KM Europe 2001
Relevant, Practical and Stimulating
KM Europe 2001 organized by The Ark Group and held in The Hague, The
Netherlands from 27-29 November, provided an invigorating mix of
presentations, exhibition and the inevitable networking. It follows on from
their KM Asia event and is a good indicator of how the planned US event
(June 2002) will pan out. Unlike many conferences which charge a hefty fee
to hear world-class key note speakers, this event was free for the visitor,
paid for by the exhibition vendors and sponsorship. However, it was not
dominated by vendor presentations, and indeed several of them were
extremely useful in that they provided insights into the products not
readily apparent from demos or literature, and some described real case
studies. The key note presentations were as stimulating as ever and there
were many interesting gems in the various parallel sessions, forums and
workshops. What follows is a synthesis of some of the highlights.
A Strong EC Presence
A noted feature of this conference was the strong presence of the European
Commission. Its large stand "KM made in Europe" highlighted some 10
knowledge management projects that have been in part funded by the EC IST
Programme, a strand of the Fifth framework Programme. These included:
- CORMA (Practical tools for CORporate Knowledge MAnagement) - with
emphasis on "concurrent enterprises" and pilot projects in a supply chain
in the telecommunications sector (http://www.corma.net)
- LEVER - (LEVERaging Knowledge in the Software Industry) the customization
and validation of a total Knowledge Management (KM) solution including
knowledge repositories, knowledge "brokering mechanisms", the codification
of corporate tacit knowledge, and the development of corporate intelligence
- Ontologging - a set of tools to support corporate ontologies and thus
facilitate knowledge exchange between different knowledge bases
- PEKING (People and Knowledge Cross-Lingual Information Gathering) -
techniques to automatically extract and systematically categorize
information in multiple languages (http://www.interpeking.com)
The benefits of IST funding are that it allows companies to collaborate
across national borders on product development or market awareness
activities. A presentation by Rosalie Zobel described the aims of the
programme as "moving the research agenda forward" and "promoting European
research and best practice in knowledge management". Currently over 350
projects are supported by the wider IST programme, with 550 million Euro
earmarked over a 4-year period for projects in the area of New Methods of
Work and Ecommerce (IST Key Action 2), of which knowledge management is a
part (one of 11 'action lines' - see http://www.cordis.lu/ist/ka2/al1-2.html).
The event also gave an opportunity for many members of the EU sponsored
KnowledgeBoard to meet face-to-face in a workshop in which the
opportunities for European collaboration were discussed. Suggestions
included "don't talk KM, show how KM delivers business performance";
"develop indicators for the state of KM in European companies"; "make KM
technology more attractive and usable". KnowledgeBoard
(http://www.knowledgeboard.com) is an online portal and community which has
a library (papers and case studies), news, and various discussion groups.
For example, there is currently a very active one on taxonomies. Another
KnowledgeBoard workshop addressed the issue of KM standards.
What Size Communities?
Evident in many presentations was the growing emphasis being placed in KM
programmes on communities. Two of the interesting presentations described
organizations' specific experiences and highlighted some interesting
contrasts. Andrew Boyd of Shell, for example, described the evolution of
communities in Shell International Exploration and Production. What started
as many separate communities, growing to over 100 by 1998 has consolidated
into three global networks. Shell has found that a few large communities
with thousands of members delivered more answers to problems than the
smaller fragmented communities which typically had 20-200 members. An eye
opener for Shell was that its effort in developing knowledge bases - the
largest share of its KM budget - was perceived as of much less value to
users than the communities, which needed much less investment. Given out at
the meeting was Shell's newly published 82-page booklet, entitled 'Stories
from the Edge'. It describes many examples from across the Shell group of
how real world problems have been solved through communities in paces as
far apart as Cameroun, The Gabon, Oman, Brunei, the USA, Brazil and the
Netherlands. Shell estimates that though questions and answers on he three
technical communities it saved $35 million in 1999 and contributed $200
million in value in 2000.
Another perspective on communities was given in Alain Buntinx's
presentation about Siemens Learning Valley - "From Awakening to Action". He
described its programme to develop communities evolving through three stages:
- Awakening - creating awareness of common strategy; providing a portal and
- Absorption - introducing networked learning resources; creating
- Action - communities with best practice databases, access to experts,
integration into daily work practices.
He outlined preconditions for knowledge communities, distinguishing between
active and passive knowledge workers, defined the 'learning square' - an
action game giving power to the people, and the KLIX - a Knowledge and
Learning Index. Any group is open to propose communities, which are then
taken through a community development process and given the necessary
guidance and tools. Siemens has packaged some of these tools and were
showing them on its exhibition stand (see http://demo.the-square.com). In
contrast to Shell, Siemens has many communities - typically with 50-150
This contrast raises an interesting question: is Siemens further behind the
evolution curve than Shell (who had large numbers of communities in 1998
before consolidation), or is the context (nature of the business, corporate
culture etc.) such that the two approaches represent the optimum
arrangements for their respective environments? Has anyone researched this?
Some Key Note Highlights
- Hubert Saint-Onge in a videoconference from Canada, described his ongoing
work in embedding KM at Clarica. Its KM strategy is based on three elements
- a knowledge architecture, a technical infrastructure and a knowledge
sharing and learning culture. He offered an interesting model of the
different types of virtual collaboration. But his key points were reserved
for culture - "if I have a passion its about culture". He says that "an
organization needs conductivity so that knowledge flows unimpeded."
Clarica's three stage process was 1) To identify individual values; 2) From
these to develop corporate values; 3) Develop vision and leadership to
embed these values.
- Debra Amidon explored the ongoing evolution of the knowledge movement,
drawing on her core theme that knowledge, innovation and collaboration are
the keys to future prosperity and sustainability. She gave many examples of
developments in the economic, behavioural and technological dimensions of a
KM strategy - "you need to balance all three for an effective strategy, and
that means giving three times the attention to the behavioural dimension as
to each of the others." She explored the wider global context and showed
the contribution of various ENTOVATION Colleagues in moving the knowledge
agenda forward internationally.
- David Snowden (IBM) commented that "this a very exciting time for
knowledge management" and discussed the roots of KM in decision
and complexity theory with design heuristics (e.g., Knowledge can only be
volunteered, not captured; Know more than I can say, and say more than I
can write down; We only know what we need to know when we need to know it).
He suggested that trust is a precondition for KM; but one cannot train
trust in an organization. Using concepts such as levels of abstraction, he
defined four quadrants he called Cynctin - common sense-making for
innovation - and four different types of communities for illustration.
- Bob Buckman provided the CEO perspective describing the evolution from
Product- to Market- to Knowledge-Driven Enterprises. 90 per cent of the
base knowledge is tacit and changing every day. KM must tie too the
strategic direction of the company as a source of competitive advantage.
Quoting Metcalf's Law, he described the value of the network being the
number of connections between the users; and his code of ethics is one way
to provide a common language across the organization. He suggested that
companies organize along the flow of knowledge, rather than geography; and
build a people-centric system to support that flow (e.g., sequential,
parallel, and networked). "We're starting to evolve into a community of
one." You may not need a CKO, but you need someone to coordinate getting
the process started and making it systematic.
While many of the KM solutions' and software products had a familiar feel -
haven't you been promised enterprise integration and all your corporate
knowledge conveniently delivered through a portal many times before? - a
few are worthy of note:
- Expertise locators - these products are becoming more prevalent and
helping individual in a large enterprise ask questions of a database and
see profiles of others who have relevant expertise. Examples of these
technologies in action included AskMe (which started as a question and
answer service on the Internet) and Orbital's Organik (recently acquired by
- Semantic analyzers - allowing key concepts to be deduced from documents
and providing assistance in the automatic classification of content.
Products on display included CoBrain and SemioMap.
- Visualizers - prominent here was InXights hyperbolic visualizer, but it
too has products that extract meaning from information to identify
relationships between them.
- Related to the above is BT's ViewSum - a text summarizer. This is one of
several interesting developments being worked on at its Martlesham R&D
labs, and one of its first pieces of KM software to appear as a product.
The evolution of knowledge technologies (and especially the first two
mentioned above) was put into clear perspective by an interesting keynote
presentation by Rory Staunton of Strategy Partners International. He
portrayed the current KM scene as one of 'oversimplification': "just
because everybody's using it doesn't mean it must be good". The key
challenge he sees is not one of search and retrieval but of capture and
representation. The next 2-3 years will see significant developments in
classification technology, while further ahead we might start to see more
developments in technology to support understanding and meaning (perhaps we
are heading from knowledge management to 'meaning management'?). Of
particular interest was his vendor perspective in which he noted how many
new entrants with specialized products (PurpleYogi, AskMe, Applied
Semantics to name but a few) were unlikely to make it alone into the big
league by organic growth as was possible in the past. It is highly likely
that many would be absorbed by some of the giants who now dominate the KM
vendor scene (e.g. Hummingbird, Open Text, Verity etc.) or even more
general suppliers (IBM, Oracle, Microsoft).
The reason many people go to such events is not simply to catch up on
developments, or get inspiration by learning from case studies of others,
but to network among their peers. The venue provided many opportunities for
this. Several ENTOVATION Colleagues took the opportunity to meet face to
face after long gaps (the two co-authors of this article!), or occasionally
for the first time. Around the exhibition floor and conference rooms
several networking areas assisted intermingling, and no doubt the results
of many such discussions will be seen in KM implementations and new KM
products and services at future events.
For us, the key take-away points were:
- Communities have come of age - they need to be an integral part of every
- Collaboration is the modus operandi whether it refers to knowledge
sharing within a firm, with external stakeholders (including customers and
competitors) and on a trans-geographic boundary
- Classification / taxonomies are key challenges - in particular what to
leave to technology relative to human librarians
- The business case - especially in a period of economic downturn - is a
compelling as ever
- Innovation - properly defined according to the flow of knowledge (not
technology) - has become the strategic positioning vehicle.
- Technology is getting better all the time, and will continue to enhance
human knowledge handling capabilities
- Greater attention needs to be given to multi-lingual tools and cultural
differences in online content and communities
- The fundamental challenges remain those of creating a knowledge sharing
culture and embedding good KM practices.
Attracting over 1,400 visitors, Ark described this event as "the largest
knowledge management event in the world this year". Already there are plans
for KM Europe 2002 - see http://www.kmeurope.com. Or if you live
elsewhere, find out about other Ark Group events at http://www.ark-group.com
Email: David J. Skyrme and Debra M. Amidon
© Copyright, 2001. David Skyrme Associates Limited and Authors - All rights reserved.
I3 UPDATE / ENTOVATION International News is a joint publication of David Skyrme Associates Limited and ENTOVATION International Limited - providers of trends analysis, strategic advice and workshops on knowledge management
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