The CMG Knowledge Intranet (2020 Edition)

CMG was one of the first companies in the world to use intranet technology for knowledge management. In this new edition of our 1998 paper, Corrine Sellens and I explain our process and the key principles of a knowledge management intranet.  

Executive Summary

CMG was a European IT Services company with a unique culture of sharing knowledge - they were 'Knowledge Makers'.  Rapid growth during the 1990s required CMG to find new ways to bring people, and what they know together. Intranet technology was used to empower individuals and to reinforce the corporate culture. A suite of intranet tools enabled consultants to collect, store, share, re-use and create knowledge in self-administered communities of interest. 

Types of Knowledge Organization

Based on our experience of clients at the time, we identified three types of knowledge organization:
  1. Knowledge Seekers 
  2. Knowledge Users 
  3. Knowledge Makers 
'Knowledge Seekers' are generally older and larger organizations. They often operate in a market with similar competitors who are few in number. In many cases, they are former monopolies or oligopolies in a technical or engineering focussed industry. These companies are concerned about capital and labor productivity and may have been restructured many times.  Their information culture is top-down, command and control. They are generally not innovators in the use of IT. Capital is seen as its primary asset.  'Knowledge Seekers' want better information about their own operations to seek new efficiencies. They want to communicate more consistent images and messages. They want a global view of markets. 

'Knowledge Users' are organizations that make money by replicating and extending a perceived core competency or brand efficiently and effectively. They often sell to a mass market for a volume product or service. Customers are seen as their primary assets. 
Knowledge Users want more and better information about markets and consumers, also about other industries they can grow into. Information about their core processes is important to ensure efficient operations. 

'Knowledge Makers' are organizations in the business of creating and selling knowledge, expertise, and experience through specialized skills. They constantly need to identify new opportunities. The information culture is informal and bottom-up, business growth relies on innovation, creativity, and more people. People - employees - are seen as their primary assets.  Knowledge Makers want information about markets and people. Empowerment is important as is morale and job satisfaction. Communication systems are critical. 

We defined knowledge management as the deliberate attempt an organization makes to acquire and use knowledge for benefit or gain. This may be for someone else's benefit, in the case of a humanitarian organization.

CMG - an unusual knowledge maker:

In 1998, CMG was one of Europe s leading IT Services companies with 6,000 staff in 40 countries. Each person possessed the knowledge, skills, and experience that represented CMGs products, and knowledge assets. 

CMGs unique culture created specific priorities for managing knowledge. Foremost was the recognition that the individual owns knowledge, not the enterprise (an extremely unusual posture for a commercial consulting company). 

CMGs organizational model was designed to find and keep the best people in order to sell their skills, knowledge, and experience for profit. The organization had a flat structure and grew organically. Divided into many small divisions, (company cells of around 100 people) new cells are formed when a company grew too big and it would simply split into two. An entrepreneurial approach means that Managing Directors effectively run their own business within the CMG framework sharing resources with the other companies. Like all members of CMG, the Directors are measured on their success, but everyone participates in the success of this family-style enterprise. More than half of all staff were equity partners.

CMG had a very strong culture dating back to its foundation in 1964, based on equity, fairness, accountability, openness, and honesty.  An environment of trust was created by a culture where everyone gets the same employment benefits - the same open-plan hot desk offices (where people may sit in a different desk every day), there are no special executive benefits. The only difference between individuals was their salary - and these were not kept secret (in fact they were kept up to date on a whiteboard in every office). Each consultant has to prove their worth amongst their peers, and salaries were peer-reviewed frequently reviewed to ensure fairness. Except for Group financial results, there were no locked cabinets or files, and no Human Resouces department, so consultants had direct access to practically any file they wanted. You could review your Director's personnel file, or comment on documents you may see on another person's desk or screen. 

The culture was perpetuated through many social occasions where stories were told and heroes were celebrated. There was a very conservative dress code (dark suits, even when traveling on long haul flights) and networking was very important, reinforced by frequent company events, and the company tie. As the company grew, consultant conversations and networking needed to be facilitated across the world, and between people who may have never met in person. Intranet technology was used to meet this need. 

Designing our knowledge intranet by understanding different needs

Building on the CMG culture which saw knowledge as personal, inseparable and portable. CMG recognized that to manage knowledge, they must first have the support of their people, and that meant meeting their individual and community knowledge needs. 

Starting with individual needs, we considered what people wanted to do with their knowledge, and how they wanted to manage it. CMG people were most interested in the ability to network with other CMG people. This need was expressed as a desire to find people with similar professional interests to develop knowledge and relationships, or people with business opportunities to jointly exploit. People wanted to find experts and case studies (stories) about clients, processes or techniques used within CMG. They also wanted the freedom to organize their own approach to sharing what they knew. 

Communities, which form informally and organically in CMG, are an important element to sharing and creating knowledge. The community, or special interest group, is also an important greenhouse of new products, services, and methods for CMG.  Communities are groups of people sharing common interests or objectives. To belong to this type of group, members must be willing to spend effort in sharing and/or learning. In the past, these communities were limited to people who knew each other and worked in the same office. Communities would benefit from an Intranet by removing this barrier and enabling a much wider group of potential members and allow more communities to form. Identity, freedom, and flexibility were important to communities. 

CMG enterprise needs for acquiring and using knowledge are now being addressed. Business processes relating to our Clients, People and Operations were identified for Knowledge Enabling. We found that enterprise needs required more formal and procedural knowledge to be collected from individuals and formal workgroups, but the basic skills of collecting and disseminating by people were always required. 

People must be able to perform the basic functions of collecting, storing, re-using, creating and sharing knowledge (enablers of KM) online before other knowledge-based problems can be addressed.

The intranet also needed to be:
  • Customizable: People want a degree of control over the layout, structure, content and processes of their own solutions. People want to be responsible for their knowledge. 
  • Flexible: Businesses don t want to be locked into any one product or architecture. The knowledge and information captured by a KM solution must still be used by other systems. 
  • Scalable and Extendable: Some companies want to be able to share selected knowledge and information with customers or suppliers via an Extranet or e-commerce. It was important to have a platform-independent solution to enable this. 

Toolkit Approach

CMG took a toolkit approach to its KM Intranet. This meant that a common set of tools would be used to build a whole variety of structures that suited different parts of the organization while performing the basic functions of knowledge management. This was long before the era of cloud computing and well before web-based collaboration products so we built the CMG toolkit as a bespoke in-house development.

Knowledge and information captured, created, shared and stored would be available to applications designed to meet enterprise KM needs (like Competitive Intelligence Systems and Key Account Management). Everyone needed to be linked together so the best applications could be shared across the group, and the system needed to be simple enough for us to share knowledge with our partners regardless of their own systems. 

Beyond the basic intranet infrastructure connecting all our people together, web browsers and databases, the CMG Knowledge Intranet Toolkit provided: 
  • Facilities to collect and store knowledge, both tacit (connections, conversations and notes) and explicit (documents and data);
  • Facilities to capture and store information from external sources or other applications, such as news feeds;
  • Facilities to help people create and share their knowledge, network with experts or discuss ideas;
  • Applications to retrieve relevant information and knowledge to answer questions or stimulate innovation; 
  • Applications to create, manage, audit and report on any system facility or application. 

The CMG approach is a walk-before-you-run method. People were empowered to use new knowledge tools before these are applied to the needs of the enterprise. The intranet was launched with five features for all staff:
  1. Auto-publishing 
  2. Search and Subscribe (alerts)
  3. Site Management 
  4. Team Web and Discussion Forums 
  5. Interpersonal Networking 
Auto-publishing: This tool was an e-mail based publishing method that enabled every person in CMG to share documents and other files on the Intranet. Anything is allowed from ideas and opinions to reports and analyses. Because consultants don't always know who else will find some information valuable, the email-based auto publisher means consultants can CC an email to the Intranet or a discussion forum for anyone to see. Users can also manage their own published material via the intranet interface. Every document, without exception, has an owner who is clearly identified. This owner is always a person, and that means there is always a link between the published information and the person with the knowledge that created it. This means people are connected with people and not just documents - a major difference to most systems we had seen in 1998. 

Search and Subscribe: People wanted to locate other people, information and knowledge easily. They wanted to participate in communities. The search function helps them find published content using keywords and meta- information (like document type, subject area, author, etc.), while the subscribe function means they will be notified when a document is published in an area of the Internet that they are interested in. Given the open culture of CMG, there were no confidential or hidden files on the intranet.

Site Management: The Site Management tool enabled individuals and communities to choose how they organized their knowledge on the Intranet. This allowed anyone to create a sub-branch employing any categories, links or tools they chose. The look and feel or graphical interface could also be customized within individual branches or communities. 

Team Web and Discussion Forums: Team Web was the virtual community in CMG. Team Webs were substructures of the Intranet created by one or more consultants who have an interest in a specific area of technology, a market or process. Examples of Team Webs that formed in the first days the CMG Knowledge Intranet were: The Oracle Focus GroupEuropean Monetary Union Special Interest Group, and Business Intelligence Technology Systems Group. Team Webs created opportunities for consultants to meet people with similar interests and were a place to centralize, store and create more knowledge. Often they led to new business for CMG too. 

Interpersonal Networking: People to People networking was still the primary way CMG did business. The approach to KM was about creating more opportunities for people to find and interact with each other and the knowledge (online, for the first time). 

Lessons Learned

Organizations should understand what role knowledge plays in their success. Understanding how knowledge is used and valued will help determine the real knowledge needs. Careful consideration should be given to individual, community and enterprise needs for knowledge. People have to manage their own knowledge. The enterprise should empower people to manage individual knowledge before attempting to use collective knowledge to meet superordinate enterprise goals. Because people are essentially social, or tribal by nature, the ability to create knowledge communities by groups of individuals is a valuable step toward enterprise-wide knowledge application.  This walk before you run strategy will enable behavioral and cultural changes to take place more easily as well.  

What happened to CMG?

CMG made an 'Intranet Toolkit' for knowledge management, with gratifying results. The company had one of the lowest staff attrition rates in the industry and was one of the top-performing companies on the London Stock Exchange for share price growth. Becoming a public company resulted in changes to the culture of openness as well as pressure to grow via acquisitions from 1998 (rather than organically, as it had since 1964). Inexperience with growth via acquisition and its unusual organizational model meant that by 2002 it was merged into Logica - part of CGI Group since 2012 (see more on Wikipedia).


Copyright (C) Owen L F Wilson 2018-2021

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