Knowledge Management Cases in Asia/Implementation of Knowledge Management in Asia's Beverage Industry/Case Study: Develop an E-learning Portal for Company B

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Recently, we have conducted an interview with a consultancy company (hereafter Consultancy A) to find out how Knowledge Management (KM) is implemented in Asia’s beverage industry. Here, we would like to demonstrate Company B’s project and share our findings and analysis in the case.

About Company B[edit | edit source]

Company B is a beverage company that has branches over several Asian countries and has over 10,000 employees. It mainly manufactures, markets and distributes drinks.

Recently, it has evaluated staffs’ performance. The statistics shown that their employees always committed repeating errors on their routine tasks and these kinds of errors caused over 35% drop in its business. Instead of mobilizing the salesperson to increase profit, Company B would like to avoid repeated mistakes by designing an IT platform for e-learning purpose. Therefore, it sought for advices from Consultancy A in order to increase profit as well as market share by enhancing the staffs’ performance.

About Consultancy A[edit | edit source]

Consultancy A is a consultancy firm that is experienced on launching KM project in different size for different types of companies. After reviewing the Company B’s situations and requirements, it suggested that Company B hold a KM project rather than only an IT platform. It is because KM project can foster the culture of sharing that new knowledge can be built up to benefit most of staff members while IT platform can only provide staff the existed knowledge. Futhermore, tacit knowledge of staff can be captured and stored within the organisation.

Consultancy A acts as a consulatant at the beginning of the project and later cooperates with Company B to hold the KM project. And that is the project we demonstrate here.

About the KM Project[edit | edit source]

The project is for business purpose and the aim of it is to increase the market share and profit of Company B. Since Company B believes that the KM project is feasible to achieve that goal, the investment on the project is quite large. The whole project will last for almost 3 years and there are totally 4 phases. The first two phases are trial period and the last two will focus on evaluation and maintenance of the project and also the system. Ideally, the final product will be sold to other companies to reduce the development cost. The project is now on its second stage so there are still many possibilities for both sides to improve the KM project.

Planning and Design[edit | edit source]

Project Outline[edit | edit source]

To start the project, Consultancy A had assessed the Company B’s needs, identified the problems of the existing system and planned what should be developed in detail. After that, Consultancy A decided to divide the project into four phases. Each of the first two phases will be held for about one year while each of the remaining phases will be held for half year. It is expected that around 80% of staff has used the system for 10 times or above by the end of the project.

Phase 1

It includes the planning and the design of the KM system. Consultancy A first decides the details of the KM system according to Company B’s needs, for example, the functions and the contents of the KM system, the hardware and software needed and the schedule time. After planning, Consultancy A determines to develop the KM system in-house instead of purchasing outside because Company B wants the system to be more detailed and well fit to their requirements. By the end of Phase 1, an e-learning portal with over 80 virtual scenarios (i.e. the contents of the system) will be developed and started to implement.

Phase 2

It involves the implementation of the KM system. The whole system will be launched to the whole organization simultaneously. During this phase, the system will be reviewed continuously and the contents of it will be increased.

Phases 3 & 4

Both of them are about the maintenance and the evaluation of the system, but Phase 4 will focus more on the maintenance because the project is nearly finished that only some minor problems needed to be fixed at Phase 4.

User Groups[edit | edit source]

It is not surprised that there are over 10,000 staff in a large-sized organization, but the important point is how to better manage the knowledge sharing in such a large-sized company. Different staff would have different knowledge needs. If they are not well categorized, they will hardly find what they want and they may obtain some unnecessary things. Consultancy A understood this point, so they had divided the staff of Company B into 3 groups- Generals, Administrators and Principals. The staff in different groups will have different contents and different interface design so as to avoid the above problem. The groups are:

1. Generals[edit | edit source]

Learners

The learners with different grades from different departments can access different contents. It is because the knowledge needs is varied with different grades and different departments that the learners belonged to. For example, the learners from the Account Department need the knowledge about recording the expenditure and revenue while those from the Sales Department need the knowledge about communications with customers. Besides, since the lower-graded(i.e. junior) learners need more practices and trainings to enhance their performance in various aspects, contents provided in the KM system for them will be more than that for the higher-graded (i.e. senior) learners. On the other hand, it is assumed that higher-graded staffs are interested in more specific contents since they are all experienced in dealing with general tasks. Therefore, contents for higher-graded will be relatively lesser and harder that are not suitable for junior-graded staffs.

Trainers

Similarly, trainers will be categorized by the subjects they taught. They will have several rights in the system. For example, they can edit the materials for the learners, post some questions and add some courses for the learners. Between the trainers, they can also share their questions for learners in the Question Pool (i.e. one of the KM strategies) and share their experiences and strategies on teaching different kinds of learners.

2. Administrators[edit | edit source]

The users of this group are responsible to monitor the order of the system and manage the knowledge in the system. They need to divide different users into different groups in order to set different access rights for them. They also need to develop some instructions to guide the users to use the system properly. With the Administrators, the system can be kept systematic and tidy, and so the users can enjoy a comfortable e-learning platform.

3. Principals[edit | edit source]

The users belonged to this group have the highest authority of the system. They can view everything in the system including the teaching materials, the results of the learners as well as the statistics that collected and analysed by the system. These users are mainly the top managements of Company B such as the Director of the factory and the CEO that concern most on the business gains led by the training results of the learners and their improvements made. It is assumed that the most frequent viewed design view of them is the statistics since it can present an overall picture of their staff performance.

KM Tools[edit | edit source]

In Company B’s project, Consultancy A indicated that to develop an electronic learning (e-learning) environment, the initial step is to develop a learning management system (LMS). The LMS is a software package, and it supports the back-end process of management and delivery of online contents to learners. It captures and stores all the data about learners, the data is an invaluable information source for future improvement and development.

There are three ways to obtain a LMS: outsourcing from product vendors, designing by internal staff (Company B) or designing by contractor (Consultancy A). In this project, the LMS was finally designed by the contractor and part of the system was internally designed by the company itself. This decision was based on several considerations:

1. User's Requirements[edit | edit source]

Company B requires a system that has detailed structure and is able to provide a wholly support in collecting, managing and storing learner's data. It is not available from the existing vendor’s general designed product. Therefore, they believe that only a tailor-made system could comprehensively suit their specific industry needs. Moreover, Company B could play a proactive role to maintain the quality of the contents in a tailor-made system.

2. Technology and Resources Availability[edit | edit source]

Compared with Company B, Consultancy A is an experienced company on holding KM projects. It has sufficient support in technology and resources (e.g. human resources) than Company B has. Therefore, Company B decided to pay for Consultancy A to develop the main stream of the KM system for them. It is more cost-effective than developing the whole system by Company B itself.

3. Company Confidentiality[edit | edit source]

There are different kinds of contents stored in the LMS and some of them are treated as strictly confidential information because they are business secrets and intellectual capital, such as sales strategies and products formulas. So, part of the system was designed by the company internal staff rather than Consultancy A in order to ensure the confidentiality.

4. Cost for System Development[edit | edit source]

Usually, system acquired from product vendors is the most economical way. However, the cost for system development is the least concern in this case and Company B has relatively high concern on the system competence.

In addition, the design of LMS and its contents should follow the software development model and international standard like [[1][AICC]] and [[2][SCORM®]]. It is easier to monitor the quality if it is self-developed.

KM Strategies[edit | edit source]

An e-Learning Portal is designed as the front-end of the KM system supported by the LMS which let users (learners and trainers) interact directly. There are three functions supported by the e-Learning Portal:

1. Community of Practice (CoP)[edit | edit source]

CoP- formation of learning communities and providing space for knowledge sharing- is one of the KM strategies employed by Company B. Based on different natures and common interests of users, three communities would be formed in the sharing space, which are between trainers, between learners, and between trainers and learners. The trainers take responsibilities on one or more subject area(s) according to their departments and positions and the learners are also further divided by their departments and positions. In the sharing space, the trainers have the rights to add courses and raise questions to particular group of learners. All participators could share (upload) and get (retrieve) the information from the sharing space.

In addition, there is a filing system monitored by the Administrators to categorize files/topics in order to provide better information retrieval, users could also conduct file search in the system.

2. Question Pool[edit | edit source]

Question pool, also known as question bank, is a storage pool for users to share and exchange questions after training and e-learning lessons. Since the users have to supply a question to the pool for getting a question from the pool, the pool will be expanded after a period of time.

3. Virtual Scenario[edit | edit source]

Various scenarios were designed based on some actual cases provided by Company B. The scenarios are about users’ job nature, such as customer services, sales, system trainings as well as database management. For instance, a staff works in Sales department, and then he participates in a virtual scenario which is about promoting company goods to his potential customers in a convenience store. There are number of challenges set throughout the scenario, those challenges could be some common mistakes always made by the sales staff. He will attempt different challenges by directly typing in his responses to the client. The development of the scenario will be based on the staff reaction. Through the virtual reaction between the client and staff, data about the particular staff performance is collected.

Both existing and new staff will participate in the virtual environment to experience the scenarios as a kind of staff training. The virtual scenarios will be updated periodically in order to maintain users’ interests in the scenarios as well as meet their changing needs.

Implementation[edit | edit source]

Change Management[edit | edit source]

Once the initial system is developed, it will be launched together in all branches of Company B in Asia. Consultancy A has pointed out that, like other kinds of projects, presenting a good change management in the implementation phase is very important. In Company B, user’s resistance to changes is considered as a major obstacle in the implementation phase and there are different variables should be concerned, prepared and solved throughout the implementation progress. Consultancy A mentioned that one should be done is to predict and prepare user’s concerns, which means to understand their worries and provide suitable action to comfort them. And the following is some methods to cope with the user’s resistance problem:

1. Form Focus Groups

Focus Group is considered as one of the most effective methods to collect quality data from users. Staff from different departments are selected to form focus groups. In the meeting, they could freely express their opinions (e.g. dissatisfaction about the system performance) and share their experiences (e.g. problems they are encountered) on the KM system. This kind of discussion could provide relatively factual and accurate information for Consultancy A to improve the existing system in the later phases.

2. Provide User Training

Users might have different levels of technical skill in using I.T. products. In order to reduce their resistance in attempting changes, training courses for the less computer-literate staff will be provided. On the other hand, the company internal I.T. staff might not have the skill to control and maintain the new system, therefore, special trainings are provided to them as well.

3. Provide Equipments and Other Supports

Cultural differences are another cause for user’s resistances to change. Since technology is not common in every region, some users may not have the opportunity to access to the Internet or use computers. To solve this problem, Consultancy A has suggested providing computers with Internet connected in workplace (e.g. activities rooms) for the staff, and arrange time for them to use the computers and access to the system. This helps presenting the system to the users as well as attracting them to use it. Consequently, it promotes the knowledge sharing process.

4. Launch the System Step by Step

The method used to launch the system will also affect user’s reaction. Consultancy A has pointed out that they will first implement the system in a small group of users, for example several departments or sections, and then enlarge the users group to the rest and finally to the whole. This step by step approach could avoid all problems raised simultaneously from users regarding the system , and provide sufficient time for the Consultancy A to solve the problems before promoting the system to other departments.

In addition, it could be seen as a promotion method which is the word-of-mouth marketing strategy. Good feedback from the primary user group could help spreading out goodwill of the system to the following user groups, as a result, a positive effect can be promoted and a trust can be built between users and the system.

Promotion[edit | edit source]

Besides change management, promotion is another important issue that should be conducted in order to facilitate the implementation process of the KM system:

1. Top-down Approach

Encouragement from the top managements is very important when changes are in the company. Therefore, a ceremony for announcing the system implementation is hold by the top managements, in order to have a good start and increase staff’s morale.

2. Advertisements

Posters and official notices about the new system implementation are delivered to inform different user groups.

All these methods help to smooth the system implementation process, and also provide valuable data and information for system improvement in the later phases.

Maintenance[edit | edit source]

Due to the increase of the files and inovation of new technology, Company B paid Consultancy A for regular system maintenance. The maintenance includes system upgrade and debug. Besides, Consultancy A will also change the design of the system reports according to the requirements of Company B. Since the project is still in its phase 2 that no technical problem is found, the details of further maintenance measurement will base on the comments collected from users and develop mainly in phases 3 and 4. 

Evaluation[edit | edit source]

Evaluation is very important to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of a project. However, different evaluation methods have different advantages and disadvantages. For example, conducting questionnaire is easy to be analyzed and quantified while the data collected are relatively superficial. In Company B’s project, how Consultancy A eliminates the discrepancy between the data collected and the reality?

In phase 3 and 4, which are the two phases mainly focus on evaluation of the project, different forms of evaluation methods are going to be used to evaluate the effectiveness, efficiency as well as the staff’s satisfactory level of the e-Learning Portal. They will be implemented in both phases.

1. Focus Groups

Some staff will be invited to attend to focus groups and they can have face-to-face conservations with the system developers to express their opinions. The system developers can also have a chance to respond to staff’s opinions directly and make customized advices.

Experienced staff are preferred to be selected since they usually fall in the group that is most resistant to adopt changes. If they can also adopt the changes, probably most of staff can work with the system. Therefore, their opinions are relatively more crucial than other groups' because everything will be better if their problems can be solved.

2. Evaluation Form

A standardized evaluation form will be distributed to those staff who attends to focus groups. It aims to collect their comments and feedbacks about the system. Since the form is standardized, the answers can be more focus on specific aspects of the system that can be analysed quantitatively.

3. Web Forum

To capture large number of comments and feedbacks from different levels of staff, a web forum will be launched to let staff express their opinions openly. Staff can post their opinions anytime and anywhere. In order to let staff focus on specific aspects of the system, the web forum will be managed by the system developers.