In our second preview article on CII’s upcoming annual summit, we share case studies and trends in organisational knowledge flows, community activities, and business impacts.Madanmohan Rao
The annual CII Knowledge Summit, titled Reimagining the Knowledge Enterprise, will feature a range of corporate leaders, chief knowledge officers, innovation heads, and startup founders.
Organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the two-day international event on March 7-8 in Bengaluru will feature keynotes, panels, and workshops on how organisations can leverage techniques ranging from community networks to artificial intelligence (AI) for harnessing business knowledge.
YourStory is the media partner for CII, and in our second preview article on the CII Knowledge Summit 2019, we share perspectives from six speakers and CII committee members. They share valuable insights on new frontiers in knowledge management (KM), and its role in business transformation (see our first preview article here).
“With so much hype around shiny new things, the biggest challenge for businesses is to segregate meaningful ‘signal’ from the overwhelming ‘noise.’ Be it customer-facing functions or internal processes, everyone is struggling with information overload,” said Balaji Iyer, Director, National KM, Grant Thornton, in a chat with YourStory.
A well-oiled KM machinery helps build (and execute through) an institutional approach to harnessing organisational knowledge for delivering what is truly of value to their customers - while also continuing to manage costs, Balaji adds.
“Over the years, we are increasingly seeing the shift in focus on the purpose of KM, over the temporary superficial benefits. We have seen trends like working out loud and community management slowly picking up and showing value,” explains Nikhil Nulkar, Associate Director for Knowledge Management, Happiest Minds.
“KM is like the nervous system that connects across the organisation. With the growing need to be continuously innovative, KM works towards bringing the best minds and practices across the organisation and gives that synergetic effect to constantly think anew,” says Molly Chaudhuri, Head of Training at Sahyadri College of Engineering and Management.
KM has helped employees shift perspectives and habits from hoarding information to sharing information continuously. “In the last decade, KM has been integrated into systems rather than being a standalone entity. With new advancements in digital technology and social media, we now have employees who are more open to sharing than in the past,” Molly observes.
“Digital transformation has a huge impact on a range of aspects of learning - the who, why,
what, and how of acquiring new skills and knowledge,” says Sujatha Visweswara, VP and GM of Harman International. Digital has the capability to transform an organisation's entire value proposition - right from how prospects come to know of its products and services, to how the buying cycle can be optimised, and how post-sales servicing operates.
“The digital revolution fundamentally alters the way we live, work, and relate to one another. Besides the learning needs of millennials, learning in the future also has to embrace the impact of digital transformation on older generations. Thus, employees being born before the turn of the century need to catch up on ICT skills in order to acquire competencies needed in the digitalised workplace, and become digital learners,” she explains. There is a digital divide between the so-called digital natives and other generations.
“Digital transformation and technological advances are giving rise to disruptive business models that profoundly impact businesses,” says Sameer Dhanrajani, Chief Strategy Officer, Fractal Analytics.
“It is essential for companies to grasp the functioning of new technological applications and their impact along with economic and regulatory implications. This will enable them to arrive at convergence with their existing in-house challenges and requirements, and develop their own framework that will enable taking full advantage of digital opportunities,” he adds.
“AI is at an inflection point and will become ubiquitous, smart and embedded. It will compel enterprises to reimagine the business decision-making processes,” Sameer predicts. He is also author of the book, AI and Analytics (see my book review here).
We are at the crossroads of the smart revolution with smart health grids, smart homes, and autonomous cars. “AI has engulfed the way we make everything 'smart.' The Internet of Things (IoT) is connecting people and devices for collaborative knowledge exchange in a digital ecosystem. From facial recognition to conversational bots, AI is assisting humans in the better use of resources,” Sujatha of Harman International explains.
“Going beyond desktops/mobile touch-screen devices, AI will move us from a reactive view of data to the predictive provision of insights. This, in turn, will produce more human-like interactions, providing exciting new ways to engage with employees and customers. Voice interface is the way forward for UI,” she adds.
The speakers suggest many ways in which leaders should focus on their organisational knowledge in the midst of many other pressures. “One way to ensure there is focus on knowledge-sharing is by ensuring people have easy access to experienced mentors and by making sure they have periodic catch-ups with these mentors,” explains Pranay Gupta, Co-founder of co-working space 91springboard (see earlier YourStory interview here).
“This might require a bit of a push to turn this into a habit. However, once you do that, the value you stand to gain is massive. I feel people do tend to underestimate the value experienced mentors bring to the table, especially in the early stages,” Pranay observes.
“Secondly, if you look at many successful CEOs in companies, they tend to devour books as if they are going out of style. They read books, blogs, and articles of all kinds and share them across their organisation,” he adds.
This need not necessarily be work-focused content, but things that are holistically beneficial for people across the board. “You have to make this happen in your organisation. It is extremely easy, during the growth phase of your company, to say that you don’t have the time to read books because your plate is overflowing with so many other things,” Pranay explains.
“However, that’s the oldest excuse in the book, and we all have 24 hours in a day. It is how we manage our time that makes all the difference. Our CEO is one of those people who is always hungry for knowledge, and that pushes each of us to do the same. If he can take out time from his busy schedule to do this, we all can,” Pranay advises.
91springboard organises a leadership meeting that constitutes its senior layer of management, once every two months. “This usually lasts two days and the main aim is for the senior management to get into a room, align on a common vision, and ask each other for help and assistance with whatever problems they might be facing. This has worked great for us, as an organisation,” Pranay explains.
Online forums are a great place to connect with people, but face-to-face interaction has its advantages during question-answer discussions. “Seldom will you find a senior leader voicing out his problem on an open online forum,” Pranay explains.
91springboard religiously conducts periodic cofounder catch-ups amongst its member base of over 11,000, many of whom are founders and co-founders. “These catch ups don’t necessarily have a preset agenda as such. However, we ensure that topics from across the board are brought up and discussed: everything from simple everyday problems to larger level worries and concerns,” Pranay adds.
The most important thing to be kept in mind here is the moderator. “You must ensure the moderator of the discussion knows exactly how to get people to deep dive into whatever is it they are talking about. These co-founder catch-ups have worked like a charm for us and have greatly helped inculcate the habit of knowledge-sharing amongst our members,” Pranay says.
Social activities help build connects in non-transactional settings as well. “We try and do a lot of non-transactional profession-based activities to encourage people to genuinely get to know one another better, get comfortable with one another, and most importantly, to start trusting each other,” he explains. Such activities include unwinds, sports-oriented activities, interest-based groups, and member off-sites.
Though the topic or agenda of each of these activities isn’t necessarily knowledge sharing or anything work-related, a lot of knowledge sharing invariably ends up happening. “Basically, all you need to do is create an environment that makes them comfortable enough to share and open up to each other. All such trust-based bonds are better formed during these non-transaction based activities,” Pranay explains.
Within Grant Thornton, KM creates a culture of sharing, reuse and collaboration that leads to greater profitability, a more leveraged business, and a fully engaged workforce. This results in greater value for clients, according to Balaji, who heads KM at the professional services company.
More specifically, he explains that KM has strengthened client relationships using a Go-to-Market (GTM) mobile app, improved understanding of clients and competitors through the research tools portfolio, and amplified collaboration across the firm through Yammer.
Harman International is embracing future-forward solutions to ride the current wave of digital
Transformation. Sujatha lists some of these solutions, such as smart assistants and new user interfaces. “Using hands-free voice commands, we enable users to stay up-to-date with happenings in their immediate environment and thereby enhance customer experience,” she explains.
Examples include combining AI algorithms with conversational assistants to build AI-infused cruises for enhancing ship intimacy. This enables guests to stay connected with the right information in the right place.
As key hallmarks of a successful knowledge-sharing culture, Balaji of Grant Thornton shares the following attributes:
● People understand that knowledge sharing is a job requirement
● Knowledge sharing and re-use are celebrated and 'reinvention of the proverbial wheel' is frowned upon
● New ideas are actively encouraged, institutionally captured, reviewed, and actioned across organisational lines.
Balaji also identifies a range of roles for successful KM: Chief Knowledge Officer (a leadership-level role that signals organisational buy-in and serious mandate), Knowledge Sherpa (community knowledge managers who incubate, activate and nurture user communities), and Knowledge Ambassadors (people from BUs who partake in knowledge curation and sharing).
Sujatha of Harmana International cited research which shows that 87 percent of millennials identify professional development as a critical aspect when evaluating the desirability of a job. “Managers thus have to invest time in the career development of this workforce. By doing so, not only do they keep employee engagement levels high but also ensure that these employees offer greater value to the organisation,” she explains.
By taking a proactive approach towards the training and development needs of their workforce, managers can create more areas of opportunities for ownership and help them understand that they are a part of something more meaningful and significant, according to Sujatha. She suggests that organisations create some form of professional development cadence via training sessions, attending conferences, personal development sessions, and giving avenues of self-teaching.
KM will play an important role in ensuring how enterprises can survive in this new 21st century VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity). In this regard, a successful knowledge-sharing culture has to be open, transparent, networked and be able to learn via storytelling and conversations, according to Nikhil of Happiest Minds. Roles that come into the picture include knowledge architect, storyteller, community manager, neo-generalist, and evangelist.
Digital transformation journeys and KM implementations are not without their share of ups, downs, misconceptions, challenges and risks. “Adding an analytics element, automation or investing in new technology is not the digital transformation equivalent. There are mere improvements to the existing organisational infrastructure,” cautions Sujatha of Harman International.
Understanding customer journeys, expectations, and customer behaviour to drive elevated customer experiences should be the starting point of these initiatives. “Digital transformation initiatives have to make a tangible difference in the lives of the customers and the employees. It has to open up new revenue streams and business opportunities,” Sujatha emphasises.
“Innovation – be it knowledge creation, driving digital transformation, or new initiatives – can be a frustrating pursuit for many organisations despite making investments of time and money,” she cautions,
While the 'failure to execute' is probably the usual suspect, the lack of innovation execution also stems from the lack of an innovation strategy. “An innovation strategy is creating a set of coherent, mutually reinforcing set of behaviours and policies directed towards achieving a specific goal,” she explains.
Innovation strategy is about creating alignment within the diverse groups in an organisation, outlining a clear set of priorities and defining the set of efforts required to achieve this and aligning these innovation strategies with the business strategies.
As emerging trends that affect knowledge organisations, the speakers identify prescriptive analytics, digital mesh, peer learning, AI, ML, and the redefinition of what constitutes core knowledge.
“Prescriptive analytics offers recommendations on how to act upon predictions to take advantage of them. It uses a variety of algorithms and data modelling techniques to build a thorough understanding of the environment and thus improves business performance,” Sujatha of Harman International explains. Prescriptive analytics leverages predictive analytics and descriptive analytics to derive ideal outcomes.
Pranay of 91springboard identifies three trends in knowledge-sharing: content management, peer to peer learning, and business intelligence. “Ever since social media have become such a large part of our lives, people have become super open and willing to sharing in general. This has led to a massive influx of knowledge sharing. For example, if you ever have a problem, doubt or query, all you need to do is put it out there and there will always be more than enough people who will reach out to help you,” he says.
Sameer of Fractal Analytics identifies smart machines, API evolution, and the rise of recommendations as key emerging trends. “AI tools will evolve to read, review and analyse vast quantities of disparate data, providing insight into how customers feel about a company's products or services and why they feel the way they do,” he explains. AI will be used to expedite knowledge-based activities to improve efficiency and performance, by reducing costs through automation, and transforming customer experience.
“APIs will help businesses become platforms involving digital business models. The role of insights, intelligence and recommendations will become prominent. It has become imperative for organisations to understand the knowledge hidden behind data flows,” Sameer adds.
He also cites Gartner research on the rise of major service failures, due to the inability of IT security teams to manage digital risk. Types of risk include user level risks (identity, data), operational level risk (interfaces, applications, devices) and business level risks (business contexts). He advocates the use of responsive measures such as detection rules, behavioural analytics, and threat intelligence mechanisms.
Once viewed as an extension to library science and limited to content management, the KM field has seen tremendous change over the past few years. “Today, KM encompasses a wide array of practices and approaches that help orchestrate an anticipatory institutionalised response to a customer need in the native and competitive context of the customer,” Balaji of Grant Thornton explains.
The very connotation of what 'knowledge' is has evolved, he adds. “Back in the day, 'knowledge' was viewed as static, rigorous and enduring (stock). Knowledge was preserved for reference and interpretation, and not for iteration. In today's world, organisations understand knowledge as 'specific information' that is meaningful when customised and applied in a context and shared with the right people at a time it is needed and something that continues to evolve (flow),” Balaji says.
Other related trends he identifies are narrow AI applications that enable organisational views of data and insights, and machine learning reducing the reliance on enterprise search.
On the education front, it is important to have courses about digital transformation, innovation ecosystems and knowledge management in colleges and universities. “AICTE has approved KM as a core subject for MBA and PGDM . Therefore KM as a subject can be offered by all AICTE affiliated institutions who also run management courses as a core subject under HR specialisation,” Molly of Sahyadri College adds, listing a number of such courses and programmes.
For example, KM is being taught at Delhi Technological University and VTU affiliated colleges. Anna University provides KM as a subject in the 8th semester in the BTech syllabus for IT students. IIMA offers KM as a short term course under its Executive Education program.
NPTEL runs an eight-week online certificate course free of cost, which covers the basics of KM. KM Institute from Washington conducts certificate courses in India once a year as Certified Knowledge Practitioner, Certified Knowledge Specialist, and Certified Knowledge Manager.
Molly also calls for an increase in industry-academia interactions for workshops and guest lectures on KM for academia and students, as well as internship opportunities.
The speakers offer a number of recommendations to enterprise leaders and startup founders to improve knowledge sharing, via community networks and digital platforms.
“Seek out people for any kind of help you need. Don’t assume that the problem you’re going through, is unique to you. That’s almost never the case. We made that mistake more than a few times as well. So take our advice and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Because almost always, there will be somebody or the other who dealt with (and possibly overcome) the problem you’re currently facing,” Pranay advises.
This even applies to smaller everyday problems. “We usually tend to give each other and ourselves the excuse of not having enough time to reach out to people for help. Snap out of it! Sitting and dwelling over a problem will end up wasting a lot more of your time than the amount of time it will take to simply reach out to someone and ask for help,” he urges.
Sameer of Fractal Analytics offers a number of tips for navigating the digital transformation journey: prioritise business agility and a culture of innovation, drive a digital culture with an ambassador, enable the structural shift required for a data mindset, and create a ‘data capitalisation' enterprise.
“Collaboration drives should elevate the customer experience. Empower employees and enable them to deliver differentiated service. Deliver new value to customers by transforming the products and services line with ease of use,” Sameer adds, while also cautioning that security should be a top concern.
“In the Knowledge Economy, mismanagement of knowledge would be suicide. Across the business landscape, service providers are under unrelenting cost pressure, and their clients are demanding greater value. The differentiator will be strategic investments in calibrating KM efforts with core business efforts, especially around customer engagement and value delivery. KM will help build (and maintain) competitive advantage,” Balaji of Grant Thornton advises.
The above six speakers will be joined by a galaxy of other experts from across India and overseas, at the 2019 edition of CII’s Knowledge Summit.
“The best practices shared at this conference are proof of how KM has contributed to the overall success of a range of organisations. The panel discussions by experts and practitioners will highlight creation of ecosystems for quicker capturing and knowledge sharing, which helps build a competitive edge for organisations,” explains Molly of Sahyadri College.
The conference focuses on KM application in every aspect in the organisation, not just technology but on collaboration, people, culture, community, sales, delivery, HR and finance. The two masterclasses on KM activity model and storytelling will help participants replicate these practices in their organisations.
“This year’s summit has a lot more hands-on sessions like the un-conference and master classes. It also has a more diverse set of speakers, not only from various industries and large organisations but also from startups,” adds Nikhil of Happiest Minds. “To re-imagine knowledge enterprises of the 21st century, we need people from new-age companies to talk about challenges and approaches,” he adds.
“In this VUCA world, organisations need to tackle challenges in employee engagement and experience, company culture, retaining people, skilling and continuous learning. The conference hopes to bust some myths, share stories of success and failure, and provide a learning opportunity for everyone in the field of knowledge work,” Nikhil explains.
“The CII Knowledge Summit is going to be a great opportunity to meet business leaders and KM practitioners and engage in a dialogue on how to re-imagine and build a formidable knowledge enterprise. This will help position them for success in a rapidly changing and increasingly disruptive business landscape,” says Balaji of Grant Thornton.
In sum, the conference has a well-rounded mix of discussion on mega trends as well as tactical implementation ideas, opportunities and challenges for companies to succeed in the knowledge economy.