Knowledge Management: 5 Big Companies That Got It Right

American companies will spend $73 billion on knowledge management software this year and spending on content, search, portal, and collaboration technologies is expected to increase 16% in 2008, according to a recently-released report from AMR Research.

Knowledge management systems, which facilitate the aggregation and dissemination of a company’s collective intelligence, provide numerous benefits, including enabling innovation and improving process efficiency.

But successfully implementing these systems can be a challenge.

While technology advances have eased some of the installation and integration hurdles, Jim Murphy, AMR’s knowledge management research director, says companies looking to do wide-scale deployments still face scalability and performance issues. And, as with other information technologies, user adoption presents the biggest test.

Baseline and it sister publication, CIO Insight, have done several knowledge management case studies over the years. Here we invoke five that show how organizations of various shapes and sizes overcame the deployment challenges they faced.

#1: World Bank: Behind the I.T. Transformation
Amidst the World Bank’s recent management brouhaha, a more significant event went overlooked-the bank’s dramatic transformation from a hierarchical source of low-interest loans to a decentralized organization that uses knowledge-management technologies to fight poverty and disease in developing nations.

It wasn’t easy. In order to create a working knowledge management system, the bank’s information infrastructure and communications network had to be overhauled.

#2: Southern Co.’s I.T. Aids Post-Katrina Recovery
Southern Co., the energy company that produces electricity for much of the Gulf Coast region, was preparing for Hurricane Katrina even before the 2005 storm struck. Southern had taken steps to meet worst-case scenarios, such as building an enterprise content management platform to ensure that engineers could get immediate access to design plans of electrical substations and other power equipment. As a result, the electricity distributor restored service to its Mississippi customers within 12 days of the hurricane, instead of the initially estimated 28.

Setting up the content-management system presented some challenges, including matching data from one legacy system with a second one. The former system was a database with text data related to drawings, but no images; the latter contained drawings without the related text.

#3: Dow Jones Makes Headlines With Content Management
With readers flocking to the Internet, newspaper publishers have been forced to invest more dollars in pushing content to their Web sites. For Dow Jones, that presented a series of challenges, including a constant grapple with the content management and delivery tools needed to serve a growing subscriber base.

#4: Shuffle Master Puts its Money on a Portal
Shuffle Master, the manufacturer of automatic shuffling machines and chip counting products, had been relying on a fragmented sales and order processing infrastructure that was making it difficult for company employees to find integrated and reliable business information. For example, sales forecasts were issued several times each quarter, but were of limited value to salespeople trying to meet their quarterly goals because the numbers were stale by the time they were issued.

The solution they came up with: Build a portal that could pull data on demand from more than 60 databases. The challenge they faced: How do you build a powerful portal on a midsize company’s budget?

#5: Pratt & Whitney: Help Yourself
Pratt & Whitney airline engines are constantly transmitting information about the status of their parts. Down on the ground, data recorders at the manufacturer, which builds and maintains these engines for carriers such as Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, capture this information and compare it to optimum levels in order to ensure the ongoing health of the engines. Streams of data are made available in a flash through a Web portal. But as the manufacturer found out, portals are only effective if they deliver something that users want.