While knowledge management (KM) programs may seemingly sprout up out of cracks in the sidewalk, they are in fact tender plants that require cultivation, care and feeding. Siemens AG, the huge German conglomerate with 426,000 employees in 190 countries, knows this and nurtures its KM with hands-on management and constant tweaking. Guenther Klementz, Siemens' Chief Knowledge Officer, says that KM first got started on a grass-roots level at the company in 1997 when a group of employees banded together to share their experiences. "KM here is really a bottom-up approach," Klementz says. When employees from the human resources and IT departments realized they were both separately dabbling in KM and both facing the same challenges, they went to management to ask for support for a corporatewide KM initiative. Even with disparate offices around the world and a wide variety of business units in industries such as health and transportation, Siemens represents a fertile landscape for knowledge sharing. Besides, the corporation has such an intense focus on innovation (from 1980 to 2001, the percentage of sales from products five years old or younger climbed from 48 percent to 75 percent) that a coordinated KM program makes terrific sense. A top manager at Siemens helped the KM proponents prepare a paper that eventually led to the creation of a small corporate team to coordinate KM initiatives around the company.
One of the team's primary missions, says Klementz, was to draw a KM roadmap outlining an overall corporate strategy and guidelines for establishing communities of practice. Another mission was to mobilize the organization for KM by encouraging best practices and knowledge sharing, and establishing standards for KM platforms. "In a decentralized company [like ours], it's hard to standardize, but if we didn't do it, we would've had a real barrier to knowledge sharing," Klementz says. At the outset of the corporatewide initiative, Siemens employed a variety of sharing tools. The company opted to standardize on OpenText's Livelink in 2001 and to provide access to Livelink via an integrated portal that serves as a gateway to shared content and communities. More than 70,000 employees now share their knowledge and project documentation with Livelink and all employees have access to the best practice marketplace. Ultimately, Siemens wants to provide Livelink access to the company's 220,000 white-collar workers.
The portal strategy is key, says Klementz, because it's relatively easy for employees to search the directory and drill down within the 300 communities to locate the knowledge they need. Another good move for a company as wide-ranging as Siemens was to organize the communities based on topics such as contract management or Java programming rather than on experts, because a lot of expertise transcends business unit barriers.
Many KM initiatives are established with great fanfare and optimism but then wither. To avoid that at Siemens, Klementz is charged with ongoing management of KM throughout the company. "We on a corporate level can't coach every organization," Klementz says. "But we can provide them with a KM implementation guide, something of a best practices sharing bible that helps with implementation." As part of that, Siemens gives a the business units a KM toolbox that contains information for building effective communities and covers such topics as creating incentive systems, assessing the health of a community, and shutting down a community while preserving content. Another way Klementz helps keep KM going at Siemens is to get out of his Munich office and speak at conferences. "If you communicate what you're doing with the outside, you'll gain credibility on the inside," he says.-- CIO.com
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