Shah is Divisional Director of the Operations and KM Division at the International Enterprise Singapore (IES), a government agency tasked with spearheading the growth of Singapore companies in overseas markets. Apart from KM, he also oversees IES’s helpdesk, which supports local and overseas IES centres, as well as the implementation of Whole-of-Government initiatives in IES.
What are some of the KM initiatives that are currently on “maintenance mode” at IES?
I’ll share two initiatives. The first is RACK (Retention of All Critical Knowledge). When we started RACK in 2010/11, we focused on officers who were leaving IES only. Now, it has evolved to include officers who have returned from overseas postings, officers who have completed key projects, and officers who are locally recruited overseas. The initiative has been going very well. Ever since its launch, demand for it has skyrocketed. People see the benefits of using this tool to capture tacit knowledge.
Can you say more about this tool – RACK?
It’s a very simple and straightforward tool to use. It’s made up of three stages: preparation the sharing session and post sharing.
The preparation stage involves getting approval from the respective supervisors to proceed with the RACK session. We don’t do RACK with everyone – it depends on the supervisor’s assessment of the employee. If he thinks that there’s some important knowledge that needs to be captured, then the officer would be “RACK-ed.” If an officer has been doing something that’s typical, then there will be little of value to capture. Once we have gotten approval, we will scope the interview session with the supervisor. We have reached the point where the scoping of the interview is streamlined and very efficient. We have consolidated all the questions since the beginning. New supervisors who look at the questions immediately get what the session is going to be like. They then choose the questions that they think are important. They can customize the questions. Sometimes, they even come up with their own questions. Once we finalise the scope, we pass the list of questions to the officer who’s leaving – for mental preparation.
The KM Manager who will be doing the interview has to do some homework on what the officer has done. This is important so that she will be able to understand, to empathize, to probe further, to be able to ask relevant questions. The KM Manager will typically check the latest reports that the officers have written, the latest projects that they have done. These would be used as talking points should the interviewee need nudging.
Once that’s done, we will go the second phase, which is the sharing session. During the sharing session, the supervisor will lead the interview because they have the domain knowledge. The KM Manager’s job is to make sure that they do not deviate from the topics. It’s important to follow the structure of the questions to keep the interview session efficient and fruitful. The KM Manager also asks questions which may seem obvious to the supervisor, but the answers are nevertheless useful for new officers. We call it “stupid questions.” We encourage the officers to bring along their successor, who typically asks the most questions – on top of the list of prepared questions.
For post sharing, once the interview is done, we will take a few days to transcribe before letting the departing officer and then the supervisor vet the transcript. Once that’s completed, the supervisor will be given the final copy to share with his team, and we will upload a copy on our intranet’s Knowledge Library to share it with the rest of the organisation.
How often do you conduct a RACK session?
A RACK session takes place roughly once every two weeks. Sometimes, we even do 3-4 RACK sessions in a month.
How are officers of IES notified of new RACK reports?
In IEX, which is our intranet, officers can personalize the settings in such a way that the system will notify them whenever a market or sector which they are interested in has a related RACK report uploaded. They can also specify that they want to be notified whenever new RACK reports have been uploaded. They will receive an email with a link to those reports.
My team also sends out a monthly “ad” with “new arrivals” of RACK reports.
What are some of the challenges that you face with operationalizing RACK?
People leave the organisation so fast that sometimes, even with a month’s notice, you don’t have the luxury to sit down and do the sharing.
What is the other initiative that you wish to talk about?
The other ongoing initiative is our KM Advisory Services. It’s like a KM clinic, a modified version of one of your (Straits Knowledge’s) knowledge audit activities – the part where you identify pain points. We approach the Directors of each group and talk to them about how to manage their officers’ knowledge effectively. For example, when officers leave, or when new ones come on board and may face a steep learning curve. We use their pain points as a starting point. We focus on what exactly their problems are.
Do you use any framework or guiding questions during your Advisory Services?
We look at the lifecycle of officers, in terms of new officers coming in, existing officers, and officers who are leaving. In each of these events, somehow it will affect the knowledge of that particular individual, or that of someone else.
Sounds like you need to know staff movement of the various departments.
We are included in the notification of any staff movement. Once we receive the notification, we will kick in the process. In fact, that’s how RACK came about.
We did an experiment last year, with one of the groups. They were forthcoming; they wanted to know what they could do to improve their KM. It isn’t 100% KM. It’s a mixture of KM, information management and IT. It’s like a one-stop service. If we think that something can be done by our IT Team, for example, we will liaise with them. We will still front the service, nonetheless. This is possible because of our relationship with the Directors. We are no strangers to them, so it’s easy for us to talk to them. They’re quite open.
For example, one of the Directors asked us how to weave in the activity of accounting for knowledge reports. How do they ensure that as part of their business development process, whatever knowledge reports that need to be uploaded onto our intranet has been done? He doesn’t want it to be seen as additional work, to have to send out a reminder every time a report is due to be uploaded. It must be part of their process so that it will be natural for the officers to upload the reports once vetted by their boss.
So, we mapped out their existing business process, put in the contribution activity and a monitoring method. We proposed that the clerical officer – who typically knows the activities of the department – keep track of report submission. If an officer has done a report but has not uploaded it onto the intranet, then the clerical officer will send a reminder. This way, new officers will see it as a complete process. They won’t see that the one last bit is additional work.
Any new KM initiative planned?
We are in the midst of revamping our intranet. We will be introducing Personalisation and Awareness of Surroundings, two trends that we have identified as beneficial to our users. It’s through our Service Design exercise with them that we validated this – that officers want to know what’s happening around them. It’s the first step of our journey to “personalisation with intelligence.”
We have another feature, called Digital Assistance. For instance, if you own an intranet page that needs to be reviewed once a year, the system will remind you. Or, if there are activities whereby the owners require officers to do something, the owners will use this module to remind officers of their tasks, such as to go through online training or to do a survey. The plan is to build intelligence into the system but we’re still in the early stages.
What were your biggest challenges getting started in KM and how did you overcome them?
Management buy-in, and also the buy-in of officers and supervisors. RACK started off as a pilot project, and when you start a pilot you want to work with people who will cooperate with you. When you have done that, you have to be creative in showcasing your deliverables. We got feedback from the officers who were involved and asked them if the RACK sessions had gone well and if they would recommend it to others.
Officers and supervisors also believe that while it’s hard to capture implicit or tacit knowledge, doing something is better than not capturing it at all. The best way to overcome this is to acknowledge the limitations but at the same time produce the deliverables. Usually, new supervisors and new officers will find RACK useful. It doesn’t happen often but there are experienced supervisors who want us to do a RACK exercise but they do not attend the session. It’s not a failure. We’d rather capture something now, for the benefit of the successors.
What are some of the high points of your KM journey?
When we were able to implement RACK successfully. In a recent survey, 100% of supervisors think that RACK is a useful tool. Another high point was when IEX won the “My Beautiful Intranet” award by the Digital Workplace Group. And, we have the most dynamic homepage on the intranet because of Chattr! [a social blogging tool]. I believe that we have successfully put in place a tool that officers are comfortable in using and posting.
What’s your advice on how to maintain support and momentum in KM?
It’s very important to maintain close ties with the CEO as well as his subordinates, because the latter do not move as much. If you want sustainability, there’s no point in just talking to the CEO about KM if the Directors don’t understand KM. When the CEO leaves, you’re back to square one. Many agencies don’t try to do this. Maybe it’s their culture, that they can’t seek direct audience with the CEO. When there are many levels between the KM team and the CEO, it’s challenging.
If you were given the KM portfolio, then it must mean something to your management. So find out from them what their expectations are, and work towards them. And, get them involved. For example, as you reach a milestone or come up with an idea, bounce it off them. It’s important to work with them. Acknowledging their participation is also very important. To me, this is one of the most difficult things that KM practitioners have to do.
If you don’t have KM background, it’s ok. You can join societies like ISKO (International Society for Knowledge Organisation), join their activities, visits, forums. If you don’t have buy in from your senior management, it’s going to be hard to get started.
You have to get buy-in in a strategic manner. People will only be convinced if they can see the final deliverables; they need to see the final product. Or, show them what others are doing, what your sister agencies are doing.
Any final words?
Believe in what you’re doing.
Date of Interview: 10 May 2016
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