No longer a buzz word

Knowledge management is becoming more than just a pretty phrase, according to a recent study conducted by Ipsos Reid and Microsoft Canada.

The study showed that more than half of Canadian organizations with 50-plus computers have implemented knowledge management solutions.

Chris Ferneyhough, vice-president of technology research at Ipsos Reid, said of the organizations who were not running knowledge management solutions, one third had plans to implement these tools in the next year.

“With respect to the non-users of knowledge management, the encouraging finding is that the vast majority of respondents indicate that senior management has bought into the concept,” Ferneyhough said. “Ninety-one per cent of decision makers agree that sharing employees’ acquired knowledge might improve efficiencies of many tasks in the company.”

Ferneyhough noted this acceptance by senior levels is the greatest challenge to knowledge management in Canada.

“With the investment that’s required, senior management has to be supportive,” he said. “It is up to the individual organizations where knowledge management actually lies in their priorities. They recognize it is important, but when will they actually implement it?”

Ipsos Reid interviewed 402 decision makers (either IT or business) between Dec. 18, 2000 and Jan. 8, 2001. The results reflect all Canadian companies in the study size range to an accuracy of plus or minus four per cent.

The National Knowledge Management Study also revealed that respondents feel knowledge management is having a noticeable impact on the business practices.

“Another positive result is that two thirds of respondents agree that having knowledge management practices in place has given their organization a competitive advantage,” Ferneyhough said. “Only 12 per cent say it hasn’t. For 20 per cent, it was not applicable, as we did interview some government agencies.”

Another finding was that knowledge management practices had a positive impact on employee satisfaction and retention. Nine out of 10 respondents agreed that knowledge management has improved employee satisfaction, and of those one third said the result has been very positive.

Anne McKeon, product manager for Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont., said this helped show that company culture has a large role to play in knowledge management practices.

“You need top level people to say they support and encourage knowledge management and knowledge sharing,” McKeon said, adding companies that support an open knowledge environment are going to have higher employee satisfaction rates.

She noted there is a definite theoretical component to knowledge management. “How can you take the theoretical and turn it into actual? That’s where the supporting technology comes in,” McKeon said, but she again stressed the technology won’t matter if there is not a knowledge management process in place.

“The managers should have it ingrained to say, ‘What previous processes, or knowledge, from other projects are you bringing to this project? How will people have access to this knowledge and experience?’

“All managers need to have that mindset and then use the databases, the tools to store and sort that knowledge.”

McKeon also noted that more and more companies are saying intellectual capital is their market advantage. “So keeping that knowledge is crucial to companies.”

The study showed that some key practices companies had invested in included intranets, conducting events, use of groupware and procedures to retain knowledge of employees who were leaving the company. Less popular were knowledge audits and mapping, according to Ferneyhough.

Most companies are not using metrics to define the value of knowledge management practices, but Ferneyhough noted the five per cent who could put a number to the return on investment put it at 41 per cent, for a mean savings of $42,000.

Ferneyhough also noted that the study showed larger organizations were more likely to have or be implementing knowledge management solutions.

“We tried to capture culture, but that is very hard,” he said. “Organizations that were more inclined to say that the culture of their organization was shared knowledge were more likely to have knowledge management in place.”