Sample Technology Essay: Knowledge Management at Thomson Reuters
This paper aims to evaluate the effectiveness of an online portal (“Learning Exchange”) as a tool in promoting knowledge sharing at a leading market information firm – Thomson Reuters. The company was having problems with the flow of knowledge amongst different departments across several countries, therefore as the several theorists suggest, a knowledge management system in the form of an intranet was implemented in a bid to promote knowledge sharing. Results obtained from a colleague working within the organization reported that the Learning Exchange has not been as successful as planned due to the low level of trust following the merger, employee unwillingness to share and also the competitive culture that is usually the norm in Knowledge companies, thus confirming several theorists’ view of the reasons behind intranet sharing failures.
A new corporate wide initiative is therefore proposed, to minimize the predominant competitive culture; engage all users in the knowledge management system; and to include an increasing number of relevant information on Learning Exchange.
Knowledge management, Knowledge sharing, Thomson Reuters, Intranet sharing, competitive advantage, market information industry, organizational effectiveness.
a. Organization and Industry
The global market information industry, dominated mainly by Bloomberg (33%) and Thomson Reuters (34%), has been described as a duopolistic market that may determine the future trend in global businesses. Drucker (2001) reports that attainment of competitive advantage is increasingly focused on the possession of information and knowledge, as opposed to capital and labour – the norm in previous decades.
Thomson Reuters is a global market leader in market information, following the merger between Thomson Financials and Reuters in 2008. It is headquartered in Canada, and operates in 93 countries with over 50,000 staff (Thomson Reuters, 2009). 2008 revenues were ?13 billion.
Employees who work in the market information industry are composed mainly of journalists, market analysts, and technology professionals. All three occupations are composed mainly of knowledge workers. Therefore presenting the best opportunity to ascertain the effectiveness of knowledge management systems in such an industry.
b. Aims and Objectives
This paper aims to evaluate the effectiveness of an online portal (“Learning Exchange”) as a tool in promoting knowledge sharing amongst those that know, and those that don’t, at leading market information firm – Thomson Reuters. Has the intranet tool that was implemented, really done its work in promoting collaboration amongst employees within the organization, and if so, how was that achieved?
The importance of this paper lies in its unique approach to the culture within the organization and its aim of drawing up recommendations that could result in substantial benefit to the knowledge management industry.
c. Nature of the issue
Thomson Reuters, an information company, was having problems with the flow of knowledge amongst different departments across several countries. Evaluating such a question, especially within a global organization, could lead to innumerable results regarding the overall effectiveness of such approaches in that industry, and could set footpaths for recommendations which could change the methods in which such platforms are implemented in the future.
Though my eventual findings are not certain, preliminary literature research clearly outlines that the success rate of any Knowledge Management Intranet system is based on the culture of the organization (Ruppel and Harrington, 2001), willingness of staff to accept the application (Goh, 2007), and integration strategies put into place that would encourage all stakeholders to use the intranet (Goh, 2007).
d. Paper Structure and Research Limitations
In order to verify or discredit such assumptions, this paper would be structured in a way such that it discusses the organizational and industry background in Introduction. Theories relating to knowledge management and sharing would be discussed in the literature review. A methodology section would outline the main procedures within which the author has gathered the data, and the analytical strategy being adopted, while the results and discussion chapter would compare the results from the organization against existing literature. Recommendations and Conclusions would be outlined in following chapters.
The major constraint that this paper may encounter, would be gaining access to the core knowledge workers whose information would make the Learning Exchange intranet very effective. What are their views regarding sharing their knowledge within the organization?
2. Literature Review
a. Knowledge in Organizations
Knowledge, as defined by Ajayi and Leidner (2001, p109), “is the information processing that takes place in human minds, as well as personalized information related to facts, procedures, concepts, interpretations, ideas, observations and judgements.”
Knowledge is a critical resource within organizations that may be used to gain and maintain competitive advantage (Drucker, 2001). There is therefore a high impetus for organizations to “exploit effective and efficient methods of preserving, sharing and reusing knowledge in order to help knowledge workers find task-relevant information” and also to help hedge the company against future uncertainties in the changing marketplace (Lai and Lui, 2009).
Nissen and Levitt (2002) assert that knowledge is unevenly distributed within most enterprises; therefore the flow of knowledge across time, location and departments is critical to organizational effectiveness and performance within a knowledge-based view of the firm. Data and Information may be in abundance within an organization, however the degree to which these result in actionable strategies depend on the level of knowledge being shared in the organization, as illustrated in figure 1 below (Ipe, 2003).
Figure 1: Knowledge Heirarchy, Source: Nissen (2002)
Data lies at the bottom level and is usually the most abundant resource within an organization, with information at the middle and knowledge being the least available resource (Nissen, 2002). Therefore the higher the collective knowledge base of the organization, the more effective it would be with strategies that properly utilize this core competence (Ipe, 2003). Argote and Ingram (2000) further argue that knowledge that is improperly distributed within an organization is of little importance, and for knowledge sharing to occur, some sort of mutual platform must be present that engages all individuals in the process of knowledge sharing.
b. Knowledge Management and Sharing
Knowledge Management is concerned with exploiting and developing the knowledge base of an organization with the aim of accomplishing the organizations main objectives (Rowley, 2000). Knowledge sharing, defined as the process in which employees diffuse and share relevant information amongst each other within an organization (Bartol and Srivastava, 2002) has been categorized as the most important part of Knowledge Management (Bock and Kim, 2002). The main aim of sharing organization knowledge is therefore to transfer organizational assets and resources between entities in an organization in order to promote streamlined processes, prevent repetitiveness (Dawson, 2001) and gain competitive advantage (Drucker, 2001).
Knowledge sharing plays a very important role in a company’s performance and innovation; the willingness to share knowledge within an organization is dependent on the focus of the organization, be it:
Team performance or
Team learning (Meng Hsun et al, 2006).
Empirical evidence shows that the motivation to share knowledge is highly dependent on the team culture within the organization, and is highest with the team learning culture, whilst lowest with those companies laden with individual performance guarantees. Figure 2 below is a pictographic representation of Nissen and Levitt’s (2002) factors that affect knowledge sharing behaviours.
Figure 2: Factors that affect knowledge sharing behaviours. Source: Nissen and Levitt (2002)
Huysman and Wulf (2006) noted that individuals might not necessarily opt to share their knowledge in all situations, even if it’s an organizational requirement. Foss et al (2009) also states that an individuals decision whether or not to share knowledge is highly influenced by the benefits and costs associated with each option.
c. Promoting Knowledge Sharing
Knowledge exists at different levels within the organization, and may be subdivided into individual, group or department level knowledge bases (De Long and Fahey, 2000), therefore an organization’s ability to effectively leverage the knowledge of these subdivisions in accomplishing an organization wide objective is highly dependent on its people and the culture within which the knowledge is created, shared and used (Ipe, 2003). Leveraging this knowledge could result in improved streamlined processes, such as those in a knowledge flow hierarchy as depicted in figure 3.
Figure 3: Knowledge flow hierarchy, Source: Zhuge (2002)
According to Ipe (2003) knowledge sharing within organizations is highly contingent on the following factors:
Nature of the knowledge
Motivation to share
Opportunities to share, and
Culture of the work environment
Figure 4: Knowledge sharing triangle, Source: Ipe (2003)
The methods by which these factors influence one another in promoting knowledge sharing are depicted in Figure 4. The capacity by which these factors influence organizational knowledge depends highly on the business objectives of the organization, its structure, business processes, rewards systems and culture. The organizational culture has the most influence on the other three knowledge-sharing factors, as it determines to a large extent, how and what knowledge is valued, relationships and rewards associated with knowledge sharing, and also the formal and informal facilities and opportunities that stakeholders have to share knowledge (Ipe, 2003).
Bresman et al (1999) asserts that the essential part of knowledge management is the transfer of knowledge across business units, hierarchies, countries, sister units and multicultural environments. Organizations may therefore encounter setbacks with regards to an increase in geographical and cultural distance within the organization. Meng Hsun et al (2006) also asserts that firms may encounter setbacks due to neglecting human nature and the knowledge trading mechanism within the organization. Foss et al (2009) also supports this assumption by stating that an employee’s attitudes and competencies may impede knowledge sharing. Some are ignorant of the importance of sharing knowledge whilst others possess an unwillingness to share that may be due to fear of losing importance, superiority or knowledge ownership (Zhuge, 2002).
However, the notion that an individual’s motivation to share is the main determinant for knowledge sharing has been challenged by Hislop’s (2003) study. The results of the study, illustrate that the most important determinant in an employee’s willingness to share, is the employee attitudes towards sharing. Employees working within the sales department of an organization may not be as willing to share knowledge, compared to those working in Marketing.
In a bid to curb the negativity associated with Knowledge Sharing, Lin (2006) discovered that the following motivational factors were significantly associated with employee knowledge sharing attitudes:
Knowledge self efficacy and,
Enjoyment in helping in helping others.
De Vries et al (2006) also noted that eagerness and willingness to share are both positively related to knowledge sharing within an organization. Lin (2006) however asserts that expected organizational rewards do not significantly influence employee attitudes and intentions regarding organizational knowledge sharing. This finding therefore raises the question of what organizations can do to promote a knowledge sharing culture, if objective rewards have no significant effect.
d. Knowledge Sharing through Intranets
Drucker (2001) nominated the ability to gather and utilize knowledge as an important source of sustainable competitive advantage within an organization. A number of organizations have therefore begun pursuing knowledge management initiatives and making substantial investments in knowledge management systems that encourage a mutual culture of knowledge sharing behaviours (Hahn and Wang, 2009). While knowledge sharing may constitute a number of factors and requirements, a technology-mediated environment is one of the most important promoters of a knowledge sharing culture (Carlson and Davis, 1998).
Knowledge management systems are increasingly being deployed through intranets Foss et al (2009). Intranet KMS are knowledge networks with multiple points of entry maintained in a centralized location. Information could be created by, and is available to, all employees within the organization (Chin, 2005).
While the possibilities for intranet applications are innumerable, it is still classified as just the backbone for knowledge sharing. The success of any Intranet based KMS is based wholly on its adoption (Ipe, 2003). Successful KMS reflect the organization’s willingness and ability to share knowledge amongst each other, and the knowledge sharing culture within the organization. Unsuccessful knowledge sharing initiatives are not necessarily due to the intranet system, but the culture of the organization and employee’s willingness to share (Chin, 2005)
Chin (2005) further asserts that each knowledge management system has to pass through three main hurdles for it to be successful:
The technology used to implement and support knowledge sharing
The specified business goals that knowledge management seeks to achieve and,
A culture that understands the importance of a collective mindset within the organization.
Ruppel and Harrington (2001) also assert that the implementation of intranet knowledge management systems is facilitated through an organizational culture that promotes each of the following:
Trust and concern for other stakeholders
Flexibility and innovation
Policies, procedures and information management.
Top management seeking to implement these systems should therefore make sure that each of these procedures and cultures are present within the organization in order to obtain a successful adoption of its knowledge management initiative.
a. Research Method
Based on the literature that has been reviewed and also on the purpose of this conference paper, the author adopted a positivist philosophy in ascertaining the success rate of “Learning Exchange” at Thomson Reuters. A deductive approach was also used when comparing data gathered to existing literature review.
Data was gathered through a case study analysis of an article written by Logan (2009) on the effectiveness of the learning exchange platform at Thomson Reuters. The author therefore aims to analyse the case study against the literature that has been reviewed on the topic with the hope of ascertaining the main factors that promoted or disrupted the intranet implementation processes at Thomson Reuters.
b. Analysis and Discussion
Being a knowledge based organization, Thomson Reuters faces the same challenges as outlined by Drucker (2001) – the possession and utilization of knowledge resources. A vast majority of its work force is composed of journalists and technical experts whose major competence is based, to a large extent, on what they know. Judging by Argote and Ingram’s (2000) theory, if journalists across several departments in the organization are unable to coalesce, then individual competences and knowledge would be useless.
This realization led the implementation of the “Learning Exchange” intranet platform, which aimed to create a unified formal platform for the sharing organizational knowledge. However, as Chin (2005) affirms, any knowledge-based intranet is only a backbone, which would only be successful if there is a unified adoption strategy within the organization.
According to reports garnered through a friend of mine, working at Thomson Reuters, the adoption of Learning Exchange has not been successful in meeting its implementation objectives. A vast majority of staff were sceptical about the process, especially due to the recent merger between Thomson Financials and Reuters that had occurred in 2008. The newly combined staff felt like it was a means for management to siphon out relevant knowledge from existing staff before they were let go. Thus confirming Ruppel and Harrington’s (2001) assertion that mutual trust amongst stakeholders was a very huge prerequisite for knowledge sharing.
The failure encountered with regards to the intranet adoption was also as a result of the predominant culture within the organization. Knowledge based organizations, as depicted by Drucker (2001), are known to be very competitive environments. Therefore employees hoard what they know, for the fear of losing importance, superiority or knowledge ownership (Zhuge, 2002). Some knowledge workers who had most of the relevant information were also hoarding a lot of relevant information. An employee within the organization said “it is just like a sales environment where you do not want to tell your colleague what you know, for the fear that they may do better than you”. This finding conforms to Hislop’s (2003) theory regarding the environment within which employees are encouraged to share information with one another. It also affirms Lin’s (2006) argument regarding the threat employees’ associate with knowledge sharing.
Ipe’s (2003) argument regarding the conditions within which employees share information also has a huge significance with relation to Learning Exchange. The ‘nature of the knowledge’ being shared is very valuable; therefore employees do not necessarily have that much ‘motivation to share’. Though the ‘opportunities to share’ are increasingly becoming available through the Learning Exchange, the ‘culture of the work environment’ does not necessarily permit it.
Learning Exchange is therefore increasingly becoming a backbone for knowledge sharing which has no “front-bone”. The more the knowledge hoarding culture within the organization is continuously being encouraged; the harder it becomes for knowledge workers within the organization to share information.
Though the initial aim of Thomson Reuters was the encourage organization wide knowledge sharing through the implementation of Learning Exchange, it did not possess the relevant organizational culture or employee willingness that the literature review had suggested. The platform for sharing was present, but its adoption and main objectives have not yet been met. The inability to successfully implement a knowledge sharing culture may lead to an increase in the risk of repetitive and overlapping processes within the organization, and also a lack of competitive advantage.
Based on the literature review, discussion and conclusions derived, these are my recommendations with regards to the implementation of Learning Exchange at Thomson Reuters.
Promote an organization – wide campaign that aims to change or at least minimize the predominant culture within the organization, in a bid to eradicate the knowledge hoarding actions that normally take place, and promote a more team approach.
Engage every user in the knowledge sharing intranet network by holding regular seminars and workshops on the importance of knowledge sharing. If possible, hold individual training sessions that educate all users on the benefits of sharing knowledge using the system.
Post an increasing number of organization information on Learning Exchange, as opposed to emails or bulletins. Incorporate predominant communication channels such as email and chat with Learning Exchange, in such a way that employees in the organization would have no choice but to adopt it for every day activities, and in the process learn more about its knowledge sharing features; then opt to use it.
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