Journal of Knowledge Management Practice, December 2005
Knowledge Sharing Practices In Km:
A Case Study In Indian Software Subsidiary
Sachin Bhirud1, Lewlyn Rodrigues1, Pradeep Desai2
Manipal Institute of Technology1, Philips Innovation Campus2

ABSTRACT:

This study is concerned with the knowledge sharing practices in Knowledge Management (KM) for innovation. This paper investigates a wide range of functionalities under the purview of KM that supports different set of organizational activities. Knowledge sharing practices in the organization are also explored for the purpose of formalization and sharing best practices and experiences within the organization


1. Introduction

The main objective of KM is to manage organizational knowledge to create new knowledge. The new knowledge is created by combining existing knowledge pieces or by generation of novel concepts through knowledge sharing. The KM and innovation is linked by knowledge sharing as depicted in Figure 1.

 

 

 


1.1. Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management (Davenport & Prusak, 1998; Allee, 1997; Alavi and Leidner, 1999; Hsiangchu and Tsai-hsib, 2000) is the process of managing the organization’s knowledge by means of systematic and organizational specific processes for acquiring, organizing, sustaining, applying, sharing and renewing both tacit and explicit knowledge by employees to enhance the organizational performance and create value. The true value is created by fostering innovation in the organization. This indicates that there are two important aspects in KM. First, the organization must consider knowledge as a strategic asset. Second, capitalize on existing organizational knowledge to build up an intellectual asset base to gain competitive advantage. These two aspects are discussed below.

A pragmatic approach to classify knowledge is to identify types of knowledge that are useful to the organization. For example, knowledge about customers, products, processes, and competitors, which include best practices, know-how and heuristic rules, patterns, software code, business processes, and models; architectures, technology, and business frameworks; project experiences (proposals, work plans, and reports); and tools used to implement a process such as checklists and surveys (KPMG Report, 2000).

1.2. Knowledge Sharing

Ideas are the critical input in the production of more valuable human and non-human capital (Cummings, 2003). Garvin (2003) opines that ideas carry maximum impact when they are shared broadly rather than held in few hands. Further, an interesting characteristic of knowledge is that its value grows when shared. During knowledge sharing; feedback questions, amplifications, and modifications add further value for the original ideas. This creates exponential growth in the knowledge of the original sender if done effectively. The knowledge shared among employees includes expertise on product development, best practices, process improvement discoveries, knowledge about the customer’s need, habits and attitudes (Chua, 2001). According to Trussler (1998) interactions between the employees are aligned to strategic objectives of the organisation, the actual content of the knowledge shared will be very much influenced by the nature of business of the organisation. Hence, knowledge sharing is the most important ingredient of innovation.

1.3. Innovation

The capacity to innovate is commonly regarded as irresistible force in knowledge economy. Industry no longer looks upon innovation as merely desirable. Increasingly, it recognizes as a necessary condition for survival in the business. According to Peter Drucker (1985), business has only two basic functions namely - marketing and innovation. Both produce results. All the rest are costs. The capacity to innovate is regarded as one key response mechanism under turbulent conditions (Sastry, 1997). Increased turbulence, complexity and global competition in organizational environments have made identification, development, evaluation and adoption of innovations the decisive factors for the growth, productivity, competitiveness, survival, and profitability of organizations (Morgan, 1988; Delbecq et al, 1985; Bigoness & Perreault, 1981; Zaltman et al, 1973). Continuous product and process innovations are prerequisites for sustainable competitiveness of organizations when technology and human capital remains same. Organizations must build and capitalize on knowledge to foster innovation.

Therefore KM, knowledge sharing, and innovation are interlinked with each other and this paper basically studies the associated features of these aspects in a typical knowledge intensive organization.

2. Company Profile

The company under study is a subsidiary of global electronics organization. It provides its services to its parent company in software development. Currently, it employs more than 1000 software professionals. It operates with seven product divisions and five supporting divisions. It operates on cost center model. Parent organization funds its operations by allocating budget.

3. The Innovation Model

The innovation model observed in the organization is linear in nature. The company invests in basic research; the success in the basic research drives applied research. The applied research is used in the development of prototypes and then later full functional products. These products are tested in target market. The successful product is then sent for mass production. This is shown in figure 2.

 

 

 

 

4. Methodology

This field study is classified as a passive participant observation. The qualitative data is collected through interaction with the employees, following them in meetings, purposeful visits to laboratories, and studying of reports & knowledge sharing e-mails. Also, information was gathered at informal sessions such as discussions over coffee breaks, lunch and other social occasions in the organization.

In the first phase of the field studies, interviews were held with most of the team leaders and members. In the second phase, a number of employees were followed closely for several days. Their knowledge sharing activities were closely observed for a period of four months. Before and after interactions the shadowed persons were asked to elaborate and clarify some of the key aspects of special interest. Only research related knowledge sharing was recorded.

5. Organizational Environment:

Martins and Terblanche’s (2003) framework is used to assess the organizational environment and suggest the determinants of organizational culture that support innovation and creativity. These are strategy, structure, support mechanisms, behavior that encourage innovation and communication (Figure 3).

 
 

 

 

 

 

 


5.1. Strategy

Organizational strategy is concerned with envisioning the future of business, creating value in the eyes of partners, and building and sustaining a strong position in the organization’s research and development community. The origin of creativity and innovation lies in the shared vision and mission, which are focused on future. The organization’s vision and mission statement supports KM and innovation. Also, the one page strategy indicates strategic directions, business enablers, results, and top ranking initiatives for that year.

5.2. Structure

Organizational culture has an influence on the organizational structure and operational systems in the organization (Armstrong, 1995). The organizational culture and structure of organization supports knowledge sharing and innovation through its values like delighting customers and interdependence. In the study it is found that there exists good environment for teamwork, synergy and knowledge sharing. For example, employees from different divisions meet on every working Friday morning to share their knowledge on topics defined in the charter of forum.

5.3. Communication

Organizational culture supports open and transparent communication primarily based on trust. It facilitates communication through open house policy, intranet, suggestion schemes, open communication between individuals, teams, and high levels of workflow automation e.g. the open door policy in one of the division where employee can raise their technical as well as social concerns.

5.4. Support Mechanisms

The organization has a well-defined mechanism to reward and recognize its employee. Employees are honored in Thank God Its Friday (TGIF) meetings, department meetings, and annual meeting. These activities make it imperative that the time and energy spent ‘counts’ in their performance and career. There are different categories for which awards are given by the management to the employees. This includes recognizing the hard work, motivating the employee to perform better, and encouraging the employees to think more creatively to the overall development of the organization.

5.5. Encouraging Innovation

The way in which mistakes are handled in the organization determines whether stakeholder feel free to act creatively and innovatively. In the organization under study, mistakes are handled in the form of lessons learned from projects and through defect prevention programs. The stakeholders are encouraged for creative thinking and rewarded for generation of ideas for business growth. Also, a continuous learning curve in the form of learning from partners, organizational policy on higher studies, etc. is observed.

5.6. Business Evolution of the Organization

The figure 4 shows the starting of various product divisions. This includes Consumer electronics (D1), Medical systems (D2), Semiconductor (D3), Research (D4), Applied technology group (D5), Intellectual property and research (D6) and Embedded software (D7).

Figure 4 - Time line of business evolution

6. Knowledge Sharing Practices

Top management support has been very effective in the organization under study as indicated by the existence of KM technologies such as collaborative tools. Communication is almost instant, even across a wide geographical spread. An important factor in the effective knowledge diffusion depends on the degree of information and communication technologies in the organization. The explicit and tacit knowledge in the organization is shared through knowledge sharing practices as shown in figure 5.

6.1. Explicit Knowledge Sharing

Explicit knowledge in an organization is represented in the form of databases, documents, best practices or processes in the organizations. The knowledge sharing is encouraged by creating ‘knowledge repository’ where employees contribute their expertise electronically to the organization in a way that can be accessed by other employees. The organization believes that it is better to learn from past and the success in business provides valuable guidelines for future endeavors. This knowledge repository can be accessed at the convenience of employees, and well suited even for the busy employees. Management of explicit knowledge is done through content and document management system and using data-mining techniques for retrieval.

 
The explicit knowledge differs from organization to organization. This leads to the development of organizational specific knowledge repository. The explicit knowledge is managed through knowledge repository, which is developed in-house. It facilitates upload and download of knowledge pieces to the employees. The knowledge repository uses structured mechanism to store knowledge based on the organization specific taxonomy. This taxonomy is defined on the basis of software development life cycle and project management.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6.2. Tacit Knowledge Sharing

Tacit knowledge is not structured and more concrete in invisible form. It resides in the knowledge worker’s head and is more difficult to transfer. In this case, the transmission of sensations, feelings or values plays an important role. This knowledge can be quickly and effectively harvested in a conversation with the experts. Face to face interaction is then usually required since it provides a ‘broader bandwidth’ that can accommodate all types of non-verbal communications. The tacit knowledge is subconsciously understood and applied, difficult to articulate, developed from direct experience and action. Usually, shared through highly interactive conversation, story-telling and sharing of experiences. The knowledge directories help in locating the experts in the organization. Also, it helps to identify the existence, location, and means of retrieval of information held by group of individuals, and connect the knowledge owners and user. Knowledge acquired is appropriately categorized and tagged. There is a clear map of different categories of knowledge stored in the repository. Knowledge directories are particularly important when linking personal expertise, as tacit knowledge cannot be easily codified and accessed independent of knowledge contributors. It is observed that the tacit knowledge is shared through the events like-

      Innovation Day – this is an internal annual event and a platform for knowledge sharing across various divisions in the organization. The technologies those are currently in use and those are going to be adopted in the future are displayed and demonstrated.

      Organization’s internal conference – the papers selected for conference go through a review process like any academic conference. Employees’ present novel concepts, insights, and experience gained in organization in the form of technical papers. It also encourages intra-division interaction among employees. All the technical papers are disseminated through conference proceedings with other subsidiaries.

      Storytelling – this session gives emphasis on knowledge sharing. Both external and internal knowledge is shared in this event. The external knowledge is imported through external speaker while internal knowledge is disseminated by the employees. Interesting topics on technical and non-technical subjects are covered in storytelling.

      Technology show – this is a technology event. It presents the future of organization’s research and development activities. The speakers are invited from the organization along with its worldwide subsidiaries.

      Best practices are shared through a dedicated repository. Employees share their achievements and experiences with best practices.

      Internal Trainers conduct training sessions for the employees. This leads to the development of mentors one of the objectives of which is to make fresh recruits to be project-ready with domain knowledge and process expertise relevant to their roles.

7. Knowledge Sharing Barriers

In the course of the study some of the notable barriers are found in knowledge sharing. The important properties of knowledge are its invisibility and intangibleness. These two properties hinder in the knowledge sharing. Knowledge is information in action. This makes it difficult to know who knows what.

Despite the fact that stakeholders play a vital role in the success of KM program, not all the stakeholders are serious in knowledge sharing until they see some benefits. In addition, the middle management that is responsible for encouraging knowledge sharing, do not see immediate benefits through KM, and hence, this acts as a major barrier in KM program.

The organizational structure and domain specific knowledge lead to the formation of silos. The organization comprises of sum of all the product divisions. Each product division is controlled by its parent organization with different business objectives. This is the main cause for the formation of silos.

The new knowledge is created through problem solving in the organization. It is found that there is invisible link between knowledge sharing and problem solving. This invisible link makes adverse affect on knowledge sharing in the organization.

The majority of the project originates from the parent organization. Not-Invented-Here (NIH) syndrome is observed in knowledge sharing in the organization.

Software development is highly dependent on tacit knowledge. Due to hyper competitive job market an employee becomes a journeyman. People fundamentally believe that ‘knowledge is power’ and hoarding of knowledge leads to gaining control over power. This kind of preconceived notion also acts as barrier to knowledge sharing.

Software development is a group activity. Every stakeholder has to contribute in development. Individuals are hard pressed with time due to routine activities. Moreover, knowledge sharing is voluntary. Hence, it becomes of secondary importance in the priorit list of an employee.

8. Managerial Implications

The success of KM in the organization depends on effective knowledge sharing practices, as stated before. The organizations classify knowledge on the basis of its strategic benefits. It is agreed that when knowledge becomes essential ingredient for the realization of organization’s strategic objectives, these organizations are classified as knowledge-intensive. Hence, to transform knowledge-intensive structure to knowledge-based structure, it is necessary to make knowledge more visible and easily accessible to the employees.

The stakeholders in the KM program should be encouraged to reuse the existing knowledge. The effective reuse of knowledge can help them in enhancing their efficiency and to become more productive. If done properly it will have impact on organizational bottom line. The middle management should be motivated to increase reuse of knowledge.

The organizational structure should encourage employees to share knowledge easily. The hierarchical structure can be used to locate good practices in the organization. These good practices must be converted into organizational best practices.

The collective problem solving has to be encouraged in the organization to strengthen the link between knowledge sharing and problem solving. The collective problem solving will also help in increasing social interaction between the employees.

Creating a local ownership of the project can minimize the NIH syndrome. The local ownership helps in generating interest in the project and that will try to reduce adverse effect of this syndrome.

Employee share knowledge easily when motivated. The motivation could be either intrinsic or extrinsic. Rewarding and recognition person with tangible form for their knowledge sharing efforts is extrinsic motivation while intrinsic motivation is intangible nature. Assigning a job of specific interest to an employee develops intrinsic motivation and needs to be encouraged.

Social interaction helps in enhancing knowledge sharing. The increase in social interaction will overcome the time for knowledge sharing.

9. Conclusion

The purpose of this paper was to understand the knowledge sharing practices in a knowledge-intensive organization. One of the main objectives of the KM is to foster innovation. The value addition takes place when the new knowledge is created which in turn is through knowledge sharing. The organization under study had an environment suitable for knowledge sharing. The knowledge sharing practices were found to be very effective. Information and communication technologies have been very appropriately used in knowledge sharing. However, a close observation also revealed the existence of barriers in knowledge sharing. Accordingly managerial implications were drawn to minimize the same.

10. References:

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Alavi, M., Leidner, D. E. (1999), “Knowledge Management Systems: Emerging Views And Practices From The Field”, Proceedings of the 32nd Hawaii International Conference on System Science.

Bigoness, W. J., Perreault, W. D. (1981), “A Conceptual Paradigm And Approach For The Study Of Innovators”. Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 24; pp.68–82.

Chua, A. (2001), “Relationship Between The Types Of Knowledge Shared And Types Of Communication Channels Used”, Journal of Knowledge Management Practice, Retrieved October 15, 2005: http://www.tlainc.com/jkmpv2.htm.

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Davenport, T., Prusak, L. (1998), “Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know”, Harvard Business School Press, Boston.

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Trussler, S. (1998), “The Rules of the Game”, The Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 19, No. 1; pp.16-19.

Zaltman, G., Duncan, R., Holbek, J. (1973), “Innovation and Organisations” John Wiley and Sons, New York.

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Meet the Authors:

Sachin S. Bhirud is a student of Master of Technology program at Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal. He is specializing in Engineering Management. He can be reached at sachin_bhirud@yahoo.com

Dr. Lewlyn L. R. Rodrigues is a faculty in Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Manipal Institute of technology, Manipal. He can be contacted at Department of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering, Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal 576104, Karnataka, India; Email: rodrigusr@yahoo.com; Telephone: +91-0820-2571061-70 Ext. 24042; Mobile: 091-9845218118; FAX: +91-0820-2571061-71

Dr. Pradeep Desai, is the Director of Technology and Innovation Management at Philips Innovation Campus, Bangalore. He can be contacted at: Telephone: +091-80-25579000-6060; Email: pradeep.desai@philips.com