Editorial Opinion: Working in the know

Dofasco, the Hamilton, Ont.-based steel producer, faces external trials your company can probably relate to: a global economy, growing competition, rapid change, increasingly sophisticated consumers, and the drive toward leaner organizations. It also feels typical internal struggles: the need for accelerated problem solving capabilities and innovative approaches, attracting and retaining talent, plus replacing an aging workforce.

Dofasco is responding by providing a structured opportunity to share knowledge. It launched three pilot “communities of practice”. These groupings of five to 50 individuals meet voluntarily to discuss a common technology or engineering issue specific to their workplace. The pilots were so successful that Dofasco at press time had eight such “communities” with another two or four in the works. The groups monitor new developments in their respective area of expertise, mentor more junior members and develop a network of relevant internal and external contacts. They have organized company-wide sessions by tapping into both internal and external resources and sometimes involved customers and suppliers.

The communities of practice take some effort to launch and maintain but consume minimal participating employees’ time. They have substantially improved the knowledge-sharing environment at Dofasco.

In a broader context, opportunities generally to automate knowledge-sharing are increasing, as are the reportedly favourable returns. For example, consulting firm Accenture earlier this year released a study that claimed new technology that tags and tracks inventory and equipment could save the packaged goods, retail and freight transportation industries billions of dollars each year. The technology, known as auto-ID technology, is a combination of electronic product codes and radio frequency identification (RFID).

The Accenture study described auto-ID solutions as extending a company’s ability to capture accurate information about the location and status of physical objects – an ocean container, a pallet of paper towels, hazardous materials or expensive stereo components, for example – and track the objects as they move from the manufacturing shop to the retail store. The study revealed that this capability increases the efficiency of individual processes and asset utilization, enhances forecasting and inventory accuracy, and improves the ability of companies to respond to rapidly changing supply and demand with a high degree of certainty. The result of these supply-chain efficiencies is reduced inventory and labour costs and increased sales.

Whether automating processes or bringing people together to discuss a shared concern, your company’s success to a large degree hinges on the ability to capture, transfer and use information. This issue is filled with ideas on doing just that. I welcome your comments.