Five years of knowledge management at itelligence

– written by Mathias Eberle, Knowledge Management Consultancy, itelligence –

In the fall of 2008, and following an extensive design phase, we were able to plan the design of our internal knowledge management portal itellipedia for itelligence AG. We were provided with very good theoretical models, a study by Fraunhofer IPK and a big dose of motivation. We didn´t know, however, whether that would be sufficient.

What is Knowledge Management?

  • Tacit knowledge represents approximately 80 % of the knowledge of a company.  Knowledge Management should help to make this hidden knowledge more transparent.
  • Knowledge Management strives to change tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge (and vice versa).
  • Knowledge Management should help in organizing such knowledge skillfully and promote conscientious handling of knowledge resources for the implementation of competitive advantages.

KM explanation

From day one, our technical solution involved collaborative components (wikis, blogs, forums), and classic intranet structures, while server integration and applications came at a later stage. The umbrella of this integrated interface is provided by an SAP NetWeaver portal through which we realize single-sign-on mechanisms as well.

After an initial period and rollout of the tool in various national companies, we quickly achieved a relatively stable international user base of approximately 10 % active (meaning content producing) users. Five years later, it is now time to evaluate our experience with Knowledge Management as a theoretical concept and its technology.

Our main lessons learned from the field of Knowledge Management (KM) are:

  1. Management Support is the most important factor.  Without this support the whole concept will not work. Only a tool or concept that is (at least partially) understood and supported by middle management will work in the long term.
  2. Motivation must always be positive.  It would be wrong to force people to use a (WM) tool. Positive motivation can help to create a stable „user base“ for WM, and continued offers will keep interest levels high.
  3. Technology is important, but not everything.  WM should be reproduced into user-friendly, well-defined tools. Even phone conversations or informal talks in the canteen can be useful WM tools.
  4. A more comprehensive theoretical concept leads to better long-term effects. WM will only become a permanent and productive part of a company, if employees do not only understand features of a wiki, but the whole company culture promotes a sharing and learning attitude.
  5. Quick Wins are nice to have, but only in the short term.  Small, useful applications with quick value added may actually increase your appetite for more WM. And then? For the permanent and intensive use of WM, the basic concept must be able to provide solutions. A new, dedicated „Knowledge Manager“ is a great asset, which should be used.
  6. Technologies have a short Lifecycle. Nowadays, knowledge is shared and managed differently (social networks, mobility) than five years ago (wikis), ten years ago (forums) or fifteen years ago (e-mail). WM must consider this cycle. The knowledge worker of today must be reached on other devices and with other software than in the old days. As a result, sound WM means continuous investment in technology.
  7. Successful Knowledge Management is almost invisible.  If WM works, it is not a spectacular new hype, but will be used for everyday work. In other words: Only failed WM projects have a dramatic impact. If WM features are implemented deeply into the corporate culture and structure of a company, over time, it opens up the company for WM ideas and then, inevitably, it will become natural and knowledge input will flow to the company in the long term.

Of course, I am available for any questions and topics you may have.

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