Originally published January 15, 2020
This is the 52nd article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management. Karl Wiig focuses on societal intellectual capital management and the building of competence. According to Dave Snowden, Karl Wiig has a strong claim to be one of the founders of the knowledge management movement. Art Schlussel answered the question “Who coined the term Knowledge Management?” with “Both Karl-Erik Sveiby and Karl Wiig used the term Knowledge Management in 1986. Karl Wiig, described as a ‘founding father,’ used KM in a 1986 article.” But Patrick Lambe found that “knowledge management” was actually used much earlier.
Karl was born on February 8, 1934 in Karasjok, Norway. He came to the United States in 1957 and currently lives in Arlington, Texas. He has been CEO of Knowledge Research Institute, Inc. since 1995 and a technical and management consultant and researcher since 1970. In the 1960s he worked with analysis of industrial and biological systems and computer-based control of industrial processes. In the 1970s at Arthur D. Little, Inc. he started the Policy and Systems Analysis group and subsequently, the Applied Artificial Intelligence (AI) Center that initiated the concept of Knowledge Management (KM) in 1983. Later, he was consulting partner at Coopers & Lybrand. He was the co-founder of the International Knowledge Management Network.
- Knowledge Research Institute, Inc., Chair & CEO, 1995 — Present
- Cutter Consortium, Consultant, 2005–2010
- The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Adjunct Professor, 2003–2007
- PDVESA, Consultant, 1995–2001
- Wiig Group, Managing partner, 1989–1995
- Coopers & Lybrand, Management Consulting Partner, 1987–1989
- Arthur D. Little, Director of Applied Artificial Intelligence and Manager of Systems and Policy Analysis, 1970–1987
- Dundee Cement Company (Michigan), Manager, system engineering, 1966–1970
- General Electric (Cleveland), System engineer, 1964–1966
- Chr. Michelsen Institute (Bergen, Norway), Researcher, 1960–1964
- Case Institute of Technology
- Master of Science, Mechanical Engineering, 1964
- Bachelor of Science, Mechanical Engineering, 1959
- The Value of Effective Knowledge Management
- Knowledge Management Strategies
- 100+ KM Case Stories (.pdf)
- Application of Knowledge Management in Public Administration (.pdf) (2000)
- Assessment of the State of Intellectual Capital in XY Corp. (.pdf) (1999)
- Comprehensive Knowledge Management (.pdf) (1999–4, Rev. 2)
- Dangers in Media Violence (.pdf) (1997)
- Enterprise Knowledge Management (.pdf) (2007)
- The Intelligent Enterprise and Knowledge Management (.pdf) (2000)
- Knowledge Management: An Emerging Discipline Rooted in a Long History (.pdf)
- A Knowledge Management Model for Situation-Handling (.pdf) (2003)
- New Generation Knowledge Management: What May We Expect?(.pdf) (2002)
- On Conceptual Learning (Elisabeth H. Wiig, co-author) (.pdf) (1999)
- Knowledge Management Has Many Facets (.pdf)
- Situation Handling (.pdf)
- Successful Knowledge Management: Does It Exist? (.pdf)
- On the Management of Knowledge
- What future knowledge management users may expect
- Cutter Consortium
- What It Takes To Be an Informed, Competent Enterprise
- Beyond Skills and Knowledge: Attitude, Understanding, Ethics
- Making Knowledge Management Work for the Enterprise
- Knowledge Management for the Competent Enterprise
- The Importance of Personal Knowledge Management in the Knowledge Society
- Effective societal knowledge management
- Societal knowledge management in the globalised economy
- Sustainable Quality of Life, the Globalized Economy, and Societal Knowledge Management KMAP 2006: The 3rd Asia-Pacific International Conference on Knowledge Management
- Knowledge management: Where did it come from and where will it go?
- Supporting Knowledge Management: A Selection of Methods and Techniques
- Integrating intellectual capital knowledge management
- Roles of knowledge-based systems in support of knowledge management
- Knowledge Discovery in Engineering Firm Data Bases (KDD) — Alpha Engineering
- Information Technology Supports in the Office of the “Near Future” — Turn-Key Engineering
- An Evolutionary Perspective of Adopting Knowledge Management — Anderson Sprocket
1. Knowledge Discovery in Engineering Firm — A Hypothetical Example of Use of IT for Knowledge Management
Alpha Engineering, Inc. (AEI) is a large architect and engineering (A&E) firm that designs and builds plants for the petroleum and chemical industries throughout the world. AEI has worked extensively in this field for over 40 years and have “forgotten more than most firms know” about many of the important aspects of building and operating plants and processes. It has a large morgue of technical papers, articles, in-house memoranda, project descriptions and specifications, operations manuals, and engineering computer programs. It also has a large number of patents, many of which are expired.
It is considered clear to all within AEI that the morgue along with more recent materials hold vast amounts of knowledge — “A veritable treasure chest” as the Chief Technology Officer says. The problem is that it is too large and disorganized so that it is impossible to find relevant insights when needed.
AEI’s senior people much too often have found that: “We have solved this problem before and I remember that the solution to be quite good — I know it is described somewhere in detail. If we just could lay our hands on it.” Frequently, they have needed to redo the work with solutions no better than before, and at times, not even as good. What was considered worse, was that progress was impeded.
After analyzing several of these situations, AEI’s management decided to capture and digitize the morgue and most other paper communications and put all the captured material into a corporate-wide computer-based data base. This was completed although it was not cheap and took considerable time. The data base server was placed on AEI’s LAN and the data base was paired with the most powerful search and concept recognition system available.
Soon after the full capability became available, AEI needed to revise all its procedures for how to deal with safety issues and various types of hazards in the plants it built. As always, the senior people remembered that over the years many ingenious safety-related approaches and concepts had been created. However, most of these were lost for use since the senior people who had worked on them had left. As a result, it was decided to explore what the new access to the morgue could provide.
A PARTICULAR SET OF RESULTS
A Safety and Hazards task group was assembled, and considerable computer-based retrieval and analysis supported by professional inputs were focused on the task to obtain and organize material from the morgue and communications data bases. In the end, the task force had been able to assemble an impressive library of relevant materials from the previous 40 years of work. The materials consisted of text, drawings, raw data, and computer-based mathematical models of several types. Among other things, the material contained:
- Valuable case histories of several hundred accidents and near-accidents, most with descriptions of causes and recommendations for remedial procedures and actions.
- An extensive body of descriptions of potentially hazardous conditions in various processes with justifications and references.
- A number of design modifications for many processes to make them safer. Most of these were accompanied by drawings and engineering analysis. Many also had follow-up analysis of how well the modifications worked and how difficult and costly they were to install.
- Many specific operating recommendations and procedures for different processes to avoid non-obvious hazardous conditions. Several of these included the logic and flowcharts for supervisory process control computer routines as well.
- Specific instrumentation requirements for many processes to avoid undesirable and hazardous operating regions and conditions.
After this data base had been organized, further computer-based and manual analysis produced and extensive lexicon of terms and relations between concepts (an ontology). More importantly, it also produced a map of the “Hazard Landscape” with indications of the degree — and in many cases, the quality — of coverage for different processes, substances, and operating conditions.
The safety and hazards-related material obtained and organized in this manner was very extensive and was much greater than had been appreciated. It constituted a veritable body of both explicit and embedded knowledge and served as an advanced starting position for the work to revise the safety procedures and ways of dealing with hazardous conditions.
Using the advanced starting position, it was possible for AEI to invest much less time and resources to create the new revisions. But of greater value, it was possible to make more advanced improvements in many more cases than had been envisioned. In a few instances, quite advanced “historic” solutions, much beyond present designs, had been found and could now be implemented wherever appropriate. The direct monetary value of savings provided by the new capability were impressive. More impressive, however, was the increase in safety and other operating cost-related aspects. These improvements were so impressive that AEI decided to initiate a new marketing thrust on its ability to design and deliver safer and less hazardous plants.
EXAMPLES OF OTHER RELEVANT ENGINEERING FIRM APPLICATIONS
- Operating efficiency and effectiveness in plants
- Plant staffing of operations and maintenance functions
- Plant maintenance procedures and requirements
- Project management
2. Office of the Future — A Scenario of A Hypothetical Example of Use of IT for Knowledge Management in the Office
To provide a “demand-driven” understanding of new programs of managing knowledge that are being considered, it is helpful to generate scenarios of how different knowledge workers will experience their workdays once the changes have been made operational. It is suggested that initial scenarios be created to act as “strawmen” for later versions which senior managers and others will expand and experiment with to explore possibilities and express how they wish internal operations to be performed as new solutions are introduced and tested. A typical scenario as prepared for an engineering organization is presented in the following pages to illustrate how such a tool may be shaped.
ASPECTS OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT’S WORKDAY
Turn-Key Engineering Corp’s (TKE’s) Mary Smith is administrative assistant to John Dreyfus, who is manager for TKE’s effort to prepare a proposal to build a petrochemical complex in a Pacific Rim country. One Monday morning Mary comes into the office and starts her work by switching on her workstation. (See Note 1.) John was visiting with potential subcontractors on Friday and had dictated a long report to his travel PC, which is equipped with speech recognition. Thus, it converted his dictation directly into written text with good (but not perfect) accuracy. Mary’s “to-do” list alerts her that the draft is in her file to be corrected and completed. John has annotated the draft with voice messages and hand sketches of illustrations to guide her. He also requests Mary to: “Have the ‘computer’ find the Oil and Gas Journal article that I think describes how the Japanese used subcontractors for an Indonesian oil refinery in the late 1980s” and to append a summary description of that relationship to his report. John also asks her to set up a 20-minute conference meeting upon his return on Tuesday morning with five proposal collaborators in Europe, the Far East, as well as locations in the U.S. to narrow down design concepts.
Mary uses her workstation to review some 25 letters and memos, which have arrived over the weekend, and which were scanned into the system by the mail-room. In addition, there are some 20 e-mail and voice messages. The text communications have already been summarized by John’s topic analysis program (TAP), which looks for topics John considers important or is interested in. TAP also assigns priorities based on John’s preferences and company priorities. Mary swiftly reviews the summaries and priorities to see if they need to be revised and if she can take care of any of them. She answers five and agrees with TAP that 20 of the communications can be archived directly for future reference, but that John needs to see the rest. Three are of immediate priority and have already been transferred to his “urgent” file. TAP has also identified relations between the messages and topic areas and, when authorized by Mary, files the messages accordingly.
Next, Mary instructs her workstation to negotiate with the other parties and schedule the meeting for Tuesday morning. Her workstation contacts the other participants’ workstations to provide agenda, check on availability, and ask them to resolve conflicts and commit to a meeting time before finalizing the schedule. Around 10 am, the workstation reports back that all will be available at 9 am the next day.
In the meantime, Mary has turned her attention to John’s report. First she instructs her workstation to initiate a topic search for the article which describes the Indonesian refinery. That search is low priority and takes a few hours in the background to scan thousands of articles in the company’s library database. The workstation will report back to Mary when the article has been found or if the search is unsuccessful.
John left his report as a raw draft. May reads it quickly, then lets the “Writer’s Wordbench” correct spelling and grammar before she expands and completes the report according to John’s instructions. She inserts the sketches and several voice annotations intended for the “readers” of the report. She also inserts non-obvious reference links, since the report will be published as a hypertext document. Additional links are automatically inserted by TAP’s report generator. Later in the day, she receives the article, extracts the appropriate section, adds it to the report, and distributes the report over the LAN.
Changes in Mary’s Workday
Mary’s workday is in many respects very similar to what it was in 1994. However, the major changes are that there is almost no paper to work with and no transcription of dictation. Most communications, file documents, and references are electronic. There is very little report printing and paper copying. Further, much drudgery work such as editing reports for syntax and grammar — and even filing — is automated. One great help is the communication summary capabilities of TAP, which makes possible timely handling of many more communications than previously and, therefore, has taken a considerable workload off Mary. It also has made it possible for John to work with fewer assistants and to be on top of more topics than before.
More importantly, Mary finds that task-oriented networking with her boss and other TKE personnel is much more productive and easier to accomplish. (See Note 2). There is no telephone tag to speak of, many tasks which required real-time interactions have either been fully automated or can be performed with time-shifting methods like voice and e-mail. Mary finds that her involvement in “trivial coordination” has been sharply reduced and that, instead, she is allowed to participate in more creative and insightful work.
DESIGN ENGINEER SCENARIO
Paul Scirocco is a senior design engineer, who specializes in high-technology heat exchangers. He works on several projects with other engineers in three offices worldwide. Paul is a single parent and “telecommutes” from his remote home four days a week. Normally he is in the office only on Thursdays when he shares a desk with other telecommuters. Paul; official office at his home is equipped with the same CAD station that the other design engineers have been furnished with by the company. It is connected to his company’s engineering LAN through a high-speed telephone link, allowing Paul to work with his counterparts worldwide as if he were in a conventional office.
On a typical day, Paul works alone for over five hours. He spends the remainder of the time in consultation with coworkers in the various offices, using specially developed groupware applications. One of the groupware applications allows Paul and his coworkers to open up the same drawing on their workstations while they also are in voice and video contact with one another. They are able to annotate the drawing, point to features using their cursors (each person’s cursor is distinct, which means that they all can point and talk as if they were in the same room). They can record the progress of the session or take snapshots to capture design ideas and changes.
Other groupware applications allow Paul to work with other professionals to document the design and operations manuals for the heat exchangers. He “meets” over the network with the systems engineer for the unit where his heat exchanger will be installed, and the documentation editor and a junior design engineer to whom he is assigned as “big brother.” They work interactively on the draft operations manual which the junior engineer has assembled. They talk over a conference set-up and annotate and modify the text as required. In addition to having the joint document before them, they also have areas on the screen were they can share proposed text and sketches or make private notes to themselves. In all, they have a joint meeting with capabilities that were not even available in the conference rooms of the early 1990s. (See Note 3).
Changes in Paul’s Workday
Paul is able to keep a workday in the sense that he puts in 40+ hours per week. Since his children require some attention in the morning and when they return from school, and since he has coworkers in Europe and Asia, he often ends up working very early in the morning or late at night. The workday he is able to maintain is much more flexible than he could reasonably expect if his workplace was in the office. He is also able to tend to his family in a much more desirable way than he otherwise would have been able to.
Paul has two agendas in his work. One agenda is to design particular heat exchangers required for the contracted processing units. He does that by introducing modifications to the standardized high-performance heat exchanger design. A second agenda is to introduce enhancements to the standardized design for future applications and contracts. Before the enhancements are adopted, however, they are reviewed by other design engineers and by engineering management.
Over the last decades, the way we work in our office environment has undergone large changes. Copy machines, information systems, word processors, electronic mail, fax, and voice mail have changed our daily routines and how we deal with communications and relations with each other. The way most offices operate today is vastly different from what it was in 1960 — the changes have been great and very beneficial and have led to more efficient and productive work styles.
We expect many additional changes to our office environment in the near future. They will bring about yet different ways for us to work together, new ways to deal with our suppliers and customers — be they external or within the organization — and new ways to perform our knowledge work. These changes are driven by several factors. New information technology is constantly made available and integrated into the office environment. New management and operational practices are introduced, and new competitive demands and business situations force changes in relations between external customers and suppliers. Most of the changes that we expect over the next five years are partially known to us — they are already on the drawing board and in the laboratory. But some insist that the most important changes may not even have been thought of at this time.
During the last decades, much of the effort to change and improve the office was focused on the way we handle information. That was appropriate, since Informatics Technology (IT) was under rapid development and generated significant advantages and since the state of information in the office was dismal — in terms of its availability, quality, currency, processing, and management. As a result of extensive past work and innovation, the information situation in most offices is not significantly improved, to the extent that the performance bottlenecks now touch other areas instead. The next important area of concern in the office deals with the competence and capability to take advantage of the improved information — to identify what needs to be done, to make decisions, to perform professional work, and to provide inputs and assistance to others. In short, to perform knowledge work competently, timely, and efficiently.
However, there are significant problems with the way we approach the challenges of re-engineering the office environment to alleviate knowledge-related bottlenecks. We have no good models for how basic office work can — and should — be done. Each manager is more or less responsible for identifying how the office work should be performed within her/his area and can only draw upon an insufficient body of knowledge on what makes a good environment and how we should organize ourselves to “work smarter.” We know that organizations basically operate through people interactions. People interact and network to get things done by requesting assistance, resolving issues, making decisions, communicating information. In this way, knowledge work in the organization is organized as a network of interlinked actions. Yet, we continue to attempt to change the office environment by pushing technology — PCs with word processors and e-mail, voice mail, etc. And we are also introducing other changes that affect our ability to perform as knowledge workers. We flatten organizations, we “telecommute,” and we introduce expert systems and other forms of codified knowledge.
Note 1: Mary’s workstation is a powerful personal computer, which is the company standard for all administrative, managerial, and professional personnel who do not need specialized equipment. The workstation is equipped with a high-resolution 1280x1024 pixel color display, runs at more than 200 MHz, has a local bulk memory of several gigabytes, and is networked to all the company’s computers. In support of teleconferencing, it is equipped with microphone, speakers, and a small videocamera. When teleconferencing, the groupware supports for Mary and her counterparts to hear and see each other while working on documents at the same time. The workstation software has a window-oriented GUI and an integrated set of applications, which provide for organization of data bases and documents into “rooms” for each task area. Hence, Mary has one room for John’s proposal document, another for the proposal pricing, a third for her own personnel matters, for a total of over 50 rooms. John has access to some of Mary’s rooms — particularly those she maintains for his projects. They share these rooms and both can work with their content to update and review it. (The “rooms” referred to above are patterned after Xerox Corporation’s experimental software product.)
Note 2: Networking between people in the organization occurs in a number of different ways. Most networking modes are very important to establish the working relations between people and, according to modern management theory, should be fostered. Traditionally, only ‘Task-oriented networking’ was considered to be appropriate, but that view is only supported by a small number of managers. Some of the more important networking modes are:
- Task-oriented networking is associated with contacting coworkers to perform specific tasks that need to be completed. Developing priorities, collaborating on designs, consulting on staffing, scheduling meetings, etc. are all specific examples of task-oriented networking.
- Acquainting networking happens when individuals meet (often for the first time) and explore ‘who the other persons are,’ what they know, and how they can become useful in the future.
- Experience sharing networking takes place when professionals swap ‘war stories’ on how they have handled specific professional situations, what went wrong in a particular case, or otherwise share episodic experiences and insights — often in an informal way and atmosphere.
- Idea generation networking is when people explore how to handle real or hypothetical situations, present potential situations and discuss pros and cons.
- Ground preparing networking frequently takes place when individuals present potential actions to others to see what their reactions are and to influence them to support these actions.
- Social networking happens when people meet to enjoy each other’s company and to expand their knowledge of each other.
Note 3: This model of a shared environment is patterned after prototypes at Sun Microsystems’ laboratories and Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center — PARC.
3. Anderson Sprocket Manufacturing in 2010 — A Scenario
The following scenario illustrates how an organization may adopt KM as an evolution from earlier management initiatives. It also provides a projection of possible future directions of KM.
In the year 2010 Anderson Sprocket Manufacturing Inc. (ASMI) finds itself to be highly successful with a faithful customers base and over 60% of its specialized market niche. It has a deserved reputation of providing a wide range of sprockets of the highest quality supported by excellent applications services and the ability to create specialty products “overnight” to help customers achieve the results they want. ASMI’s products are not the least expensive, but customers are willing to pay what is asked and ASMI’s finances are healthy. Craftspeople and professionals are compensated above industry standards, turnover is very low, and employee satisfaction is among the highest anywhere — only rivaled by a few other companies.
It was not always this way. In the mid-1980s, ASMI was an “also-ran” family-owned company with a mature commodity product line, dwindling market penetration and customer base, unmotivated work force, and a conservative management. In 1985, John Anderson, the 67 year-old CEO and chairman attended a management seminar which highlighted total quality management (TQM) practices and benefits in a way that caught his imagination. Being disappointed with ASMI’s performance and prospects, he presented his visions to the management committee. Introduction of TQM practices — if done seriously — would constitute a considerable departure from present practices and would be both costly and risky. But if it worked, would probably be worth while. However, there were questions. Did they had the finances, energy, stamina, and insights to pull it off? And could they get cooperation from the union and the rest of the corporation. Perhaps they would be better off selling out to one of their competitors and close ASMI down. John Anderson and his nephew, Jim Carmichael who had recently completed his engineering education, both argued that it would be well worth the effort — but only if pursued wholeheartedly. After considerable deliberation, this view prevailed and it was decided to obtain outside assistance to help educate all employees and institute appropriate TQM practices.
By 1992 — after six years of effort, both harder and slower than any had imagined — ASMI started to see positive results. Internal operations had become much more efficient, mostly thanks to considerable involvement by union employees in identifying improvement opportunities and trouble spots. Product quality was significantly improved, as were problems with inconsistency and ability to deliver sprockets with enhanced performance specifications. There were other important changes. A flexible manufacturing system supported by sophisticated information technology (IT) made it possible to offer customers just-in-time (JIT) service. Time from initial design to delivery to customer was cut by a factor of three. Employee morale had improved considerably to where turnover and costs of hiring and introductory training of new employees were sharply down.New customers were again approaching ASMI as a supplier, although the market penetration was still modest. Nevertheless, profitability was up.
In order to achieve these changes, ASMI provided extensive education for all its personnel. Instead of the earlier organizational structure where managers and supervisors made all decisions and generally dominated the operations in a bureaucratic manner, operations began to be conducted by teams who operated machining centers and other work cells fairly autonomously. The management structure was also flattened. In all of this, ASMI was squarely focused on improving operational excellence.
Initially, there had been considerable emphasis on quality and productivity measurements and Jim Carmichael who had been appointed Director of Quality Management was given considerable authority. However, in 1992, Jim realized that TQM had become part of ASMI’s culture to the point that it would make sense to decentralize much of the routine statistical work and to transfer organizational TQM responsibility to different departments and even to various teams. The transfer was undertaken gradually over the next years and while quality-related activities remained explicit they became part of “this is the way we do things around here.
However, all was not well. While ASMI had improved its operations and capability to service customers, its competitors had also improved considerably. There were signs that some of its competitors might outpace ASMI by a considerable margin with larger and more efficient manufacturing operations, by servicing larger international markets, surviving on narrower profit margins, and by creating large-scale joint ventures and strategic partnerships.
Since ASMI’s focus was to improve operational excellence, its management pursued business process re-engineering (BPR), process management, and similar management initiatives with some success. In 1995, Jim Carmichael, now Vice President of Strategic Direction, sensed that in spite of all its efforts, ASMI was standing still relative to its competitors. To continue to prosper and not be squeezed out, ASMI would need to improve further — but in which direction?
The learning organization (LO) had been among the management initiatives pursued by ASMI. However, it had not been a central effort and it was felt that many of its features such as knowledge sharing, benchmarking, and capturing of lessons learned already were achieved through the implementation of other initiatives. Furthermore, there was no clear understanding of the importance of expected benefits. Yet, it sounded as if LO might have an important role.
Then, in 1996, Jim and John Anderson, who at 78 was chairman emeritus and ASMI’s feisty “wise man,” became acquainted with the notion of “knowledge management” (KM) and the particular benefits that several advanced organizations had achieved with this approach. As they understood it, KM had a broader and more comprehensive scope than the LO concept in ways that made better sense to ASMI’s leaders. KM dealt with identifying which knowledge was needed to serve the business purpose in various areas of the organization, how to obtain, create, and capture that knowledge, make it available everywhere it was needed, and make sure it was applied — all in a systematic and deliberate manner.
Between them, the two started to “pencil out” what it would mean to pursue KM within ASMI — requirements for changes, resources, and other efforts, and which benefits might be expected. As they struggled with how ASMI might manage knowledge, they questioned how to determine which knowledge areas and level of expertise would be required in the different areas of the organization. They concluded that knowledge requirements needed to be determined by how ASMI would desire to conduct business and hence ASMI’s future “service paradigm” became a central issue. They identified that it would be necessary to create an infrastructure and institute new incentives to change practices and cultural factors. All of this would require a massive undertaking — larger than they felt comfortable planning for and implement all at once. They decided to proceed with smaller steps that were natural continuations of present efforts and with priorities based on serving the most needy areas first while also building long-term capabilities.
The changes required to manage knowledge systematically and explicitly were deeper than the management team at first had understood. Initially, a task force had mapped ASMI’s knowledge landscape. The task force also identified that the previous re-engineering work had totally neglected the expertise required to perform several critical functions and in some areas had done more harm than good. About one dozen valuable experts had been allowed to retire without attempts to capture their knowledge. Others had been moved into important positions for which they lacked expertise. Seen from this perspective, a number of quality and morale problems were easily explained. It was also found that many important knowledge flows were missing. As an example, there was minimal communication between product design teams and field personnel who had deep insights into customer needs.
In 1996, ASMI’s broader focus had changed from being primarily concerned with operational excellence to center on product leadership as value disciplines. The firm now for the first time also pursued explicitly a “Knowledge Transfer Strategy.”
In 1999, after three years of considerable effort, ASMI had been able to institute a number of changes. A sophisticated IT infrastructure based on “intranet” technology was implemented to facilitate collaboration, knowledge sharing, and identification of existing knowledge. Several incentives were implemented to motivate all employees to be innovative, share knowledge freely, and to make sure that they obtained — and used — the very best knowledge available to perform their work. The incentives ranged from the redesigned employee evaluation system that focused explicitly on these factors; periodic management recognition of outstanding knowledge-related performance; regular focus on knowledge profiles of teams; providing time budgets for lessons learned capture and for knowledge-related networking; and tuition assistance and time-off for education. Also, whenever re-engineering was performed, knowledge requirements and ways to make requisite expertise available at the point of action, and ways to flow important knowledge to other user areas became central factors in designing the new work processes.
In addition to the planned changes, there were important IT developments that helped improve KM. One, a natural language (NL) understanding system made possible “knowledge mining” for special technology solutions for difficult applications from past proposals, customer correspondence, and technical reports. Another knowledge mining capability was implemented based on fuzzy case-based reasoning (CBR) to identify and summarize best practices from lessons learned stories. It was also used deploy knowledge to craftspeople in the factory and the field.
These efforts started to show results. Employees started automatically to consider knowledge requirements for teams and individual work and their decision were almost never overridden by short-term considerations. More importantly, manufacturing effectiveness and customer relations continued to improve in ways that often were directly attributable to the KM efforts. This had resulted in improved employee morale and financial health as well. Jim Carmichael had been named Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) and charged with spearheading the KM efforts and coordination. He saw that the present changes were only the beginning. There were many more changes to be introduced that made great sense and it was decided to continue implementation.
In 1999, ASMI’s value discipline remained focused on “Product Leadership” and its KM strategy still emphasized knowledge transfers. ASMI maintained an explicit KM focus and by 2004 had implemented a number of new practices. In particular, a comprehensive infrastructure had been created to capture, organize, and keep valuable knowledge. Librarians and IT specialists supported other knowledge professionals to perform these functions. Additionally, the different knowledge transfer programs in the training department, information services, and engineering were coordinated by the “knowledge transfer council” which identified the modes of transfer of many types of requisite knowledge from sources, through transformation, to end-uses. All these efforts were coordinated by Jim who still held the position as CKO. However, he was becoming increasingly concerned that since knowledge really was everybody’s business, KM needed to be part of each employee’s regular responsibility. Consequently, he started to explore how that could be achieved.
By 2010, ASMI had integrated its KM-related functions and activities completely into its daily practices. Most of these functions were not considered to be part of any separate “KM Practice” but were totally included in the basic tasks required to do business successfully. Its KM strategy now was “Knowledge Strategy as Business Strategy” and fully interwoven with its overall strategy. Its value discipline was to pursue “Customer Intimacy” based on the premise that to maximize the value of its intellectual capital, it needed to apply all available expertise to make its customers as successful as possible through its products and services. Market penetration and financial results would follow automatically.
Monitor and Facilitate Knowledge-Related Activities
Jim was now president and CEO. With the help of his associates, capabilities and practices had been created to implement a comprehensive operational framework to manage knowledge. They had implemented an “Enterprise Monitoring System” (EMS) which included annual knowledge landscape mapping (KLM) and the enterprise knowledge condition as a critical success factor. Knowledge-related measurements were included in employee evaluations and expertise was treated explicitly as a critical resource in all planning, staffing, and project work. Employees were also charged with being explicitly responsible for their personal knowledge development and for all knowledge assets within their purview. Most importantly, numerous channels and capabilities had been created to motivate employees to be creative and to capture all valuable new knowledge.
Establish and Update Knowledge Infrastructure
To a large extent, motivation was facilitated through the comprehensive IT-based infrastructure system that in addition to the intranet, tied together data bases containing all research reports, written communications for the last 30 years, and numerous other documents. The IT system also included extensive natural language understanding, knowledge-mining, and reasoning capabilities. Based on the executive management members’ beliefs that creating and renewing knowledge throughout the organization needed to be facilitated by highly expert professionals, several knowledge professionals with various backgrounds were distributed throughout the organization. Some had modern educational methods or library science backgrounds, others were cognitive scientists or English language specialists, still others were “knowledge engineers” or multi-media systems development specialists. Apart from providing support functions to knowledge workers to capture and organize knowledge, these people were responsible for keeping the codified knowledge bases and to develop multi-path knowledge transfer programs which covered the full range from conventional face-to-face education, multi-media educational systems, on-line and embedded knowledge-based systems, to personal consultation via expert networks.
Create, Renew, and Organize Knowledge Assets
Whenever a new issue or challenge surfaced, it had become common practice to use technology to deploy a demon on the intranet to search documents and databases for related topics and concepts and to build specialized knowledge bases that pertained to the problem at hand. These, and more permanent knowledge bases were used by the people either to access directly for incorporation into their deliberations or they were used by automated reasoning systems that contained strategies for specialized problem solving such as for finding better solutions to corrosion problems
A number of parallel activities focused on knowledge acquisition and dissemination throughout the organization. These were so integrated into the daily work that no one considered them to be special. One major function was to identify new knowledge to replace less desirable practices — while keeping track of reasons and conditions for when the new and old practices were “best.” Another function focused on continued education of everyone to ascertain that they always had access to the best and most up-to-date knowledge.
As part of the overall knowledge-based strategy, valuable missing knowledge was identified by using a dynamic value-chain model that covered market prognoses several years into the future. R&D program budgets and priorities were set based on these, and on subjective analyses. These practices also focused on ascertaining that core competencies were constantly improved to stay ahead of competition.
The collaboration between ASMI’s customers and its professional staff became an area of great importance for knowledge creation. ASMI was able to build priceless knowledge on how to create and deliver products and services that allowed its customers to improve their performance and success. Another area that built important knowledge was the collaboration between ASMI’s staff and its suppliers who became able to pool their knowledge with ASMI’s to create sprockets of previously unheard-of quality. These practices became commonplace within the organization and resulted in both extensive knowledge sharing and creation of extensive knowledge bases with focus and content not previously available.
Realize the Value of Knowledge — Distribute and Apply Knowledge Assets
To motivate employees to collaborate, they were encouraged to network extensively by “virtual walking around” using the video communication options built into each workstation, and by attending information sharing and educational get-togethers whenever possible. Even though these and similar activities were estimated to consume 10% of each employee’s time, that was considered highly beneficial from the perspective of securing enterprise viability. It had become part of “the way we are doing things here” part of the culture to quickly seek the best knowledge available for tackling difficult or unfamiliar challenges. Positive peer recognition was frequently obtained by employees who became known for adopting best practices, ascertaining that only the best knowledge was used, even though that made it clear that they needed assistance from others on occasion!
ASMI also found that by its collaboration and knowledge organization efforts, it had developed considerable theoretical and practical knowledge assets that were not directly useful for its own business. After first considering if it should branch into new business areas to exploit these assets, it was decided instead to license that knowledge to non-competitive organizations to generate additional revenues.
Articles by Others
- A Knowledge Management Literature Review based on Wiig´s Prognosis of 1997 by Zuzana Crhová, Drahomíra Pavelková, and Jana Matošková
- 4 Knowledge Management Models That Can Supercharge Your Organisation by Essekia Paul
- An Analysis of Knowledge Management Lifecycle Frameworks: Towards a Unified Framework by Mzwandile Muzi Shongwe — Wiig’s framework is based on three pillars which are supported by a conceptual KM base. The base has four processes: knowledge creation, manifestation, use and transfer. The three pillars consist of different functional areas. The first pillar has three functional areas: survey and categorize knowledge; analyze knowledge and related activities; and elicit, codify and organize knowledge. The second pillar has two: appraise and evaluate the value of knowledge and related actions. The third pillar has three: synthesize knowledge and related activities; handle, use and control knowledge; and leverage, distribute and automate knowledge. According to Wiig, the framework is based on the understanding of how knowledge is created, used, and manifested in people’s minds and culture.
- Knowledge Management: A review of the field and of Operational Research’s contribution by John S. Edwards, Bashar Ababneh, Matthew Hall, and Duncan Shaw — According to T.J. Beckman in The current state of knowledge management the term ‘knowledge management’ was reputedly first coined by Karl Wiig in 1986 at a keynote address for the International Labor Organization entitled ‘Management of knowledge: Perspectives for a new opportunity.’ According to Wiig the earliest documented success of a corporation adopting a knowledge-focus to its management practice was Chaparral Steel. This is unusual for a manufacturing company, as most subsequent examples of organizations cited as milestones in the history of KM might be considered information- or knowledge-intensive industries: Wiig highlighted Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) as a significant milestone in the development of its XCON expert system. Karl Wiig was working on expert systems at the time he coined the term knowledge management, and the short final section of his book on expert systems is one of the earliest publications of any kind on knowledge management.
- AOK: Preparing for Conversations with Karl Wiig by Jerry Ash — Karl Wiig focuses on comprehensive management of knowledge in organizations in his practice and during his tenure as guest moderator for the STAR Series Dialogue for May, 2003. He has authored four books and over 60 articles on knowledge management, co-founded the International Knowledge Management Network, and served as keynote speaker on six continents. He works with clients to build knowledge management practices and focuses on business-related issues with senior management; tactical approaches and solutions with middle management; and hands-on methods with professional knowledge practitioners. He applies perspectives and principles from Systems Sciences, Management Sciences, Information Sciences, Cognitive Sciences, Social Sciences and Economics. He is Life Member of IEEE and is listed in Who’s Who in the World and other reference works.
- Patrick Lambe
- KM Treats in Hong Kong
- Competencies Redux
- The Prehistory of Knowledge Management — The actKM Forum has been discussing the origins of the phrase “knowledge management” — the consensus seems to be building that the emergence of the term can be attributed to Karl Wiig and his colleagues in the early 1980s. However, I found an industrial film from around 1960 clearly demonstrating that KM was being touted as a management fad a whole generation before Karl Wiig’s work.
- The unacknowledged parentage of knowledge management — When Wiig traced the origins of knowledge management in 1997, he wrote that it ‘‘came for some as the proverbial bolt from the blue’.’ Once born, knowledge management took very little time to gather about itself the key features of its philosophy and approach, and they were presented as if invented anew. The great classics of knowledge management literature appeared in a golden period of ﬁve short years, starting with Wiig’s great trilogy on knowledge management that appeared between 1993–1995. The encyclopedic work of Wiig did little better, although Wiig otherwise showed a masterful ability to integrate wide knowledge of topics from organizational learning to intellectual capital and machine intelligence. Wiig saw some antecedents to knowledge management in the thinking on decision support and artiﬁcial intelligence and in the knowledge-based management practices of Chaparral Steel from the mid-1970s but missed any broader set of inﬂuences, placing the ﬁrst uncertain steps in knowledge management proper in the 1980s. Of those early pioneers, only Wiig seems to have tried, not entirely successfully, to get to grips with the implications of computer science thinking for knowledge management, particularly in relation to early work in expert systems, artiﬁcial intelligence and knowledge-based systems.
- Nick Milton
- 7 KM predictions from 22 years ago — how did they pan out?
- A history of the first 21 years of Knowledge Management
- Why did Knowledge Management start when it did?
- Dave Snowden
- Jack Vinson
- “There is no economic theory of knowledge.”
- “People’s mental machinery — their intelligence and attitude — is a greater resource than what they know and understand.”
- “In spite of all present limitations, KM is already very useful even when it is narrow in scope. The playing field is quite level. Most everyone is a beginner!”
- Nick Milton — “People are the intelligent agents that make organizations function. People create new opportunities and act on them. However, we need to provide these same people with opportunities, permission, motivation, and knowledge — and that is why KM is so important!”
- Helen Nicol — “Knowledge is the fundamental factor — the major enabler — of enterprise performance.”
- Wikiquote — “The objectives of knowledge management (KM) are 1. To make the enterprise act as intelligently as possible to secure its viability and overall success and 2. To otherwise realize the best value of its knowledge assets.”
- Ron Young
- “Knowledge is the foundation of the whole enterprise.”
- “Knowledge Management must make the enterprise intelligent-acting.”
- “The best knowledge must be embedded into all products and services.”
- Knowledge Management 20 years after … The evolution and increasing significance of Knowledge Management (2004)
- Knowledge Mangement for the Competitive Enterprise (2009) (.pdf)
- Knowledge & Society (2006) (.pdf)
- People-Focused KM (2004)
- Situation Handling and Mental Models (2004)
- Knowledge Horizons, The Present and the Promise of Knowledge Management edited by Charles Despres and Daniele Chauvel — Chapter 1: Knowledge Management: An Emerging Discipline Rooted in a Long History
- Handbook of Knowledge Management Vol. 2 edited by Clyde Holsapple — Chapter 45: Exploiting Knowledge for Productivity Gains — with Adriaan Jooste
- Knowledge Management Handbook edited by Jay Liebowitz — Chapter 3: Introducing Knowledge Management into the Enterprise
- Knowledge Capital: How Knowledge-Based Enterprises Really Get Built by Jay Chatzkel — Chapter 4: Karl Wiig: The Knowledge Movement Emerges from its Infancy