Knowledge management has been around for over twenty years now. I still feel it was the precursor to enterprise 2.0 and social business. It had its own precursors like performance support. Here is a story of its midpoint. It was my favorite project because of the people we worked with. This is also one of the clearest cases I have seen of an organization moving to a knowledge-based business model and then aligning its knowledge management system to directly support this new model.
Ryder implemented knowledge management in 2000 to support its sales force and consulting professionals as it made the transition to more knowledge intense services such as linguistics outsourcing and supply chain and logistics consulting. This focus is what is needed to also transform to a social business.
In the 1990s, Ryder’s management began to notice important changes in the company’s markets. High capital requirements, large overhead, slim margins and fierce competition made the truck-rental business difficult. Yet many large companies were choosing to focus on their core businesses; an aerospace company, for example, might prefer to invest in R&D rather than in owning transportation and warehouses for its materials. Eventually Ryder decided to expand its solutions business to serve such customer needs. A key part of this strategy would be to move to a more knowledge-based business model.
Ryder realized that its own core competence lay in the knowledge it had acquired over the years in solving complex transportation problems for its clients. In 1996 the company sold its consumer truck-rental business. These days it focuses on two specialties: commercial truck leasing and what it calls "global integrated logistics."
Under the new model, Ryder salespeople don’t sell a straightforward commodity like truck leases; they solve transportation and inventory-management problems for clients on a global scale. For example, they devise ways to transport raw materials—by a combination of rail, sea, air and road—to manufacturing facilities in the most efficient, least costly manner. "The knowledge-based services we provide tend to command a premium in the marketplace, so it’s better for our shareholders for us to go in that direction," says David Baildon, Ryder’s group director for knowledge management. To exploit the opportunity inherent in its employees’ expertise, the company needed to make its collective knowledge readily available to all of them.”
This transformation required a major shift in the culture and focus of the organization as it sold off its retail truck leasing and its well-known yellow trucks. In fact, Ryder had to issue a disclaimer when one of the yellow Ryder trucks was on newspaper covers across the US hauling votes up to the Florida capital to be recounted in the last Presidential election. Their efforts in knowledge management continued past 2000 and the focus expanded to other business operations.
Why did all of this work? There were several reasons. First, there was extensive user involvement in the design. One of the design criteria was to make the system intuitive so that extensive training was not required. The sales force was dispersed and very busy so they would not come in for central training. We needed to be able to send it to them in the field and have them use it with only some phone support. They were used to email and the systems was Notes based so this helped.
To ensure this intuitive interface and functionality was in place we took a prototype on the road to demonstrate it to a subset of users. This had the added benefit of gaining support and identifying those who could articulate its benefits to their colleagues. In this context, a comprehensive internal marketing and communication plan was developed and implemented.
Second, the design fit within the workflow as it was explicitly designed to do this. It contained a knowledge base for best practice sales proposals and other related documents, a team workspace for sales teams, and Ryder’s first implementation of the then relatively new IM capability. The taxonomy supported searches into the knowledge base but also into the team workspaces so you could find the proposal you needed and the team that created it.
Third, because this system was aligned with the major business transformation going on at the time it had the attention and support of senior management. The COO and his direct reports regularly reviewed progress and communicated their support to the rest of the organization. Promotional videos were created and other means used.
Fourth, there was a set of balanced scorecard measures created to monitor success and knowledge sharing was built into the performance objectives of the key users. These were useful, but without support from senior management they would not have had any impact.
Fifth, and most important, the leader of the knowledge management effort, Dave Baildon, was well connected and well respected in the organization. He was able to recruit a team of experts representing each of the major communities supported by the system. This small group of about five provided direct support to the users and had the expertise to either fill gaps in critical knowledge or find the right person to do it. However, it was Dave’s energy and knowledge of how Ryder works that was the critical difference. He was able to pull together all these other factors to ensure success.
Many of the same factors and certainly this same dedication is need to make the transformation to a social business.