Knowledge Management Cases in Asia/Implementation of Knowledge Management in Telecommunication Industry

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Yip Pui Yee (Pearl), Cheng Kit Ying (Kitty), Chu Beckie, Chan Ching Yee (Candy), Chung Chi Lok (Benjamin)

Abstract[edit]

This report first presents briefly the importance of knowledge management to the telecommunication industry; then it proceeds with a literature review that covers the following areas : knowledge management strategies and tools, KM in Telecommunication Industry, the challenges of KM in China and the future development of knowledge management. The third part of the report is the research methods. We adopted the case study method approach with semi-structured interview with a senior knowledge management consultant.

The following section is a case study. The study object is a Mobile Telecommunication Organization in China. It is one of the leading operators providing wide range of related services in a province with over ten cities. In order to cope with the rapid expending (customer service department staff from 500 in 2003 and increased to 2000 in 2005) and uplifting its services, the company turns to knowledge management for solution. The knowledge management project begins with the customer service department. Specific goals have been set and satisfactory results are achieved. In this case study, we identified the KM tools and strategies employed and the various implementation stages. We also looked at the results after implementation of knowledge management and the logical ways for future development. The report ends with a conclusion that knowledge management sure has its benefits and strengths in the customer service sector of the telecommunication industry. And it is only a beginning ! There are so much more sectors that knowledge management can play a part in.

Introduction[edit]

China, the world’s largest mobile market by subscribers, has passed 467 million mobile phone users as at the end of Jan 2007. The gradually opened telecommunication market policy in response of entering the World Trade Organisation brings signification impacts on local mobile network providers. In this report we try to find out how knowledge management can play its role in the telecommunication industry in China especially in customer services area, ways, methods, and problems facing in implementation.

On entering the new knowledge-based economy, telecommunication organizations face even more severe and stricter competition in the global marketplace than ever before. (Chong., et al., 2006) Knowledge may be the greatest competitive advantage for a company (Davenport, Prusak, 1998) Only firms participating in the creation and utilization of knowledge can hope to enjoy the rewards of business reform in today's knowledge-based economy. (Hung et al., 2005)

Knowledge Management, therefore, becomes a majority method for the telecommunication organizations to survive in this knowledge-based economy. Notably, in developing countries.

This report will explore the implementation of Knowledge Management in a China’s telecommunication organization. With a detail case study included in this report, a better understanding of implementing KM in telecommunication organization can be emerged.

Literature Review[edit]

What is Knowledge Management ?[edit]

Knowledge Management can be described as the way organizations build, supplement and organize knowledge and routines around their activities and within their cultures, and develop organizational efficiency by improving the use of employee skills. (Pan, 1999)

Most scholars divide knowledge into two types: (1) explicit knowledge or information, and (2) tacit knowledge or know-how (Kogut and Zander, 1992; Grant, 1996; Ryle, 1984). Explicit knowledge is precisely and formally articulated and codified in documents and databases of corporate procedures and best practices (Alter, 2002). Tacit knowledge is the practical wisdom possessed by experts that is difficult to capture, yet repeatedly demonstrated in contexts as varied as factory floors, research laboratories, army basis, and corporate board rooms (Crowley, 2000).

Knowledge Management Strategies and Tools[edit]

The implementation of KM strategies allows improvement of the firm’s learning capability and its ability to combine knowledge-based capabilities and so make better use of them (Kogut et al. 1992) On the other hands, KM Tools used to foster creation and transmission of knowledge (shared experiences). (Forcadell at al., 2002)

Customer Relationship Management[edit]

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) aims at leveraging investments in customer relations to strengthen the competitive position and maximize returns. (Bueren, 2005) Relationship Management (RM) is an integrated effort to identify, build up and maintain a network with individual customers for the mutual benefit of both sides (Shani et al. 1992). Three types of knowledge flows can be classified in CRM processes:

  1. Knowledge for customers is required in CRM processes to satisfy knowledge needs of customers. Examples include knowledge about products, markets and suppliers. (Garcia-Murillo, 2002)
  2. Knowledge about customers is accumulated to understand motivations of customers and to address them in a personalized way. This includes customer histories, connections, requirements, expectations, and purchasing activity. (Day, 2000)
  3. Knowledge from customers is knowledge of customers about products, suppliers and markets. Within interactions with customers this knowledge can be gathered to feed continuous improvement, e.g. service improvements or new product developments. (Garcia-Murillo, 2002) Managing these different knowledge flows is one of the biggest challenges of CRM. The most important issue is how to collect, store, and distribute only the knowledge that is needed and not waste time and effort on collecting and storing useless knowledge. (Davenport, 2001)
Service Management and Complaint Management[edit]

Service Management and Complaint Management are typical Knowledge Management Strategies in telecommunication industry. The objectives are to improve customer satisfaction in the short-run by directly addressing problems that led to complaints and to design a continuous improvement process in the long-run. (Bueren, 2005)

Service management is the planning, realization and control of measures for the provision of services. A service is an intangible output of an enterprise generated with direct involvement of customers. Examples include maintenance, repair, and support activities in the after-sales phase as well as the provision of financial or telecommunication services after the conclusion of contracts. (Bueren, 2005) Within the scope of complaint management, articulated dissatisfaction of customers is received, processed, and communicated into the enterprise (Grönroos, 2000). The objectives are to improve customer satisfaction in the short-run by directly addressing problems that led to complaints and to design a continuous improvement process in the long-run. (Bueren, 2005)

Taxonomies and document classification[edit]

Knowledge of a domain can also be encoded as a “knowledge map,” or “taxonomy,” i.e., a hierarchically organized set of categories. The relationships within the hierarchy can be of different kinds, depending on the application, and a typical taxonomy includes several different kinds of relations. The value of a taxonomy is twofold. First, it allows a user to navigate to documents of interest without doing a search (in practice, a combination of the two strategies is often used if it is available). Second, a knowledge map allows documents to be put in a context, which helps users to assess their applicability to the task in hand. (Marwick, 2001)

=====Key Performance Indicator=====::

Managers use Performance Measurement to monitor key issues in businesses. These measures provide the most relevant information of the organization, showing managers how the business is performing. (del-Rey-Chamorro et al., 2003) Key Performance Indicator is a way to measure performance. The goals of those KPIs are to highlight the contribution of the micro level KM solutions to business process improvements and to measure that contribution according to the business objectives (del-Rey-Chamorro et al., 2000).

After Action Review[edit]

After Action Review is a mechanism that encourages people to learn from the past experience. These allow organization to reflect on past experience leading to effective future actions. (Carrillo, 2005) According to Horvath (1999) AAR, are consistently and rigorously applied throughout the Army to ensure that mistakes will be uncovered and successes reflected upon. The mission or project is broken down (often by task or function) into manageable pieces, each of which becomes the focus of a separate AAR. A discussion leader is designated to conduct a group discussion that is structured around the three questions:

  1. What did we set out to do?
  2. What actually happened?
  3. How do we account for the difference?

Knowledge Management in Telecommunication Industry[edit]

Previous study by Nonaka (1994) has demonstrated that a company's individual and organizational knowledge serves as one of the cornerstones for its sustained competitive advantages. To be successful, firms must be able to learn continually and apply their knowledge, anticipating market changes ((Alvesson, 2000). Through superior knowledge companies can accomplish their results faster, cheaper and with higher quality than their competition. Knowledge about customers, markets and other relevant factors of influence allows faster utilization of opportunities and more flexible reaction to threats. (Gebert, H., et al., 2002)

The era of industrialization and information age has made the telecommunication industry expand into diversified functions to support the growth of technological advancement for better services demanded by any nation (Yusof, 1998). The shifting winds of change in today's business environment where the marketplace is increasingly competitive and the rate of innovation is rising, together with the pressure of the emergence of global knowledge-based economy. (Snyman. et al., 2004). Therefore, knowledge has become a crucial asset in reducing these uncertainties and the only sustainable source of competitive advantage (Gorelik, 2002) As such, the management of knowledge has been recognized as a competitive weapon for the telecommunication industry to move forward and to chart more successes in the uncertain future. (Chong., et al., 2006)

Challenges of Knowledge Management in China[edit]

Various cultures in different countries influence the ways of knowledge sharing.In high-context cultures, such as China, Brazil and Russia, people tend to rely more on the context of non-verbal actions and the environmental setting to convey meaning, and therefore tend to prefer communication media with high media-richness, such as face-to-face communication or phone calls. For members of low context cultures, such as the USA, meaning is not readily available from the environment because they tend not to learn how to perceive information from the environment. Consequently, in low-context cultures more emphasis is put on the written word, which leads to the conclusion that communication media low in media-richness, such as e-mails or online discussion boards will be more accepted. (Ardichvili, 2006)

In addition, Chow et al. (2000), comparing factors influencing knowledge sharing behaviors between US and Chinese managers, have found that Chinese nationals were much more reluctant to share with an out-group member than Americans. Therefore, diverse cultures may become a barrier to implement Knowledge Management in China.

Future Development of Knowledge Management[edit]

The current literature has examined how, why, when, and where to leverage knowledge assets; they have ignored the question – how to secure knowledge assets (Desouza, 2005). One of the immediate challenges facing knowledge managers is finding the balance between open knowledge sharing and enterprise intellectual capital management. (Randeree, 2006) In addition, a number of developments suggested by Wiig (1999) are:

Future KM practices and methods will be systematic, explicit, and relatively dependent upon advanced technology in several areas. However, overall, we expect KM to become more people-centric as the recognition spreads that it is networking of competent and collaborating people that forms the basis for the behavior and success of any organization.

Management and operating practices will change to facilitate KM in many ways. Incentives will be introduced and disincentives eliminated to promote innovation, effective knowledge exchange (“sharing”), learning, and application of best knowledge in all work situations. Cultural drivers such as management emphasis and personal behaviors will be changed to create environments of trust and concerns for finding root causes of problems without assigning blame.

By building on extensive experiences from many organizations, the manner in which effective and active KM is organized, supported, and facilitated will change. The more obvious changes will be associated with placement and organization of the KM effort itself, be it with a high-level Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) or with distributed effort. Changes that deal with reorganization of work and the abolishing of whole departments that are integrated into other operations, will be less apparent but prevalent.

Research Methods[edit]

This project is based on a single case study, semi-structured interview. In organizational research, the case study method remains one of the frequently adopted research methods, and the felicity of the method is well documented (Myes, 1994; Orlikowski, 1993) In addition, the case study method allows investigators to retain the holistic and meaningful characteristics of real-life events such as individual life cycles, organizational and managerial processes, neighborhood change, international relations, and the maturation of industries. (Yin, 2003)

The primary objective of this study was to explore the implementation of knowledge management in telecommunication industry. A KM specialist was interviewed to identify the procedures and techniques of implementing knowledge management in a China telecommunication organization.

Typically each of the interview lasted for 2 hours. All of the interviews were taped with prior permission. The interviewing questions are listed as below.

  1. What is your job title and job duty(s) related to knowledge management?
  2. What kinds of KM tools and /or strategies are used in the organization?
    • i. What are the obstacles/challenges of such implementation?
    • ii. How can you solve these problems?
  3. Does the application of the KM tools and/or strategies generate positive result(s) to the following aspects in the organization?
    • i. Different departments
    • ii. Quality of services
    • iii. Competitiveness of the organization?
  4. Which departments/group of users would apply the KM system in their department?
  5. What do you think about the future development of KM in the organization?
  6. Does the organization solve the problem of information overload by any KM tools and/or strategies?
  7. . Does the organization have any best practice of applying KM in certain areas?
  8. What is the KM cycle of the organization?
  9. What are the objectives of the KM system of the organization?
  10. How do the KM systems support the daily operation of the organization?
  11. Can you provide more background information regarding the application of KM system in the organization?

Case Study[edit]

  • Background information of Telecommunication organization

ABC Company is one of the leading owners and operators of telecommunications in China, offering a wide range of related services in a province with over ten cities. Since they have a huge number of customers, they decided to enhance the customer services system, to build up a systematic mechanism in managing the customers’ requirements in the project. As the project is based on another similar project from another province, the telecommunication organization is willing to concretize it and to define the knowledge management scheme for their employees.

Over 80% of the enterprise knowledge and information have not been standardized and structurally organized together. The official files and electronic documents are the important fortune in the business; some of the documents, messages and records just exist in the database but have not been reorganized yet. Furthermore, the documents in the computer include different kind of file formats, which is also a main problem for managing those files at the same time.

The information with no regulation and no structure would be appearing every moment. There are so many different kinds of data that can be collected by the organization nowadays; they’re having a problem in finding the related information at the moment. The inaccurate and non-structured results searching by the organization was due to the mechanical searching engine. It uses a mechanical calculation in searching which letting the result not to be convenient.

While emerging information technologies facilitate coordinating, fusing, sharing, and displaying relevant information, these functions remain very human dependant It needs so many time and energy to sort the data by human hand. Today’s work environment is more complex due to an increase in the number of subjective knowledge items we need to attend to everyday. It is difficult to get the tacit knowledge from staffs, and also their experience. So that a systematic knowledge management system is need.

A systematic knowledge management system can help for organizing and managing non-structured data, accelerating the learning of new staffs, speeding up the index mechanism, enhancing the reserve of data and have a better decision making support. According to the above points, the telecommunication organization asked for the KM consultant to help them to build up a knowledge management system to increase the intelligence of the organization by building and leveraging knowledge.

Due to the difference in usual duties and needs of knowledge of different department,designs and changes should be tailored to achieve knowledge management effectively. Firstly, the telecommunication organization decided to focus on the customer services department, whether the department has 500 staff in 2003, however, after using the “knowledge repository” to integrate the information and adopt the customer service training project to strength their staff’s managing skills in 2004. The customer service department has 2000 staff in 2005.

The organization also believed that, the knowledge management project can access into different departments later on.

Findings & Analysis of the XYZ Case Study[edit]

Goals[edit]

In view of the keen competition of mobile telecommunication business in China, the company strives to improve its customer services in order to stay in the business and outlast the rivals. Since 2002, the company has been implementing different projects to enhance the customer services. In 2004, the organization established a business guide book for customer service staff, unified information can be provided to customers. A customer service training centre was also set up in the same year. In 2006, the company would like to its services a step ahead and set out some goals :

  • Speed up new staff training process
  • Let new staff familiar with the job as soon as possible
  • Provide instant access to information index search
  • Better decision making support
  • Better and precise information for decision making
  • Minimize knowledge lost due to staff leaving
  • Embed knowledge management into workflow

KM tools and strategies[edit]

As the above mention, due to this Telecommunication organization expanding their business, so it realize that need to apply knowledge management, in order to have systematic coordination between people, technology, working processes and organization itself. It can be divided into three major phases of knowledge management tools and strategies: Knowledge Creation and Capture Phase, Knowledge Sharing and Dissemination Phase and Knowledge Acquisition and Application Phase used to meet the organization goals.

First of all consulting firm conducted knowledge audits and meetings with Telecommunication organization, to get more understanding about background of pilot department, work processes, staff relations and their knowledge needs of current situation. In this case study, customer service department applied different knowledge management tools and strategies to their daily operation and management.

Knowledge Creation and Capture Phase[edit]

Because customer service department duties are mainly responsible to handle large amount of customer enquiry phone calls, during the process it created many different information or document, such as: complain records, handbook (include organization information and basic enquiry information), training information, reports and reference materials. For this reasons it applied “taxonomy” to classify records in a hierarchical structure of 3 levels from 0 to 2, that can let staff follow in a step by step approach to capture, store, share and collaboration for re-use and innovation the created deliverables. It start from a boarder topic then each level narrow down to related smaller topic to organize the records together in a unify way. The following are few example used by this organization to classify the information under different categories for easier findings.

Knowledge Content Level 0 Level 1 Level 2
Customer Service Records Case Reference Customer Service Analyse and Guidance
Product and Service Description Service Product Detail Description
Staff Position Level 0 Level 1 Level 2
First Call Resolution Case Study Customer Service Solutions of Complain
First Call Resolution Tool Online Handbook Complain Platform Handbook

Samples of taxonomies

It used this method to set guidelines for staff to follow and identify who will take part in process and review the information stored, in order to keep information up to date.

Knowledge Sharing and Dissemination Phase[edit]

The other tools are “knowledge repository”. In this case it is a mixture of structured internal repository, includes such as: policies, customer details, marketing information, product information, etc. and informal internal knowledge repository such as: lesson learned, experience from staff.

Different knowledge can be applied when a telephone operator receives an incoming call from a customer, asking for telecommunication information or complaining of services. In the structured internal repository, this organization collected reference materials, organization policies, product details etc., then selected and summarized and uploads to the online database. The content became more centralized for access, distinct from the past each team or departments keep their own set of knowledge content and unorganized.

Other than that, the business manuals specialize for telephone operators used for answer enquiry, the manual users can access through online database and editors of the manual can be more accurately and efficiently update information, because they can get the related information from the central knowledge repository to analyse and update the sections accordingly from the manual.

The other aspect of the knowledge repository is informal knowledge areas. It contained some sound recordings (conversation between customers and telephone operators) will classify under different categories, share as good or bad examples for training resources. Furthermore, included some customer feedback statistics and product survey documents. These assist staff to work more efficiently, easier to evaluate their performance, in order to improve their weakness.

The knowledge repository provided a one-stop-shop for organizational users access archives and current knowledge content that assist in their work, also can let multiple users commonly share resources together.

Knowledge Acquisition and Application Phase[edit]

Besides organized knowledge create from daily business activities, this organization also apply the knowledge management concepts into e-learning applications that can stimulate staff motivation to learn not only from working also outside work place as a self learning process.

It is a web-based training platform provide different tools for staff self learning needs, for example: some demos of telephone conversation, mock examination questions for staff reference to prepare for monthly examination of their work, provide information about training course, business trends and product description. It can be easily access at any time any where.

Results[edit]

Karl Wiig in his book “Knowledge Management Foundations considers knowledge management in organizations from three perspectives, each with different horizons and purposes:

Business Perspective - focusing business-related issues with senior management on why, where, and to what extent the organization must invest in knowledge management. Strategies, products and services, should be considered from knowledge-related points of view.

Management Perspective – focusing tactical approaches and solutions with middle management on determining, organizing, directing, facilitating, and monitoring knowledge-related practices and activities required to achieve the desired business strategies and objectives.

Hands-on Perspective – focusing on hands-on methods and techniques with professional knowledge practitioners, applying the expertise to conduct explicit knowledge-related work and tasks.

The three perspectives are also mapped to the strategy, tactics and operational level of knowledge management respectively.

The subject focus of knowledge management in this case is Organizational Knowledge within the customer service centre. Organizational knowledge has distinct characteristics.

  • It’s related to the activities of organization business
  • It can direct, lead and enhance business activities
  • It’s value-added
  • It’s been processed

Through training, monitoring, assessing, etc., the company has implemented various policies to help improve the customer services. The results are satisfactory. There is little resistance from the customer services staff. The following areas have been improved.

  • The front line staff‘s ability to solve customer complaint
  • The sensitive of needs of customer service centre and marketing department
  • The communication among customer service centre, marketing department and product development department

In view of the success, the management also considers to put forward other changes in the future, such as :

  • Establish individual customer service staff profile to track the quality of service
  • Improve learning environment and tools, e.g. online learning, learning through games and competition, to cultivate the self learning motivation
  • Reduce the test frequency of good performance staff
  • Award staff who has good performance in test
  • Use training to replace test
  • Encourage after action review (AAR)

Future Development of KM in the organization[edit]

Information Technologies play an important role in business nowadays, and also in how successful knowledge workers are in acquiring and applying knowledge content that is made available to them by the organization. A well developed system is needed for the organization to build up a content management system. Since Robertson (2003) predicts that content management systems (CMS) will become a “commodity” in the future. Many content management system project fail owing to a lack of good implementation standards and a lack of an understanding of usability issues, Technology-only approaches will continue to generate unsuccessful projects. CMS should be handled in a strategic way. The system which involves knowledge management strategies and tools should be developed in the near future.

Conclusions[edit]

This case study has been used to illustrate some benefits in Knowledge Management Implementation like knowledge sharing allows staff to learn others’ experience and E-learning cultivates the self-learning motivation. The goal of this telecommunication organization is to improve the quality of customer services by not increaing the pressure of the staff. Monthly test have to be taken by all staff in Customer Service Department in order to ensure all staff can meet the quality service standard. This paper suggests the telecommunication organization to replace the test by training or learning through games and competitions which helps to release the staff’s pressure. For futher studies, research can be conducted on other important factors influencing Knowledge Management implementation such as leadership, organizational culture, measurement, and technology (Chong and Choi, 2005).

Acknowledgements[edit]

The authors would like to thank our interviewee for providing such valuable information. We are particularly grateful to all our classmates for providing useful comments. We are also indebted to our professors at the University of Hong Kong for comments on earlier drafts as well as anonymous journal referees.

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