Quality, Standards & Risk: emerging KM drivers from Dubai

It was great to be back in Dubai last month for KM Middle East 2015 where I was running a Masterclass on Day One and giving the Keynote closing address on Day Two.

Chicago Beach HotelWhen I went there in 1984 the only hotel in Jumeirah was the Chicago Beach Hotel and that was an isolated spot some 30 minutes drive from Deira on empty roads and across desert. You went there for a bit of R & R after a tour of duty in Saudi Arabia.

Today the emirate is home to hundreds of thousands of jumeirah_beach_resort-485x325expats and foreign workers all of whom are bringing knowledge to help Dubai develop into one the world’s premier tourist destinations.  Here’s how the same piece of coastline looks 30 years on and you can get there today via a metro system!

Few in 1984 predicted Dubai would grow to be such a diversified economy: limited dependency on oil, increasingly reliant on the knowledge and competencies of its expanding (predominantly foreign) workforce and having the world’s busiest airport.

The underpinnings of such progress are people, process (and of course) technology. The disparity in numbers of indigenous Emirati to Expatriates (who are transient by nature) means that there is greater relience on process and technology to ensure continuity.  It is no surprise that the Knowledge Management activity in the region should be more of an operational/tactical nature rather than strategic.  This was evident for me at KM Mid East.

 The Event – Day One

Held over two days at the very luxurious Park Hyatt Dubai the event comprised a series of workshops on Day One and a Plenary Conference on Day Two.  My workshop Unlocking the true value of Knowledge Management: identifying and assessing your organisation’s Knowledge Assets took place in the afternoon from 2pm-6pm.

AgendaThere were 20 people, a nice mix of gender, age and experience.  This was the agenda for the afternoon:

My aim was to get the participants to think about why KM mattered and to begin to develop an understanding of the Knowledge Assets they had in their business.

I was also keen to look at a few different ways to identify and assess their value and what might they then do to mitigate potential loss.

Team A at KMME Workshop

Team A at KMME Workshop displaying their ccompleted Analyser.

Session 6 An exercise in mapping was particularly revealing.

Focusing on a recent decision ‘Team A’ used the Event Analyser to describe how they had saved a substantial amount by drawing on the internal knowledge of their organisation which they were then able to pass on for others to use.

It was an enjoyable afternoon (the opening Ice Breaker helped to

Everyone got involved

Everyone got involved

lower barriers) and I made sure each session had a mix of informing and doing with plenty of interaction, stories (and humour). And we finished at 6pm with a full contingent!

The Event – Day Two

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John Girard and Dave Snowden in the foreground

The slide deck has been made available for each presentation by the organisers and can be found here. There was also a twitter feed #kmme with a few interesting comments thrown in as the day proceeded.

The event was well attended and the presentations informative. Being at the end of the day I had the opportunity to hear everyone.  My attention was stimulated by some of the local presentations especially since so many focused on measurement and frameworks.

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EFQM Model adopted in Dubai

One which caught my eye which was how Quality Standards such as EFQM are becoming the drivers and measurement yardsticks for KM implementations.

This adherence to standards of excellence fits with the way Dubai and the UAE are measuring progress across a wide spectrum of activities. It was even evident in the surplus food discussions I had while I was there.

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Cascading the EFQM model – KM Business Results

People understand that to win environmental and sustainability awards you have to be able to demonstrate effective reuse so the measure is based on sustainability and environmental impact not on the social impact.

Here’s just one of the slides by way of an example of how the framework is being cascaded down in KM.

While entirely logical It poses a number questions for me:

  • are the evaluators experenced KM Practitioners?
  • the start point would seem to be critical – yes an organisation might make great progress but where is the benchmarking element?
  • where do the frameworks cater for increasing the value of an organisation’s Knowledge Assets?
  • is there a danger of being in love with the process rather than the results of the process?

It’s a great start though and similar to work done in Singapore where EFQM and ASQ measures have been combined in some organisations as a way of cascading down operating values and standards (SOP’s). Where organisations start to make progress is when competencies are built into the framework.

My Takeaways

So apart from a number of very interesting discussions with the other speakers over dinner and with the delegates at the event what else did I takeaway?

  1. KM is increasingly being driven by issues of Quality, Standards & Risk.  These are operationally focused but provide tangible measures that organisations can point to as a way of demonstrating value. EFQM is the predominent standard in UAE and KM programmes need to align with it.
  2. Standards organisations are introducing criteria that include being able to demonstrate technical competence in KM including the provision of a KM strategy.  If you want the award (and often you need it to sell what you produce) then KM is a must do.*
  3. Risk (of individual and collective Knowledge loss) in a society that is still essentially transient places great importance on ‘knowing what we know’ and so Knowledge Assets Audting (identifying and assessing) is likely to grow in importance.

IMG_3344The final takeaway: my speaker ‘award’ (presented by John Girard along with the Deputy Director, Dubai Chambers of Commerce)

 

 

 

* as a footnote to this I came across this:

The Standards Institution of Israel (SII), Israel’s member body to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), has submitted a proposal for a new international standard focusing on requirements for knowledge management systems. As the U.S. member body to ISO, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) invites all interested stakeholders to submit comments on the proposal by Friday, February 14, 2014.

The proposed International Standard would set down requirements for organizational knowledge management systems, including the creation and maintenance of such systems, the nurturing of a knowledge management culture, measurement of organizations’ knowledge, and approaches to sharing knowledge management solutions. The standard would cover businesses, nonprofits, government organizations, and other groups of any size and in any field.

What Knowledge Management is and why some people don’t ‘get it’

I was in virtual conversation today with Professor Fernando Sousa, President of APGICO, the Portuguese Association for Creativity & Innovation whose aims are to:

  • develop, disseminate and promote knowledge and experience in the management of organizational creativity and innovation;
  • establish international contacts with similar organizations;
  • create forums for dialogue between businesses, academic institutions, government agencies and other stakeholders in the management of creativity and innovation.

APGICO has all the right characteristics to become a Knowledge driven organisation where collaboration and co-creation are at the heart of everything they do!

Fernando and I first met 5 years ago when we were part of an Advisory Board assembled to look at future business options for a traditional hand weaving business based in the Alentejo region of Portugal. Fernando subsequently invited me to be a guest speaker at an EU Creativity & Innovation event Portugal hosted during which he used stories to develop themes and we’ve shared ideas ever since and recently met for tea in Faro.

I mention this since despite a number of conversations Fernando, like many, struggles to ‘get’ Knowledge Management though he appreciates the ideas behind it, the techniques that underpin it and the value of stories to unearth new meaning. In his own words:

Although I have some difficulty in entering your field of expertise, I always find your texts and slides quite interesting; in fact, I find some of them are true mind breakthroughs

While generous (thank you Fernando) it means I haven’t expressed the message clearly enough in language that he understands or in context which goes to the heart of a conversation I’ve been following this week on KM4Dev started by the World Bank entitled ‘PDFs that nobody reads’.

KM – the dangers of a supply led model

Here’s an extract from one of the many excellent contributions to the KM4Dev discussion, this by Lata Narayanaswamy, Honourary Research Fellow at University of Sheffield:

It is this question of what people actually do with all the reports and newsletters and information packs that we as development professionals produce, and I absolutely include myself here. My own research in this area would suggest that, in contrast to so many members in this forum in particular, who work to promote KM as an interactive, engaged, two-way, back and forth communications process, a large proportion of what passes for KM is the production of a PDF that gets posted on a website. It is a supply-led model that reflects what both Philipp and Magdaline have identified as the lack of reflection on what people actually want to know, and instead focuses on what organisations either want to share or what they think people should want or need to know and ‘how’ to know those issues. ……
Given the diffuse nature of what we call ‘development’, it is not therefore surprising to find that the World Bank, despite their powerful financial and discursive position, is experiencing a ‘no one is really reading our stuff’ problem, because broadcast mode has always been an essential part of their KM framework and the way in which so much of civil society has understood what is means to ‘do’ knowledge.
And whilst I believe that engaging with and articulating the demand for knowledge is hugely important, I am under no illusion that engaging with demand alone is going to address this issue. I myself as a practitioner have been in plenty of situations where someone has requested information (presumably this counts as engaging with demand!) and I subsequently learn that they didn’t use it. I think Peter’s example of ‘information that might be useful if only we had a budget to engage people with it’ really highlights that KM is not only about demand or supply but a continuous process of recognising the value of information to the knowledge creation process.

My own observations on that discussion were:

I’ve been working a fair bit recently with and in Middle East and Africa and very aware of the challenges of publishing dry English reports to audiences where English is a subsidiary tongue. I’ve tried using the power of 3 (3 bullets, 3 themes), stories and postcards to bring ’stuff’ to life.  But ultimately it takes a seismic shift for people to change ingrained habits.

One of my early corporate assignments was to set in place a business intelligence function which collated and summarised salient content for senior officers.  Later, technology sought to replicate this but was never quite able to replicate the knowledge of an individual who knew the business inside out.  In a way this was how the Knowledge Manager in that business emerged – a person who knew and understood the business providing the right content (with opinion) to those who were best able to use it.

I’ve been working with one of the leading Gamification experts and will be facilitating a debate on the subject at KMUK and with David Gurteen at a Knowledge Cafe in a few weeks time.  Its a similar issue – how to get engagement with an audience, a problem increasingly exacerbated by the behaviours of Generations X, Y & ‘Rent’ whose learning and reading styles are driven more by social than traditional push technologies.

identifying the value of Knowledge Management

So I was delighted when Nick Milton published the extract from a presentation to financial analysts made by ConocoPhillips last month in which one of their Vice Presidents described the value of Knowledge Management to that organisation – take a look at Nick’s blog. The comment that really hit me was:

The knowledge sharing group that we have that drives all of this is embedded in our IT organization, which is embedded in our technology and projects organization.
So it’s well integrated with all our other functional groups and we look at maps of how knowledge is being shared from one part of the world to the other and across different functions and can actually track how well that is working and it’s been pretty impressive what it has done for us.

“It is actually one of the key tools that we are using today to combat the great crew changes, we call it in our industry, where we have so many people with so much knowledge who are retiring and we’ve hired all of these younger people. A big part of how we do that knowledge transfer from the experienced folks to the less experienced folks is using these tools.

Value creation is at the heart of the Knowledge Asset Management Methodology, Ron Young has helped many organisations adopt. It is based on a concept of frequent value assessments with measurements (Change Readiness / Stakeholder Analysis / KM Maturity Models as examples) and the idea of embedding a 9 step Knowledge Management process into the day to day workings of an organisation.  It further calls for the identification of an organisation’s Knowledge Assets, a serious attempt to measure the intrinsic value of processes, communities and individual, team and organisational knowledge and networks.

For many years Ron, along with others in the KM arena, has been calling for a mechanism that places a value on these Knowledge Assets and while the ConocoPhillips briefing is some way off that it is a move towards that goal. Lest we should forget, a few years back a correlation was made between the winners of MAKE awards and their outperformance on the US stock market.

I believe Risk Management is also of huge significance and why the Nuclear Industry pay attention to the capture of Critical Knowledge identifying who has it and what they could least afford to lose through natural wastage or downsizing. As yet, factoring in the value of a loss of Critical Knowledge as a potential risk does not feature in the Audit and Compliance reports of most organisations and I for one believe it should.

and finally

So what do I take from this?

  • Knowledge Management needs a foundation of good Information Management;
  • To be effective (and sustainable) Knowledge Management must be embedded in the processes of an organisation and focus on business issues;
  • While stories bring experiences to life, you can’t assess what you don’t measure and if you don’t map and measure (frequently) you are reliant on anecdotal evidence which at the top level of organisations won’t wash for long; and
  • Its easy to produce ‘product’ that looks good but not relevant or in context for the audience – pushing at an ajar door on the lower levels is a lot different than banging on a locked door at the top of the building!

knowledge management is dead but it won’t lie down: a 10 year review of a KIM initiative

In the past few months I’ve heard talk of a resurgence in knowledge management.  km conferences are once again burgeoning; the UK’s Civil Service now has knowledge & information management as one of 22 recognised professions; last week while in Portugal I learned that the legal industry is now km aware; and many of my peers in the industry are finding themselves busier than ever providing advice to help organisations set up km initiatives across the globe.

One downside of providing external advice and assistance to organisations is that you are not always around to see the outcomes of your work especially when its  knowledge and information management related.  Occasionally you get the chance to get back under the covers and see how clients have implemented km style tools and techniques.

back under the covers

Such an opportunity took place at the end of December when I went back to the 7th largest global reinsurance broker (BMS) to see Phil Hill the Chief Information Officer I first worked alongside in 2001.

Reinsurance brokers are arbitrageurs: they place risk on behalf of large global organisations. They use knowledge of a client’s specific needs and apply that to find the best market to take the risk. They must know about clients and markets and manage relationships in both.

At the turn of the Millennium BMS was a top ten broker with aspirations to grow internationally and make better use of the combined knowledge of its dozen or so operating entities. It was dipping its toe into the document, records and information management waters and attempting to provide a technological backbone to support a growing demand for relevant and timely information. It had a very embryonic intranet.

Today BMS has broadened its business focus; it has expanded beyond reinsurance into underwriting working with a number of trusted partners. And it has focused much of its activity on building US based business development and transactional processing capability.  Seamless connectivity and access to internal and external information on clients, markets and BMS’ own resources are support prerequisites.

So how has it managed this transition and what are the significant milestones in its journey that has seen it become one of the most admired and technologically advanced practitioners in the market? One that is:

  • at the forefront of electronic placement; is regularly up for awards for innovation;
  • whose CIO Phil is a frequent and sought after speaker and panellist on industry platforms?

BMS is now an institution where joiners get a preloaded iPad with 24×7 access to the latest global and internal information as well as the ‘big data’ (catastrophe modelling in BMS’ case) that has become must have software in the insurance/reinsurance industry.

a decade reviewed

In the 2001 knowledge and information audit I conducted I noted that:

  • More than 60% of all items saved on the common H drive had been put in the ‘miscellaneous’ folder; there was no common terminology about how documents were to be named or catalogued; and no central place to find information on markets and clients.
  • As was common around that time there was limited collaboration between the various businesses and as a result potential for pursuing the same clients.
  • New joiners relied on traditional role shadowing and a tour of the building (s) to get up to speed.
  • BMS was spread out across a couple of locations and on different floors in a building at Aldgate which discouraged informal interactions.
  • Recognition of the concept of critical knowledge assets was a long way off and the words knowledge management dismissed as being jargon.  Busy people at the business end had no real interest in filing documents let alone thinking about how they might be reused; even in 2001 everyone expected the system to do it for them and the idea of ‘drag and drop’ from one platform to another was still in its infancy.

The shocking events of 9/11 in the US provided the ‘burning platform’ moment for a change in attitudes. Everyone wanted up to date consolidated news and opinion. The Intranet, website and content management system were approved as a combined project and with my assistance the newly formed Marketing & Communications (Marcoms) Team set about creating BMS Today and building up a cadre of volunteers willing to help identify the critical knowledge and information that should be captured and stored.

A definition or aim for the system emerged:

adopting a publish once use many basis provide a one screen view of activity with clients and the markets in which they operate and a central hub for knowledge and information on the organisation and its operations.

Here’s what BMS Today eventually became:

Intranet Home Page

Corporate Calendar

Though at the cutting edge of intranets BMS Today was not enough. The Marcoms team needed to go further to encourage knowledge sharing so concurrent with a relocation to One America Sq they began a series of Learn@Lunch and Breakfast Briefings aimed at showcasing different aspects of the business.

Still collaboration was a distant objective though the move to One America Square in 2008 did throw up an interesting opportunity to introduce social media.  One of the team (who been enrolled on a journalist programme) was deployed among the builders and fitters on site to provide a regular ‘blog from the battlements’.  Widely read at the time it provided an insight into life at the soon to be occupied premises and a metaphorical bridge to help people acclimate to the new surroundings.

One America Square enabled BMS to plan collaborative physical spaces in which to hold breakfast briefings and learn@lunch sessions. There was a lot of discussion about the efficacy of such a space.  ‘Connexions’ as it became known was a hub for meetings and with a business lounge in close proximity it enabled serendipitous meetings at the coffee machine (and water cooler) to continue in a relaxed but more formal setting.Connexions 600x400

And of course the best coffee, subsidized snacks and rapid internet access were made available to encourage traffic to the site and make external visitors feel welcome.

changing focus & new technologies

A change of focus combined with the arrival of disruptive technology proved a challenge and an opportunity. The broking teams needed improved access to information on the move and an easy way to demonstrate the modelling systems that enable risk to be better evaluated. But technology costs and the benefits of investment are not always easy to quantify. So CIO Phil (aided and abetted by Philip Gibson of Sparknow) used a traditional storytelling technique and the idea of developing a set of personae as a way of illustrating what BMS’ world might look like in a few years time if some technological improvements were introduced. Here’s an extract from one of the scenarios:

Jade Thompson is 35 and has worked in the London Market for 14 years. She has agreed to join BMS as a senior underwriter, moving on from one of the big managing agents. She wants to work for a company that really supports her initiative and drive – not one that swaddles her in red tape.

The week before Jade joins, she receives at home via courier a package from BMS.

Inside she finds an iPad, with a BMS logo with the slogan: “Using clever technology”. There’s also an iPhone, also with a BMS logo and her name.

She reads the attached note, welcoming her to BMS and giving her the logon and password information she needs to use the equipment. “Wow!” she says to herself, “this is great – they really know how to make you feel special.” Jade switches on the iPad and logs on as instructed. There‘s an icon on the first screen, “Welcome”. Touching the icon starts a video of the CEO welcoming her to the company. Various members of the board and HR provide insights into BMS and what she might expect in her first few days.

There is also a pointer to other information on the iPad, such as all aspects of the induction procedure including health and safety. Thrilling, she thinks to herself…

This scenario has come to fruition thanks to the investment in technology (in this case iPads) made by the BMS board which has continued to support further development on BMS Today and a decade on, this is where many of the ideas and initiatives outlined above merge.

BMS Box Office Soon all 9 BMS offices will be able to log into the new intranet irrespective of domicile. It will meet the original aim of providing a one screen view of all activity with a client as well as providing real time access to the latest social media applications and real time information.

Submission to the corporate document storage system is a simple drag and drop process that recognises and acknowledges peoples preference for an Outlook Mail style filing BMS Searchstructure. ‘Stuff’ can be easily located via a search engine that accesses all operating systems via iPads which permit electronic placement.

 

takeaways

The team and I drew on techniques found in business development, communications, marketing, information and project management, engagement, facilitation as well as knowledge management to provide an infrastructure and ways of working that formed a backdrop to the continued expansion and development of the business.

Many who work in the knowledge & information arena would recognise most of the above activities, its what they do on a regular basis.  Yet at no point during the years I worked alongside the team at BMS was km used as a phrase or established as a discipline.

That a decade on BMS is thriving is an illustration that km by any name takes time but has value.

And finally by way of acknowledgement I should mention the names of those people with whom I worked most closely during my time as Advisor.  They were from BMS: Phil Hill, CIO; Roger Cooper, COO; Jeff Martin, Director; Anne-Marie Hawtin, Manager; and John Spencer Former CEO. From Intranet Focus: Martin White, CEO.