This is the beginning of a new series of posts on knowledge management, following the ones on the history of KM and storytelling and KM. I remembered as I wrote the last series, that I make frequent use of stories from my experiences implementing knowledge management over the past ten years. So I decided to share some of these in another serial.
In each story I will present the story of the implementation, its outcome and the lessons learned. Some stories will be successes but others failed to reach their promise. In most instances I will keep the organization’s name confidential in order to tell a more complete story. I was also employed by several consulting firms during these implementations and will not link these firms to cases for the same reason. However, there are no deep dark secrets to reveal, simply examples of what works and what does not work, to hopefully help improve the future.
There are many other stories but I tried to pick ones that illustrate some useful lessons. Maybe there will be a second series. There is one story I already posted and will not repeat. This is the successful implementation at Sainsburys. The key here was aligning the knowledge capabilities with the high priorities within the business strategy and building a strong business case. In addition, Sainsburys is an example of creating a series of functional knowledge systems that are connected within a common enterprise infrastructure. These features are similar to this first case done six years earlier with more primitive technology.
Case One: Listening to the Users
Back in 1994 the property/casualty division at Cigna Insurance was in trouble. They were paying out far more than they took in and they were in danger of going under. We at Renaissance Strategy Group,* were helping them on a variety of initiatives to help turn things around, including helping with several key business processes: underwriting, claims, and relationships with their agents. This effort was documented as a Harvard Business School case.
It was in the beginning days of KM and before the term had reached us. The underwriting process was essentially broken. Working with Cigna experts, we first re-designed the underwriting process. Property casualty insurance is very knowledge-intensive (e.g. risks at movie theaters are different than those for drag racers). We then re-designed the applications that supported these processes. Balanced scorecard measures where developed around these key business processes and applications were designed to support these measures. A system was set up to monitor performance on these measures across the different divisions.
In this effort we also turned the existing relationship of underwriters to IT on its head. They had traditionally viewed underwriting applications as an evil imposed by the central office to check up on them and to be avoided if possible. We went out to the field offices to ask users what they wanted. This was a novel idea to them and really energized support for the knowledge management system and the new approach. Positive emails began circulating about how the central office was now listening to their needs.
Instead of building applications around central office needs, we linked application support to the new process we co-designed with the underwriters and they applauded this change. Next, we thought it would be useful to provide connections to the documented expertise on each market niche (again, think movie theaters vs. drag racers) as well as the identified company experts on these niche markets at each step within the process application.
This concept was popular and we created a series of process focused "desktops" for underwriting, claims, and sale support that linked knowledge management with process applications through a Visual Basic front end linked to DB2. Part way though the effort, the term “knowledge management” began to appear in the market press. So we said, “Hey, that’s what we're doing” and changed our descriptions from “performance support” to “knowledge management.”
There was also some resistance by IT on this new approach. However, the implementation had the backing of the CEO, so it was able to overcome pockets of resistance in the IT organization.
The knowledge management capability was fully implemented and supported by the users. The division did turn itself around due to a number of initiatives, including these knowledge management efforts.
Listen to the Users – success in directly proportionate to the amount of user involvement
Align Knowledge Applications to Key Business Goals and Process
Gain and Enlist Top Down Support to Overcome Turf Issues
Design Measures Aligned to Business Processes
*This will be the only time I mentioned the consulting firm but this is a very public example. Renaissance has passed on but many of the alumni are working in the industry. Real Time Strategy is one example in the US, Per4m is one in the UK, and the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative carries on the BSC work.