Friday, February 10, 2012: 03:53:43 PM



Satish Pendse highlights the importance of knowledge management and retention of adept planners in this information-driven industry

More and more organisations are fast understanding the need to retain and enhance knowledge of employees. This move helps the company to perform better, reduce time and cost, improve quality, innovation and ultimately, acquire a competitive edge and manage knowledge better.

The construction industry is heavily dependent on experienced human resources. For example, during the process of drafting a tender, factors such as topography of the site, optimum productivity rules, adept planning and realistic timelines can determine its failure or success. In such a situation, worthy insights lie with experienced planners who have worked on a substantial number of projects. Other decisions such as construction budgeting, engineering or project planning require a team of experienced planning managers who can make calculated decisions, on time.

The industry is driven by the experience of individuals, since it is extremely knowledge and information-centric. Given this scenario, the exodus of employees directly translates to the exodus of knowledge from the organisation. This could mean threat to the business. Also, it is a challenge to get new employees—who may or may not be very experienced—to reach the expectedcompetency level in a short period of time.

Furthermore, a company can achieve spectacular results if it intelligently combines the unique sets of skills and knowledge that employees from different departments in the company possess. Information Technology (IT) can be an effective tool for managing and enhancing the knowledge of employees and arming them with expertise, knowledge, and insight of years at the click of a button.

Roadblocks in Knowledge Management
There are a few factors that hinder the implementation of knowledge management. The abstract nature of this concept is the first factor. It is not always possible to define and dispense knowledge in a tangible manner. Consider the example of a project appreciation report. The transactional data such as PO, daily progress reports etc. can be effectively captured and managed by an effective ERP system. However, there are many non-transactional aspects such as best practices, cost saving measures, improvement in employee productivity, geological data and its impact on methodology that need due attention. Further, it is important to monitor how certain exceptional situations are handled and keep an organised record of these. The problem with this situation is that most of this knowledge lies with individuals who are working on that particular project. The biggest challenge lies in extracting this tacit knowledge, which can be done through questionnaires, case studies and FAQs among other tools.

A few people are reluctant or simply unable to clearly impart and share their knowledge. This challenge can be addressed by creating a channel of open communication, and systematically encouraging knowledge sharing, within the organisation. Generally, people who are important sources of information are willing to share their learning, but are often pressed for time. In case of such an unavoidable situation, innovative ways such as interviews, audio or video channels can be employed.

Some organisations are apprehensive about making too much information available to its employees. These companies are not open to sharing knowledge with their employees as they fear its misuse. However, it is important to understand that with growing business and market awareness, possession of knowledge is no longer a competitive advantage, but acting on it is. Internal benefits of knowledge sharing far outweigh its drawbacks. Also, through conditional access, this challenge can be addressed.

Digitising Knowledge for Growth
Digitising of knowledge is a key step in knowledge management. At a broad level, this can be divided in three areas: the first aspect is gathering knowledge. It is very important to clearly define the framework and methodology for knowledge gathering. IT can work as an effective tool for creating a knowledge repository consisting of documents, videos, audios, case studies and FAQs.

It is important to keep and use knowledge that has been gathered, relevant. While collating data, it is always likely that irrelevant data is collected along with relevant information. In order to keep data junk-free and clean, a strong validation mechanism needs to be in place in the organisation, which screens the captured data. Also, periodical update of the data is extremely important to keep it relevant.

After data is collated, it must be made easily accessible. Representation of information in a user-friendly manner and its effective retrieval is the only way to ensure that it is used and applied effectively. Intelligent mechanisms for the creation of metadata and keyword-based search options are a solution to this problem.

Apart from the collation of internal information, an organisation should concentrate on the acquisition of external knowledge. In order to ensure an organisation’s growth, it is important to create an open knowledge-sharing platform to encourage and empower employees to seek and share knowledge. Allowing employees to access the internet, knowledge sharing sites and other platforms are ways of opening avenues for learning, discussing and sharing of knowledge.

The internet offers a plethora of information that is only a click away. Search engines such as Google and websites such as Wikipedia are fine examples of knowledge-sharing platforms on the internet. Through these sources, employees can educate themselves about new technologies, materials, equipment, methodologies and global construction practices worldwide.

In this manner, employees have the opportunity of obtaining a global perspective on the industry. In turn, this substantiates the organisation’s offerings to its clients. A tremendous amount of interaction opportunities have opened up with the advent of IT. Social media sites such as LinkedIn, provide an opportunity to connect with people from the industry through online communities. In this manner, people can easily share and acquire information on various work-related issues through these websites.

Streamlining the Dissemination of Knowledge
It is important to cultivate a culture of utilisation of knowledge within the organisation. For this purpose, leadership from managers needs to drive and create a culture of knowledge gathering and sharing in the organisation.

Consulting organisations collate data from each of their projects across the globe and store it in a knowledge repository in an organised manner. This database provides employees with access to a wealth of knowledge, and equips them with useful information for future assignments. This data could otherwise require heavily experienced resources, and a much longer cycle-time.

Companies can institutionalise important data and make it available within organisation through knowledge portals. Also, employee portals that are accessible from remote project sites can be an effective tool for updating latest industry news, company policies, corporate announcements, and other important information. This can go a long way in creating an employee-company bond.

Knowledge management takes a substantial amount of time for an organisation to realise the benefits of knowledge management initiatives. Considering these long-term quantum benefits despite the roadblocks, it is worth it for every organisation to commit itself to the cause of knowledge management and enhancement.

The author is President, Highbar Technologies— a HCC Group Company.

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