Knowledge Base Empowers People
With its unique Knowledge Management framework, the engineering firm CTCI provides its personnel with an arsenal of expert advice. What is the secret of this low-profile but high-power knowledge base?
Knowledge Base Empowers PeopleBy Jerry Lai
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 452 )
Why is the venerable engineering firm CTCI Corp. able to secure contracts for world-class projects?
Company president Andy Sheu believes the primary key to the company's success lies in its investment in and cultivation of corporate human resources.
CTCI's current chairman, president and vice presidents were all brought up in-house from the ground floor. The great majority of them actually landed their first jobs with the company.
Secret Arsenal of Knowledge
One of the former "Big Three" Taiwanese engineering firms, CTCI focused on construction of petrochemical complex projects, unlike the other two companies in that group, which would also undertake public works projects. To survive, the company has had to venture out and aggressively vie for contracts, with top executives all possessing extensive experience on the front lines of the business.
CTCI has never been miserly in its investments in the company's human capital, in an effort to rapidly internationalize employees so that the company could field a world-class offense. The company foots the entire bill for continuing education, and employees traveling abroad for study continue to collect their full salaries as well as stipends for living expenses. To that end, in January 2006 CTCI formally launched its corporate knowledge management system (CTCI Corp. KM) to promote rapid personal growth among corporate employees, a secret arsenal to arm employees with the weapons they need to do battle in the corporate trenches.
This unique corporate KM setup is currently divided into six groupings, categorized in accordance with commonly encountered engineering issues and staffed by 131 knowledge management experts, so that employees both in Taiwan and abroad can track down the right person to consult in real time without geographical or time zone constraints. System content includes the results of colleagues' most recent learning endeavors, crisis management experiences, new changes in the corporation, and other shared experiences.
As executive vice president Andy Liao, the sole progenitor of the system, relates, the system not only succeeds in sharing knowledge, but also assists the company in securing contracts, generates massive inventory cost savings and, most importantly, helps colleagues quickly get a handle on projects and learn efficiently.
The corporate KM system is now deeply embedded in each employee's DNA. Statistics from last year show that 43 percent of employees use the system monthly, and every day an average of 67 people make 484 individual visits and download 737 documents. Nearly 90 percent of employees express satisfaction with the system.
Implementing KM: Hardware and Software
In 2005 during the initial stages of implementing the KM system, CTCI spent more than a year conducting in-house "marketing" and communications, determining that aside from the hardware setup, the most important aspect was the construction of the system itself. According to current CTCI corporate rules, each employee has a "knowledge quota" of at least one article that they must submit per year, as part of their annual assessment. Anytime employees take a business trip, attend a class or solve a case problem, these experiences must be shared with the system, even to the extent that "without submitting a KM entry, the books cannot be closed on a case." The more an employee shares with the KM system, the more that will be reflected in their annual assessment.
As Liao describes it, the system is already "stocked with arms and artillery, and the more it gets used the more plentiful the ammunition."
As Chen Chen-chin of CTCI's Technology Development Division relates, before the introduction of the system, employees often encountered situations where they were unable to locate a particular employee or were forced to wait for assistance due to time zone differences or because the employee in question was otherwise busy.
The biggest benefit now is the ability to compress the time involved in getting assistance; even if an employee encounters a sudden emergency, they are able to handle it themselves. Management once tasked Chen with providing a comprehensive assessment of an unfamiliar engineering system within two days. Following standard operating procedure, Chen accessed the KM system within the hour, located and downloaded the relevant documentation and, complemented by his own experience and judgment, completed the task in short order.
Another time a colleague in the United States had a client make an inquiry pertaining to Saudi Arabia. Although he had never been to Saudi Arabia, he was able to immediately access the corporate KM system and download CTCI corporate handbooks for various markets and countries and brief the client in a timely fashion.
Upon accessing the system, employees encounter a listing of "what's hot" typical of many ordinary websites, detailing which documents have the highest click-through rates for the week or the month, with each document author's name prominently displayed for all to see, like a roster of heroes.
In addition to providing a sense of personal gratification, the "what's hot" listing also lets everyone know what other colleagues are working on, so that even if they can't use it immediately, they will know it is there should they need it for some future project.
No Need to Wait with KM
Yet it cannot be denied that writing comprehensive knowledge and experience reports takes a considerable amount of time on top of employees' regular workloads.
To encourage employee participation, CTCI has instituted an incentive system, with a "Knowledge Role Model Award" for the individual whose contributions have been read the most, a "Knowledge Group Award" for the one group (out of six) that has contributed the most, and a "Knowledge Authorship Award" for the single most-read document.
CTCI staff have dubbed Liao "dean of CTCI Academy," and his contributions are frequently listed on the "what's hot" roster. In 2009 his contributions were the most widely read of anyone in the company.
To avoid clogging the system with useless trivia, each employee must have contributions to the system approved by a senior colleague or department head before uploading them.
"This has also become a tool for monitoring the performance of the troops, and it provides recognition for performance that employees believe they deserve," Chen says.
Acting from an institutional and systemic perspective, the corporate KM system CTCI has created provides employees with the ultimate in reinforcements, and an ideal tool for rapid personal development.
Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy
Corporate Citizenship Achievements
Corporate Governance: 7.9
Has established a Corporate Management Committee; an Auditing Committee; and a Quality, Safety, Health and Environment Committee.
Corporate Commitment: 7.1
No employee layoffs or employees forced to take unpaid leave last year; each employee averaged 68.5 hours of additional training.
Social Participation: 7.0
Contributed a total of NT$18.2 million to Typhoon Morakot relief effort; continues to provide work-study opportunities for children of disadvantaged workers.
Environmental Protection: 7.8
Raised environmental protection standards on engineering projects through in-house technical expertise, for example in its contract operations of urban waste incinerators.