experts or editors were responsible for the quality knowledge sharing in general and communities in and update of knowledge within the systems. In particular. Trusted relationships and the confi- the case of communities of practice, new roles dence that comes from a community with common were assigned to support communities, such as values and a common story was the glue that con- the global coordinator, who is responsible for the nected teams from dispersed geographical loca- community, provides budgets and support for tions in solving specific problems, sharing time, travel and technologies, or the community feedback and experience. Organizational culture facilitator, who encourages and moderates is hard to change, however, as outlined by discussions. Davenport and Prusak (1998); a culturally led change programme must be embraced for KM suc- cess. In the case of Buckman Laboratories the CEO Managerial mechanisms embarked on a process to shift the company to a Management support to the overall initiative is culture of openness and knowledge sharing that critical for its success. If management spends a focused not on products but on problem solving significant amount of resources on either purchas- for customers. Although this company continues ing or developing and implementing such techno- to develop new emphases and projects, establish- logy, employees could interpret this as a signal ing a knowledge-sharing culture remains both a of management’s support for this ideal and act lodestone and a challenge. accordingly. However, as Martinsons (1993) acknowledges, if employees perceive that manage- ment is not very committed to implementing this Structural mechanisms new technology, then the initiative to promote a Despite their structural differences, the cases ana- strong knowledge-sharing culture is not likely to lysed deployed similar mechanisms to support be successful. This has been clearly seen in Xerox, the initiative. In fact, new organizational positions where the system has been successful in some loca- and roles were assigned and ranged from appoint- tions while in others the same technology has not ing a steering committee to the implementation of a been successful: ‘In some locations the managers separate organizational unit responsible for knowl- took the time to work with the teams and devel- edge management, such as the ‘Knowledge transfer oped and showed them video testimonials from department’ in Buckman Laboratories. In other other individuals. In these teams there was good Knowledge Management Systems Effectiveness 213
  12. RESEARCH ARTICLE Knowledge and Process Management deployment and high usage of Eureka. In other cumulative research has been conducted to estab- places it was less successful because the managers lish the mechanisms under which KMS effective- did not make Eureka a priority and the engineers ness is most likely to occur. In this research, we just installed the software on their laptop but did attempt to classify the mechanisms used by some not use it the same way.’ organizations to reach success through KMS. In The CEO at Buckman Laboratories champions particular, three categories of mechanisms were the cause for KM within the organization and per- identified: structural, cultural and managerial. Sev- sonally reviews submissions to its knowledge eral possibilities for future research emerge from bank. When he notices that a particular employee the results of the current study. First, the current has not had been active within the system, he sends study was exploratory in nature and focused on a a message that reads: ‘Dear associate, you haven’t limited number of cases. We hope in further been sharing your knowledge. How can I help research to develop an integrative framework of you? All the best, Bob.’ Rewards varied from one these mechanisms which will allow us to measure organization to another and depended mainly on their relative influence on firm performance. In fact, the cultural norms in an organization or group. the implications for value creation through KMS At Buckman, best knowledge sharers held presen- remains largely claimed rather than empirically tations at fashionable resorts, with attention and corroborated; future research should therefore con- recognition from peers offered as inducements for sider this issue. the winning teams. In the case of Siemens, contri- Future research should also consider motiva- butors were rewarded by ShareNet ‘shares’. tional factors; professionals and managers are Depending on the number of shares accumulated increasingly recognizing that motivation is a criti- during a year, employees were rewarded with cal success factor for the implementation of enter- several incentives, such as conference partici- prise knowledge management systems. However, pation or telecommunication equipment. In other managers are still struggling to find the right incen- cases, the motivation of employees to the knowl- tives or the right mix of incentives to support edge base was mainly based on gaining recogni- knowledge sharing. Preliminary results suggest, tion from peers, as in the case of Shell or Xerox. however, that these motivational factors are context The participation in this case is mainly driven by dependent and, consequently, organizational cli- their own interest and enjoyment to extend and mate plays a critical role. Therefore, despite exten- exercise one’s capabilities. In the case of Xerox, sive literature on knowledge management in recent ‘Being recognized as the subject matter expert is what years, there are still critical research gaps that have gives to the participants credit and status in their significant implications for research and practice in community.’ knowledge management. Wenger et al. (2002) observe that rewarding ‘voluntary’ behaviour poses a dilemma: ‘How do we encourage behaviour through extrinsic means when the intrinsic motivation for such behaviour REFERENCES is considered a matter of pride and identity?’ For Alavi M, Leidner DE. 1999. 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