Fount of all knowledge
The three companies shortlisted in the Knowledge Management Award have all excelled in the use of e-business technology to allow their staff and customers to share information and maximise its worth.
BG Group is a utilities company operating in a rapidly evolving industry, in which connectivity is essential for success. Without it , individuals are ill-equipped to provide the kind of customer service competition demands, and the enterprise cannot hope to stay on its toes. Knowledge management is therefore an essential discipline, being greatly enhanced by a mobile solution which gives executives a constant knowledge resource. AvantGo Enterprise software has been utilised to render html content stored on the company intranet for Palm V handheld computers. Users plug these devices into their desktop PC cradle for downloading and synchronising pre-set information required by the individual before they hit the road. Since the launch in May 2000, users can browse information offline on demand.
Apart from lightening the loads of about 330 company briefcases, managers are finding it easier to deal with issues on the move. They essentially have access to a mobile office, set up at a cost of approximately £50,000, which enables them to respond knowledgeably and instantly to queries and issues relating to any operation worldwide. Further, the devices themselves are proving to be something of a hit, which is perhaps the greatest measure of success: technology is one thing, but getting people to use it is something else entirely. Even the most technically inexperienced members of the group have embraced the palmtops, using them to access the intranet and Web daily.
While the mobile aspect of this project is probably its most innovative element, other benefits include an end to paper directories, and an improved knowledge sharing ethos.
By giving the "Leadership team" of the top 250 managers all over the world - along with 80 new graduates - Palm V handheld devices, BG Group has exploited the functionality that the Palm provides. As a consequence, about 330 employees are finding it easier to deal with working on the move. AvantGo Enterprise software enables the company to extend their intranet out to handheld devices, which in turn enables employees to respond instantly to queries about any of BG's operations - in any place and at any time. It is easy to see why making this information portable is attractive in a global organisation whose managers tend to spend a lot of time out in the field.
Companies House is the Government agency responsible for the incorporation and registration of companies, together with the dissemination of business information for the purposes of risk assessment and business analysis. It holds one of the largest image banks in Europe, containing 25 million documents. These are now available over the Internet, in the Companies House Direct project.
Until March 1999, this information was available on microfiche, making it relatively inaccessible to the intended audience. The online service now provides a wide variety of customers, including search agents, accountants, lawyers, banks and analysts, with access to full public record of company information from any desktop running a web browser. All statutory forms submitted since March 1995 can be accessed. This is a massive operation in document conversion: 20,000 documents are being added to the database everyday. It cost £1.2m to set up, excluding annual running costs. Images are retrieved from the database typically within 30 seconds for users who can then download them to the PC. The success of the project can be gauged in terms of the 450,000 enquiries being made per month from subscribers, a rate that is growing by 5% per month. The public access site has hit rates of 1.4m per month. Future development will focus on the back-scanning of the microfiche archives to complete the electronic records.
Companies House Direct (CHD) gives us a broader definition of knowledge management, in that it serves a complete community ranging from reporters to M&A teams, and from credit controllers to the general public. That so many different sectors can access information and benefit from the solution makes this a worthy entrant. In terms of accessibility and speed of delivery, CHD has made a huge leap forward from the slow microfiche service it replaced. It probably also has lower ongoing running costs in terms of manpower and storage demands.
A Recipe For Success
A Recipe for Success is an e-business consultancy offering project-based business services for organisations looking to develop an e-commerce strategy. The company is expanding rapidly. Over the next three years staff numbers are expected to increase at a rate of 300% per year. These people are employed for their specialist skills and expertise, which means that they are often not available in the locality of the firm's offices. The question, then, is how to keep everyone firmly in touch?
A web site, part public, part private, has provided the link, It is an online knowledge management system that enables staff and customers to share information and communicate over a distance (www.arfs.co.uk). As a result, a Recipe for Success can deal flexibly with people's location: for example, over 90% of team members are working remotely.
The driving principle behind the design of the web site has been to keep it people-focussed. Various types of information are stored on the system, from securely controlled documents to "tips and hints". They are arranged hierarchically so that only the right people see the right data. The system, which cost only around £10,000, has also dramatically enhanced the kind of service the company offers to its customers. For example, customers are able to access comprehensive, consistent and up-to-date information about work being carried out. The main public web site has over 2,000 visitors a month. Feedback is encouraged, and comments and suggestions for improvements, such as videoconferencing, are influencing future plans.
This Web site has appealing presentation and is easy to navigate. The importance of a knowledge management system to this organisation, with its dispersed workers and client extranet, is high and needs to be treated accordingly. To include customers and partners is ambitious, yet desirable in a consultancy like this, and it is impressive that this was achieved at the earliest stage of implementation. They have certainly made the system something you cannot avoid! The way the company monitors system usage and manages the system with the information should also ensure speedy evolution of this ambitious site.