"Knowledge management helps us stay on top of new software projects, emerging technologies, and customer satisfaction"
Madanmohan Rao interviews V.P. Kochikar, KM Head, Education & Research Department, Infosys Technologies
Vivekanand P. Kochikar is the head of KM at the Education & Research Department at Infosys Technologies (www.infy.com), one of ia's most admired and successful software companies, publicly listed in India and the U.S. His background is in industrial engineering, and he has been in the software industry for the last decade. At Infosys, Kochikar has been overseeing the design and delivery of internal education and consulting, and carrying out research in software engineering.
He has published papers in the areas of knowledge management, software project management, object technology, systems modeling, and related areas of software engineering in several international and national publications and media. Kochikar is currently on the panel of reviewers for IEEE Software, ACM SAC 2000, and other international journals and conferences.
He holds a PhD from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, an M.Tech. from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and a B.Tech. from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. Kochikar is a member of the IEEE Computer Society.
Q: What is your view of what KM can offer a company like Infosys, and how have you approached the issue conceptually?
Much of the KM literature shows that successful companies must constantly invest in managing, as well as renewing, their intellectual capital on an institutionalised basis. This is particularly true for companies operating in domains like software, which has a high knowledge component and evolves in a fast-paced globalised economy.
At Infosys, our focus has been on the culture and incentivisation of knowledge sharing, attention to the currency of information, and ensuring its utility. We would like every one of our employees - called Infoscions -- to be empowered by the knowledge of every other employee. Ultimately, our organizational learning is leveraged to deliver business value to the customer.
We blend our KM codification schemes with human aspects of interaction as well. We also believe that KM should not be restricted solely to the management levels of the organization, but practiced at all levels.
In a nutshell, our basic KM philosophy is "Learn Once, Use Anywhere."
Q: How did your KM initiative today evolve from its earlier stages, and how did it fit organically into your company's growth?
We have had a number of initiatives for sharing practices over the past several years, and we also had an Intranet called Sparsh. In the 1990s we had a proliferation of KM-related activities via internal knowledge bodies in an uncoordinated manner across various departments like quality, marketing, software, and R&D. An integrated approach was formally launched only later in September 1999.
Several factors drove and cemented our KM initiative: the requirement for better productivity, improved customer delight, need to de-risk in the face of interchangeability of team members and attrition, and the ability to work effectively as global virtual teams. In the software field, we noticed that a lot of learning happens but can then get lost if not properly managed. Organisational memory is critical for our business.
During late 1999, when the company was on a particularly aggressive growth path, Nandan Nilekani (current CEO and the then COO & MD), felt that the company needs to acquire greater capability to manage its own knowledge. The seeds of a formal, organization wide, integrated Knowledge Management (KM) initiative were then sown.
The KM initiative is driven by a steering committee which consists of the key heads plus members of the board of directors, with a formal budget process.
Q: Can you describe some of the KM processes you have implemented for Infoscions?
Learnings from software projects and customer management are contributed by Infoscions, a peer review process is applied, and the information is then made available to the other employees after legal issues such as third-party IPR are cleared.
Search utilities, security screening, and incentives for contribution come into picture here. To improve classification, search and utilization of this body of knowledge (BoK), we require project leaders, for instance, to include details like the target audience.
Other knowledge-related features on our Intranet include e-learning offerings for topics like software project management.
Q: How is the KM practice being marketed and evangelized within your company and outside?
KM success stories are featured in seminars and educational sessions across the organization.
In terms of education and evangelisation, we have invited numerous KM gurus to speak at our corporate campus, and also participate in KM events. Our KM initiatives have already been written up in the press.
We also believe in making our investors and shareholders aware about our efforts to track and reward organisational human and social capital, and have disclosed them in our annual financial reports using scoresheets based on Sveiby's Intangible Assets Monitor framework.
Every 6 months, we hold KM summits across all our development centres. We have 8 development centres in India, 6 proximity development centres abroad, and over 40 marketing offices worldwide.
And in terms of industry benchmarks, we are proud to say that we were among the top 40 finalists of the MAKE (Most Admired Knowledge Enterprises) award, which included Accenture, Buckman Labs, Dell Computer, Ernst & Young, and Intel. Infosys was the first Indian company to make it to the list.
Q: How else are you improving visibility of your KM portal?
We begin right with the induction phase of our new employees. The induction programme lasts for 14 weeks, and includes training and usage of the KM system. For instance, for some of the assignments, they are required to go to the K-Shop for answers.
We are also increasing stickiness of the portal via other content strategies like inclusion of Bombay Stock Exchange stock tickers, and even cricket scores!
Q: What are some of the content- and people-based KM resources you have designed?
The kinds of knowledge-centric content we focus on include project snapshots, experiential learnings, internal white papers, reusable code, Web site reviews, tech glossaries, book reviews, and news updates.
We have a people directory along with indicators of their expertise, project experience, location and accounts handled, called the People-Knowledge Map (PKM). We have also devised a proprietary 4-level knowledge hierarchy based on our taxonomy of software topics as faced and interpreted by our employees.
Our knowledge flow architecture involves not just content and technology but people and processes as well.
Q: What are some concerns that can arise here with confidentiality of proprietary client information?
Access to different parts of our knowledge domain is restricted by level of clearance and nature of roles. Only some project leaders working on similar projects can share certain knowledge with one another. Another area of concern has been controlling access to customer knowledge and IPR; hence, we have devised a two-stage content review process which also involves legal evaluation. Such collaborative KM systems will call for new kinds of content management systems.
Q: What kind of organisational support drives your KM initiative?
We have received support straight from the top for our KM initiative, including a steering committee with representation from the Board of Directors.
We have an eight-member central KM group, which is a part of the Education & Research department. The group also oversees internal publicity of KM efforts and identifies "practice champions" who can help in further KM efforts.
This group is made up of two sub-groups: one looks at content, research and process, and the other focuses on systems development for our Knowledge Shop.
Different groups, units and communities take responsibility for their knowledge sections.
We have a content team to manage editing, publishing, certification and maintenance.
Our central KM coordinating group can build and supply a "KM shell" or module that can be used by any group wishing to set up KM infrastructure.
Q: How are you incentivising the use of your KM system?
We have mechanisms to highlight and reward the more notable contributions, and also track utilization of this Body of Knowledge (BoK).
We are focusing on performance-based incentives in addition to normal peer recognition. We have devised rating measures called Knowledge Currency Units (KCUs), which are earned when employees contribute or utilize knowledge objects.
Each knowledge currency unit is pegged to a local monetary unit, which can then be encashed - for instance, in Bangalore, the accumulated KCUs can be converted into digital gift certificates at the local online retailer FabMart.
A KCU scoreboard on the central KM portal highlights strong contributors. We eventually want employees to see a visible correlation between productive KM activity and success in the company.
Q: What mechanisms have you implemented to monitor and track the KM practice?
We have also devised a proprietary KMM (Knowledge Management Maturity) Model for assessing and improving KM maturity. This model naturally draws significantly from the Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model (CMM).
In addition to the KCU mechanism, we assess the KM practice via surveys.
Q: What kinds of impact are you observing as a result of your KM system?
Over 10,000 people have logged in to the K-shop knowledge portal so far. We see a dramatic impact on the quality and productivity of our employees.
K-Shop receives 15 to 20 contributions of knowledge assets each day. We have over 3,500 such assets of various kinds in the repository, in addition to over 4,000 auto-generated documents from structured data.
Analysis of K-shop usage shows that a document is downloaded users every two work minutes. More than 10 per cent of the employees have authored or co-authored at least one knowledge asset.
In terms of direct business benefits, more than 80 per cent believe that their team's quality of work and productivity have improved, while 70 per cent said good knowledge-sharing practices had helped in delivering tangible benefit to customers. 73 per cent felt they saved more than 1 person-day in the last six months by using the existing knowledge architecture, with 14 per cent saying they saved more than 8 person-days. Three-quarters said that when needed, they were easily able to tap organizational knowledge in doing their work
An internal survey on a sample of about 1,500 (with a 27 per cent response rate) showed that more than 99 per cent of the respondents said that they believe KM is essential for the company. A convincing majority said that at Infosys, KM is taken seriously by all, particularly those in the senior and middle levels. 79 per cent said the knowledge-sharing environment in the company encouraged the documentation of knowledge for future use. 87 per cent asserted that whenever possible, they tried to reuse existing organizational knowledge rather than start from scratch. Finally, there is also a sense of urgency amongst most users in wanting to raise the level of sharing.
Q: Were there any cultural issues with adopting KM culture across your international offices, due to differences in national/linguistic/regional cultures?
In our context this was not a major issue, perhaps because our cross-cultural recruits have primarily been in IT and consulting, each of which is probably a sub-culture of its own! People who belong to these professions, while belonging to different nationalities, broadly share a similar attitude, skills and mindset. The recruitment and company orientation process further reduces the variance.
On a more general note, cross-cultural issues would, I suspect, be significant in organizations that have facilities in multiple countries that employ larger numbers of non-specialists, such as the petrochemical, automotive and most manufacturing industries.
Q: Any final parting comments on where you see this heading?
One of the advantages of being in the software sector is that we can devise tools that embed knowledge behaviours and metrics in the workflow tools, so that much of the underlying knowledge can be elicited and mined for patterns. This will call for more work in areas like artificial intelligences.
Steps up ahead include increasing usage of the KM system across all units, letting our valued customers plug in directly to some of our expertise, and ultimately integrating KM so thoroughly that it becomes transparent.
KM is a key part of our strategy for "e-inventing" ourselves. Our motto is: "We help Infoscions make learning a way of life".
Madanmohan Rao is the author of "The Asia-Pacific Internet Handbook" and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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