Making Knowledge Mean Business

Making Knowledge Mean Business

Whatever your question, in a multinational enterprise with tens of thousands of workers, someone is likely to know the answer. The problem is: who? Traditionally, knowledge management has focused on locating documents. But increasingly, companies are discovering that it's more valuable to link people with one another. To that end, KPMG, - following its June 1999 implementation in the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Germany - began rolling out its new knowledge management system, KWorld, in Australia in October last year.

KPMG Australia's national chairman, David Crawford, claims that KWorld is the most sophisticated knowledge management platform ever developed. One thing that certainly does distinguish it is that unlike many other knowledge management systems that are based on Lotus Notes, KWorld is built and based entirely on Microsoft technology, including Windows NT Server, Exchange, Site Server, Office, Outlook and Internet Explorer.

Ian McBride, KPMG Australia's chief knowledge officer, describes KWorld as a global intranet that integrates all of KPMG's existing knowledge-sharing networks and intranets on a worldwide scale. KWorld will eventually go live to all of KPMG's worldwide workforce of 93,000 and the company claims the system will enable them to share information globally and establish online communities of practice. According to McBride, the next step is to develop KWorld extranets to enable KPMG to collaborate with its clients across the world and make them a virtual extension of the organisation.

"KWorld will allow KPMG to deliver solutions to our clients faster and more efficiently [by] drawing on the wealth of experience within the firm," McBride says. "If it's been done before within KPMG, we will leverage from that experience to do it better for our clients the next time. KWorld allows the firm to see what's available, know if any similar work's been done in the past and if this can be applied to the current situation and then seek out the people who can provide the best answer. It's about sharing knowledge and collaborating in providing solutions."

While individuals can publish certain information, such as their resumes, on KWorld directly, anything of a potentially risky or client-sensitive nature goes through a formal process. Online countries appoint content managers along functional and industry-specific lines. People within those lines who believe information they have acquired is relevant to a particular function or segment of KWorld take it to content managers, who refer it to partners or staff whom they have nominated as subject experts with a view to publishing it. There is also a review process at the end of each client assignment, the outcome of which is fed back into KWorld via the relevant content manager.

Michael Smith, national director, IT services, KPMG Australia, adds that even support areas, including IT, knowledge management, human resources and marketing. have content managers, and that he and McBride have to be seen to be using the system themselves if they expect the business to use it as well.

According to McBride, KWorld does not currently contain client-sensitive data. However, the next release will have a security model built around it that will enable KPMG to publish more specific information, but which will still not be client-identifiable.

"We have to assure our clients that we will not be putting their confidential information on KWorld and that there is no logical link between KWorld and that data. Rather, what is there are experiences, best practices and proposals without client names or fees. Other content includes news feeds. We have a Reuters feed I can click on to select news that's relevant to me."

Smith and others in KPMG refer to KWorld as their "digital dashboard". There is a "Messaging" button on the KWorld home page which when pressed takes the user directly into Microsoft Outlook and allows the home page to drive their work. In addition, Smith says that some of the KWorld features, such as discussion forums, are actually driven under cover by Microsoft Exchange.

According to McBride, the concept of content managers and continuous editing also prevents KWorld from adding to, as opposed to solving, information overload. The company's philosophy, he says, is quality not quantity, or "content in context", and everything that enters KWorld is vetted for quality. Documents first have to be tagged using KPMG's taxonomy system so that results of a search are filtered according to the user's selection criteria.

The taxonomy system is managed by KPMG's director of intellectual capital and is based on an agreed view of the business, its locations, and the functions and industries it operates in. McBride believes this is what distinguishes KWorld from rivals' knowledge management systems, which he says are limited to single search, single request-type enquiries.

"From a technology perspective, the single database concept is a big differentiator," Smith concurs. "Our competitors tend to use Lotus Notes, but one of the problems with Lotus Notes is that it's a plethora of databases. You have to pre-search or pre-select the database. KWorld is also Web-enabled so younger people [joining the firm] are very au fait with the user interface."

The project had its genesis in March 1998. After discussions with rivals Ernst & Young about a possible merger (which did not eventuate), KPMG realised it had shortcomings in its delivery of knowledge management. According to McBride, each firm's knowledge was as good as the other's, but Ernst & Young had a better platform on which to deliver it. KPMG at that time had to make do with a hotchpotch of country intranets, disparate tools and Notes-based applications.

At the same time, the KPMG board recognised that the company needed to do something globally in this area. As Smith points out, KWorld's creation did not stem from an IT person or even a knowledge management person, but from the business, namely the firm's global 2IC. KPMG formed a technology group out of its US consulting practice, which included people from the business who had some expertise in knowledge management, as the knowledge management group within the company was only just forming itself at this time.

However, Smith says that the business requirements determined for KWorld could not be met by using existing products. Hence, KPMG needed to develop its own platform. The company's relationship with Microsoft also meant that when KPMG did decide to develop its own product, it did so using Microsoft technology.

By September 1998 the group was able to demonstrate a prototype of KWorld. Although essentially a proof-of-concept, this was still a working system. In conjunction with the business, the group then proceeded to translate the prototype into a scalable system they could roll out.

A knowledge management advisory group (KMAG) sets the direction and focus of KWorld. KPMG's global chief knowledge officer chairs the group, which comprises the CKOs of the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia and Canada, as well as the global knowledge managers for each of the business functions (assurance, tax and legal, consulting and financial advisory services) and business development.

"KWorld was not developed - and nor is its ongoing development taking place there - by knowledge management people in a back office and forced upon the firm," McBride reiterates.

"What also differentiates KWorld from some other systems is that the content managers belong and work in the business functions. It is they who produce most of the content through normal business processes. That's the essential feature. The idea of knowledge management and sharing of knowledge is being ingrained in the business through our human resource processes, our compensation schemes and our developmental processes. KWorld has been a big leap forward for KPMG and we've now leapfrogged the Ernst & Young system."

The project has also involved close partnerships. According to Smith, Microsoft worked in conjunction with KPMG in developing KWorld from the outset. The product received a glowing review from Bill Gates personally in his keynote address to the CEO Summit in Seattle in May 1999. In addition, KWorld uses Compaq hardware, and KPMG outsources the running of the system to a high-security, high-redundancy Compaq site in Alphareta, Georgia.

Security was a significant issue in implementing KWorld, both in terms of access and confidentiality of information. Countries have to pre-qualify before joining KWorld, through a host of technology, security and knowledge management process prerequisites to which each has to sign. These include KWorld-compliant IT infrastructure, technology support arrangements, secure ID implementation for all remote users and technical and security assessment by KPMG's global chief information officer, and an agreement to knowledge sharing and collaboration.

In Australia's case, KPMG required a significant IT infrastructure upgrade before implementation to ensure KWorld compliance. This involved replacing its existing e-mail system with Microsoft Exchange; bringing the firm's desktop computers to a consistent hardware standard nationwide; moving from a Novell-based to a Windows NT-based user authentication system; upgrading its wide area network to increase its capacity; and implementing "IP" on the desktop to enable the use of Web browser technology, both for local applications and for KWorld.

Rollout in Australia took place between October and December 1999, at the end of which the company had trained 3000 of its people in Australia on the product. KWorld training now forms part of KPMG's induction process for new staff. However, while McBride says there has been no resistance to the idea of KWorld, he admits there is a huge culture change involved in implementing it. As in most organisations, knowledge is seen as power not to be shared, and people in KPMG tend to protect their knowledge and keep it to themselves or within their own areas.

"We have to turn that culture around so that people come to accept that sharing knowledge adds value and may generate ideas," McBride says. "We need that philosophy to start permeating through the whole firm. We have to make people proud and want to be seen to have contributed [knowledge]."

In addition, as the rollout progressed McBride found some specialist areas of the company became concerned about people using this new-found knowledge wrongly. However, he says that the security model around Release 2 of KWorld will protect content that a function is concerned with, or direct enquiries from other divisions to the appropriate people.

Smith also thinks the new standards that were imposed were a challenge for countries used to autonomy. For example, a group may have had an excellent intranet; but if it didn't adhere to the global standards it couldn't be integrated into KWorld, so they had to give it up. They also have less choice now about what technology they can use: Netscape is out, Explorer is in and PCs have to be Compaq.

The global investment in KWorld was in the order of $US60 million, not including ongoing costs. However, McBride claims that hard benefits from having a truly global system are already starting to flow. The messaging component alone and the ability to book meetings with his US and European counterparts, he says, is hugely beneficial. Previously, the company had to buy multiple copies of Reuters news feeds. Now it buys just one, which becomes available through KWorld and results in a significant cost saving.

Other savings come from eliminating the maintenance of multiple intranets and legacy systems. McBride admits, though, that payback from knowledge management is hard to define and something from which accountants shy away, although some North European companies, in particular, now actually value intellectual capital in their published accounts.

McBride also thinks Australia has had the most successful rollout of KWorld to date. The local organisation was able to learn lessons from the initial four countries that went live, in particular that there must be sufficient quality content on KWorld to make it worthwhile. Otherwise, users will be disappointed and will not want to return.

According to McBride, KWorld is applicable to any organisation. While KPMG has had early discussions about commercialising the product, there are no plans to onsell it, at least until the latter part of this year.

Knowledge Managers Need Business Savvy

Ian McBride became the first incumbent in the newly created CKO role in Australia in January 1998. He reports to the chief operating officer but also has a dotted-line relationship to KPMG's global CKO in Boston.

While knowledge management relies heavily on IT, McBride stresses that his is not an IT role. Apart from one combined CKO/CIO role, all of KPMG's other CKOs have come from non-IT backgrounds. Rather, McBride is responsible for furthering knowledge management in Australia in general, and the KWorld implementation in particular, where his team works closely with the IT team.

"I'm the local champion for knowledge management and I'm responsible technically for all the KWorld content and to see that we adhere to the knowledge sharing agreement. Knowledge management is a much bigger job than what used to be called information management. There are practical issues about how the CKO works with the [IT head], but in our organisation we have a very clear delineation as to who's responsible for what and I think it works quite well," McBride says.

According to Crawford, KPMG has committed to investing 1 per cent of its $US10 billion global revenue in knowledge management. While McBride agrees that KPMG is in a "knowledge industry", he believes that all businesses depend on knowledge management and that it was alive and well in KPMG before KWorld.

"For us, intellectual capital is about the processes and methodologies for either delivering client service or managing the business. It doesn't just focus on clients. Our mission statement is about creating value through our knowledge processes for our clients, our people and our communities. So it's logical that we need a process of gathering and harnessing that intellectual capital and that's what KWorld does," McBride says.

However, he admits there have been numerous fads in consulting and that knowledge and intellectual capital have become buzz terms, especially among politicians. To prevent it from being nothing more than that, he believes those involved in knowledge management must deliver the value they say they're delivering.

- K Power

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