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IBM'S KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT PROPOSAL FOR THE
ONTARIO MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

Ken Mark prepared this case under the supervision of Professor Darren Meister solely to provide material for class discussion. The
authors do not intend to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a managerial situation. The authors may have disguised

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certain names and other identifying information to protect confidentiality.

Ivey Management Services prohibits any form of reproduction, storage or transmittal without its written permission. Reproduction of
this material is not covered under authorization by any reproduction rights organization. To order copies or request permission to
reproduce materials, contact Ivey Publishing, Ivey Management Services, c/o Richard Ivey School of Business, The University of
Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 3K7; phone (519) 661-3208; fax (519) 661-3882; e-mail cases@ivey.uwo.ca.

Copyright © 2004, Ivey Management Services Version: (A) 2009-09-30


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INTRODUCTION

Kathryn Everest, knowledge management consultant for IBM Canada Ltd. Business Consulting Services,
was preparing for a meeting with Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Education. The purpose of the meeting
was to secure top-level support for an early-stage knowledge management program at the ministry. For the
past few weeks, Everest had conducted an initial study of ministry needs and believed that the organization
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could benefit from one or more knowledge management solutions.

It was March 2001, and Everest wondered how she should approach the meeting, given that there seemed
to be internal ministry concerns about knowledge sharing. As she reviewed her notes, Everest wanted to
know which solution (or combination of solutions) she should recommend and what implementation
challenges she could expect to face.
No

IBM CANADA

Headquartered in Markham, Ontario, IBM Canada Ltd. was a provider of information technology products,
services and management consulting. A wholly owned subsidiary of International Business Machines
(IBM), IBM Canada had countrywide responsibility for marketing and service of IBM products. In
addition, it had responsibility for 24 countries between Bermuda and Suriname. IBM Canada operated two
manufacturing and development facilities and three centres for e-business innovation.
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IBM’s Knowledge and Organizational Performance Forum (the Forum), based in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, was established in 1999 to conduct grounded, pragmatic research on the growing scope and
impact of knowledge-related initiatives in public and private sector enterprises. It was formerly known as
the Institute for Knowledge Management or the Institute for Knowledge-Based Organizations. The Forum
has a cross-industry focus on knowledge-related topics such as collaboration, innovation, social capital,
knowledge-enhanced business process and the future of the organization. It produces methods and tools as

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well as detailed research reports, case studies and white papers. The Forum’s membership includes an

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international group of highly respected organizations from a diverse set of industries, as well as the public
sector. Members join the program to access leading research, build relationships and increase their
capability to deliver business results through leveraging organizational knowledge. The Forum’s research
projects are led by a core team of research and consulting professionals who have expertise in fields such
as organizational behavior, business strategy, economics, psychology and information technology.

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Projects also draw on the expertise of academic affiliates and other research teams.

On the question of how companies should use technology to manage knowledge, Laurence Prusak, former
director of IBM’s Knowledge Management Institute, stated:

You shouldn’t spend more than a third of your time thinking about technology for
knowledge management. The other two-thirds include culture, organizational roles and

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responsibilities, focusing on the knowledge content itself, strategy and economics, and so
forth. Most [of the currently available KM] projects involve building electronic
repositories of knowledge — either structured document-based knowledge, informal
discussion-type knowledge, or repositories of who knows what. The most important
[success factors] are a fit with the organizational culture, leadership and a tie to economics
or business value — which gives knowledge projects a lot in common with other types of
projects!1
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Everest worked closely with colleagues in the Forum and strongly believed in the benefits a focused
knowledge management program could bring to an organization. She stated:

Organizations spend so much money on recruiting, training and developing individual


competencies, but the moment an individual leaves the company, that knowledge is gone.
It’s only rented or leased, unless you get individuals to contribute to a repository of
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knowledge that is shared throughout the company.2

THE ONTARIO MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (EDU)

Between 2000 and 2001, EDU managed $8.1 billion in education funding for Ontario. EDU provided
leadership and set the direction for education policy in English and French-language elementary and
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secondary schools. There were over one million students and 130,000 teachers and administrators in
Ontario.

More specifically, EDU developed and sustained a provincewide curriculum, promoted accountability by
setting provincial standards for achievement, class size and instructional time, promoted and supported
excellence in teaching, and provided support and resources to school boards and school programs. To
achieve these objectives, different ministry branches were involved in policy setting and delivery. See
Exhibit 1 for EDU’s organization chart. See Exhibit 2 for EDU’s goal-setting process.
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1
“An interview with Tom Davenport and Larry Prusak,” www.brint.com/km/davenport/working. Accessed September 1, 2003.
2
Kevin Marron, “Corporations Come Up with Rewards for Bright Ideas,” The Globe and Mail, March 30, 2001.

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DAY-TO-DAY OPERATIONS AT THE ONTARIO MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

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EDU was divided into divisions, branches and units. Examples of main divisions included policy,
financial issues and corporate issues. In the past 15 years, EDU and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and
Universities had been combined and broken up frequently. In some years they operated as one ministry; in
other years as two ministries. These changes meant that there were constant and significant changes in

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tasks, job positions and reporting relationships. In 2003, although both ministries possessed formal
reporting relationships, staff often relied, in their day-to-day work, on the numerous informal relationships
that crossed functions and levels.

In performing their duties, staff in core businesses at EDU relied on 38 different Web sites for knowledge
and information gathering and sharing. It was estimated that there was a total of three million different
documents on EDU’s staff hard drives. These documents varied in the levels of confidentiality, format

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(text, spreadsheet and presentation documents, geographic information systems [GIS] files, multimedia
files). It was not uncommon for the same document to be found on several different hard drives; observers
believed that there was overlap in perhaps 15 per cent of all stored documents.

THE KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT STEERING COMMITTEE

The interest in knowledge management began in early 2000 as a few managers from EDU realized that
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something had to be done to correct some of the inefficiencies they identified:

• The rate at which electronic data was generated was increasing — and electronic data was significantly
different from paper-based documents in the way it was used and handled.
- For every document created, there were often up to 20 different versions.
• On a broader scope, there was increasing difficulty finding out what knowledge was available and who
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to approach for that expertise. For example, new policy development required a thorough review of
the old policy, a review of the internal discussion concerning the direction in which the new policy
should take, the results of external consultation (if conducted and if available), and the location of
resident experts within the ministry who could guide the new policy’s development. Gathering data
and experts together was not an easy task.
• Loss of knowledge due to turnover could be better managed.
No

A group of EDU employees — who had great interest in knowledge management — formed a team of
eight to explore how knowledge management could be brought into the ministry. Their executive sponsor
was Marine Perran, a director of finance for EDU’s branches. IBM was contacted to provide an overview
of current practices in knowledge management. While preparing for this meeting, scheduled in December
2000, Kathryn Everest remembered thinking about the many benefits knowledge management could bring
to EDU. She recalled:

We spoke to the steering committee, chaired by Greg Turko, about knowledge


management trends and what we had seen in the marketplace. We were excited about the
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possibility of partnering with EDU to pursue this knowledge management initiative and
thought at first that they were gathering data to publish an request for proposal (RFP) or

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request for resource (RFR).3 Near the end of December 2000, we were very happy to find

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out that they decided instead to sole-source from us.

The first project involved assessing the current state of knowledge management at EDU and drafting
proposals to improve upon it. The IBM team included Everest and another full-time IBM consultant, Jill
Goodridge. They relied on a series of meetings, 15 interviews, workshops and one social capital survey.

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IBM’s social capital survey evaluates an organization’s social capital. According to IBM, social capital,
the critical “bandwidth” for knowledge transfer in an organization, consisted of the following: Trust,
informal networks, culture and common context, and vocabulary. Both Everest and Goodridge worked
with members of EDU’s steering committee to schedule meetings with busy directors and staff members.
Rooms were booked for the workshops and interviews. The social capital survey covered topics such as
the perceived degree of sharing and trust within the organization and the degree to which requests for
information were met and credit was received. Prior to administering the social capital survey, the

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questions were distributed to key officials to ensure that the questions asked were appropriate and
meaningful.

The Current State

After three months, the IBM consultants presented their findings.


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Focus groups revealed that the ministry had strong informal networks used by policy professionals and
issue coordinators, and well-defined roles for issue management. There were pockets of specialized tacit
knowledge and strong research skills within the organization. For example, at EDU, there were two
different experts in child psychology with specialized knowledge relevant to a particular education policy
formation project. But neither expert had ever met the other because each was located in different offices.
The ministries were already engaged in knowledge sharing opportunities such as “Lunch and Learn,”
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integrated planning forums and regular staff meetings; there was informal mentoring for new hires; and
there was verbal support to improve the performance measurement capability of managers. Managers
were keen on learning how to measure and manage partners such as school boards. Although EDU set up
education policies and frameworks, it was up to the school boards to execute the plans as they were the
service providers — hence the requirement for EDU managers to monitor and measure school board
progress towards goals.
No

1. The consultants found that much of the ministries’ knowledge was tacit. For example, when asked
what information sources they relied on, participants invariably stated that they referred to other
people. Particular Web sites or documents were never relied on for information.

2. Documented knowledge was difficult to locate and share. Participants displayed less confidence in
documented knowledge versus key personnel contacts. They typically wondered whether documented
knowledge was complete, up-to-date and available for public consumption (just in case the document
was meant only for internal use).
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3. There were significant cultural issues that inhibited knowledge sharing; confidentiality issues inhibited
and restricted collaboration and knowledge sharing. Participants were extremely careful with the data,
information and knowledge that came their way, preferring to err on the side of limited disclosure
3
A Request For Resource is a call for prospective vendors to provide more information on a subject in order to better inform
the client. To use the example cited, EDU could have been looking for more information on the state of the knowledge
management field prior to issuing their RFP.

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versus full disclosure. They believed that being conservative with regard to how much information

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was released would be a good safeguard against unwittingly releasing sensitive information both
internally or externally.

4. EDU had a weak knowledge-sharing infrastructure, and limited knowledge and information-sharing
resulted in duplication of efforts. There were instances where two different parties proceeded to

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conduct similar research on the same topic because each was unaware of the other’s intentions (and
even existence).

5. Miscellaneous findings included the following: managers could not readily identify experts in relevant
fields; employee attrition resulted in lost knowledge; there was a general sense of “information
overload”; much of the information was thought to be obsolete; and efforts to research topics were
inefficient.

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The Five Cultural Opportunity Areas Identified

Results from the social capital survey given out to EDU employees revealed five opportunity areas from a
cultural perspective (see Exhibit 3).

The results also indicated areas of strength in EDU’s social capital:


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• Staff members believed that sharing knowledge and information was part of their job and that others
took time to share knowledge and information when required.
• People regularly reused ideas and work products created by others.
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The Recommendations

Based on their research, Everest and Goodridge developed several possible solutions for implementation at
EDU. Three options stood out: document management, communities of practice and an expert directory.
These options could be implemented alone or in combination with each other.
No

Document Management

In relation to knowledge management, document management provided central storage for an


organization’s explicit knowledge — proposals, business cases, reports etc. This repository captured
documents and their history and could serve as a foundation for “organizational memory.” Document
management was made up of processes and technology to organize document-based resources across the
organization. Most document management technologies supported the ability to perform the following
functions: search, review, edit, approve and link documents. A more detailed explanation of what
document management could accomplish for an organization can be found in Exhibit 4.
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Communities of Practice

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In 1991, the concept of communities of practice was popularized by Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave of the
Institute for Research on Learning in Palo Alto, California.4 Communities of practice were groups that
emerged around a discipline or problem — a work-related subject like graphic design or the behavior of
derivative financial instruments. They had no agenda; they were defined by the subject that engaged them,

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not by project, rank, department or even corporate affiliation.5 A comparison of communities of practice
with work groups, project teams and informal networks can be found in Exhibit 5.

Everest explained why she believed that, when compared to technology-oriented solutions, a community of
practice was a preferred tool for certain organizations:

Many organizations, recognizing the importance of being able to take advantage of this

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intellectual capital, have undertaken a range of projects designed to better identify, locate
and share knowledge across the organization. Many of these efforts have focused on the
deployment of technology solutions, such as the implementation of intranets, groupware
applications and portals. They attempt to provide easy access to repositories of documents
or explicit knowledge. While, on the surface, these technologically driven efforts seem to
be well intentioned, they do not sufficiently address the needs of organizations looking to
improve the use of their knowledge assets.6
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According to Everest, there were four areas where communities could help organizations use their
intellectual capital and contribute to business results. The first was easier reuse of tangible knowledge
assets. Communities could help make it easier for individuals to share explicit forms of knowledge and
serve as a vetting mechanism by sorting through and filtering content. She added:

In a repository context (where everyone contributes), it is very much “buyer beware.”


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People need to use reputation to evaluate material. In a community, reputation is more


easily established as members are aware of each other (and are more likely to want to
uphold their image by contributing valuable material), and content is evaluated prior to
being stored by a designated manager.

Second, communities could help organizations react to customer inquiries. They were useful in quickly
identifying individuals with the subject matter expertise necessary to provide the best answer to a client
No

problem. This observation was based on the belief that communities know “who knows what,” and this
makes them more responsive because experts could be easily identified. In addition, communities were
thought to have stronger “social capital,” which typically means they are more responsive to requests from
fellow community members. This was especially important in organizations where the needed expertise
was separated by time zones, distance and or organizational boundaries. Third, communities decreased the
learning curve for new employees, answering questions and guiding them to resources. Fourth,
communities generated new ideas for products and services. They provided a forum where people could
bounce ideas around and ask difficult questions without the normal pressures of day-to-day performance.
Individuals appeared to be more forthcoming when they recognized that others had faced similar situations
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and were willing to contribute potential ideas and solutions.7

4
J. Lave and E. Wenger, “Situated Learning,” Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge University Press, 1991.
5
Thomas A. Stewart, “Intellectual Capital: Ten Years Later, How Far We’ve Come,” Fortune, May 28, 2001.
6
Eric Lesser and Kathryn Everest, “Using Communities of Practice to Manage Intellectual Capital,” Ivey Business Journal,
March 1, 2001.
7
Ibid.

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Everest helped client organizations identify members of these communities and link them together. She

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had a process of locating current communities and identifying participants who were naturally performing
many of the roles relevant to communities of practice. Examples of these roles included the following:
experts, apprentices, natural born leaders, and organizers.

Some of the challenges that Everest encountered included the following: there were no resources to

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structure and update the content that was captured in repositories; individuals were reluctant to contribute
content; there were no mechanisms for validating content; and the materials in the repository did not have
enough of a context to make them relevant.

Everest overcame these challenges by helping the organization recognize the value of communities. For
example, she cited one case where an organization had recognized the value of communities and had
included the responsibility for maintaining that community as one of a participant’s work evaluation

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criteria. Through qualitative and selected quantitative measurements, Everest developed arguments that
indicated the business results that were possible because of the existence of a community. For example,
she included one testimonial from a community member indicating that, “as a result of the information I
learned from the community, I was able to reduce production time on my line by 15 per cent.”

Expert Directory
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With an expert directory, a software application matched client queries with experts within the
organization. The question was inputted in free-text form and the application sent the query to a list of
experts. If the expert wished to reply, the expert could do so either by electronic message or in person.
This application had several advantages: it allowed for anonymous brokering — the expert could choose
whether or not to publish their profile and whether or not to reply, and it had an enormous amount of
encryption built in so the privacy of individuals would be protected.
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Such a system would be built on two types of knowledge: explicit and tacit. The first was drawn from
existing personnel profiles created by employees themselves. These profiles conveyed the main focus of
people’s work, with whom they worked, what they had done with what they were working on, any papers
or talks, and professional interests outside of work. Other information on people’s interests was derived
from tracking the databases to which they contributed and from the Web pages they visited.8 Industry
estimates for this type of system were about $900,000 in initial costs to install and roughly $100,000 a year
No

in ongoing maintenance and updates.

DIFFICULTIES IN KNOWLEDGE-SHARING

Industry observers noted that it was difficult to share early policy development with a wide-ranging
audience. If one member of that audience disagreed with the intent of the policy, there existed the
possibility that details would be leaked to the press to draw pressure on the policy process. In 2000, in
support of an effort to draft education policy (aimed at increasing scholastic performance in schools), a
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provincewide Grade 10 literacy test was developed by EDU. This test was designed specifically to
measure the skill set students were expected to use in taking Ontario’s “back-to-basics” primary and
secondary school curriculum. On March 7, 2001, two days before the test results were to be officially
reported to the press, an insider at EDU leaked the news that 29 per cent of test-takers failed. The

8
www.domino.watson.ibm.com/comm/wwwr_thinkresearch.nsf/pages/expert498. Accessed September 2, 2003.

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Canadian Press headlines declared: “29% flunk Provincial literacy test: Grade 10 scores unacceptable to

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ministry; teachers’ union leery of political overtones.”9

An EDU official, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, stated:

These results are unacceptable. We will be working with the school boards to ensure that

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boards are taking steps to improve; it is important that every student who graduates from
high school can read and write.10

DECISION TIME

Everest read the news as she was preparing for her March 8th meeting with the Deputy Minister of

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Education. Everest was keen to secure support for an early-stage knowledge management program. Given
that there seemed to be concerns about information sharing at the ministry, which of the knowledge
management options should she recommend, and how should she explain her choice to the Deputy
Minister?
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No
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9
James McCarten and Michael Higgins, “29% Flunk Provincial Literacy Test,” The Canadian Press, March 7, 2001.
10
Ibid.

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Exhibit 1

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THE ONTARIO MINISTRY OF EDUCATION ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

Parliamentary
Minister

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Assistant

Agencies, Boards, Executive


and Commissions Assistant
Deputy Minister

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Special Communications Community Technology and
Projects Branch Services Business Solutions
I & IT Cluster EDU/TCU

Strategic Planning Elementary/ Instruction and French-Language Corporate Mgmt


and Elementary/ Secondary Bus. Leadership Education and and Services
Secondary Prog And Finance Development Div. Educational Ops Division
Division Division Division
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Policy and Education Policy and French-Lang. Corporate
Program Finance Standards Education Policy Coordination
Division Branch Branch and Prog. Brch Office

Curriculum and Transfer Paymt Performance Provincial Human


Assessment and Financial Systems + Schools Resources
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Policy Branch Reporting Brch Quality Assmt Branch Planning +


Branch Svcs Branch

Sec. School Business Information Field Services Legal Services


Policy and Services Mgmt Branch Branch
Programs Brch Branch Branch

Special Edc. Labour Audit Services


Policy and Relations + Branch
No

Programs Governance
Branch Branch

Programs Bus. Planning


Support and
Expenditure
Mgmt Branch
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Source: Adapted from Ontario Ministry of Education Web site.

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Exhibit 2

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MINISTRY OF EDUCATION’S GOAL-SETTING PROCESS

Ministry goal: Ensuring that the Kindergarten to Grade 12 Curriculum is relevant and challenging for
students and that students with specialized needs receive appropriate programs and supports in order to
contribute to improved student performance.

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Ministry contributions: The Ministry contributes by setting curriculum and related instructional program
standards, and by ensuring that the standards are met by providing resources, training and extra supports
for students with special needs.

Measure Standard/Target 2001-2002 Commitments


Curriculum will meet or exceed
Curriculum Quality: The quality of Curriculum reviewed and

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appropriate national and
new ministry curriculum and related benchmarked against any new or
international standards such as:
curriculum support material, as updated releases of national and/or
1. the International Baccalaureate
measured by its rigour, relevance international standards.
and the pan-Canadian curriculum
and completeness against national
standards; and
and international standards.
2. apprenticeship and other
workplace training entrance
requirements, such as sector
councils.
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Special Needs Students: 100% of student Individual School boards will work with the
Percentage of students with special Education Plans (IEPs) audited meet Ministry to ensure that 60-80% of
needs that are provided with a range the provincial standard. IEPs audited meet the provincial
of program and services which will standard.
enable them to develop to their full
potential.
Maintain current level of satisfaction:
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Independent Learning Centre Maintain current level of satisfaction.


Customer Satisfaction: Percentage • 95% of student satisfaction with
of Independent Learning Centre services received from a Learning
students who are "satisfied" or "very Services Officer
satisfied." • 95% student satisfaction with
service received from the teacher
French-language Student Year-over-year improvement in the Determine baseline percentage rate
Retention: Percentage of Grade 8 overall retention rate of Francophone of French-language student
French-language students that enrol students in French-language retention.
No

in Grade 9 French-language schools.


secondary schools.

Source: Adapted from Ontario Ministry of Education Web site.


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Exhibit 3

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SOCIAL CAPITAL SURVEY

Opportunity Area As Identified by Staff Importance of Opportunity Satisfaction With


Area Current State
(5-pt. scale with 5 being (5-pt. scale with 5 being

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“strongly agree”) “strongly agree”)
There is a willingness to share 4.8 3.4
It is easy to consult others 4.6 3.4
Sharing is encouraged 4.6 3.5
Common context and vocabulary 4.3 3.1
Sharing is valued through rewards and incentives 4.2 3.1

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Exhibit 4

DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT

Document Management technologies typically supported the ability to:


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• Search for documents based on text in the document (full text search), and/or information about the
document (attributes) such as by date, author, type of document (policy, issue note, memo,
correspondence, etc)
• Check-in/Check-out documents for editing to ensure two people cannot edit the same document at the
same time (to ensure document integrity)
• Always view the most current approved version of a document.
• View previous versions of a document and its revision history (including an audit trail of who made
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changes). This would allow, for example, users to view what the policy was at a particular point in
time.
• Apply granular security to documents to restrict users' ability to view the document, edit the document,
create a new version, or deleted the document.
• Access the document management repository within the Ministries' chosen office suite (MS Office).
For examples, a user can search the repository or check documents in and out without leaving Word,
Excel, PowerPoint or Exchange, etc.
• Review and approve documents through an automated workflow. The user could check the status of a
No

document in the approval process. By using this mechanism to approve documents, an audit trail is
captured for historical reference.
• Create a new draft of a document, without disrupting the "production" version (i.e. it still presents the
previous approved version to users who are not part of the revision team).
• Cross-reference and link documents so that they "appear" to be in multiple places.
• Maintain multiple formats (renditions) of the same document version. This is useful to allow everyone
access to documents that they may not have the software to view. An example could be a Visio
drawing could also have a PDF rendition, so those users who do not use Visio could view the PDF
rendition.
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• Request notification of changes to a document. The system will notify the user through email when a
document has been changed.
For more information on document management, visit www.documentum.com and search for “Enterprise Document
Management”.

Source: Kathryn Everest.

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Exhibit 5

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COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE COMPARED WITH OTHER GROUPS

What is the Who belongs? What holds it How long does it


purpose? together? last?

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Community of To develop Members who Passion, As long as there is
Practice members’ select themselves commitment, and interest in
capabilities; to build identification with maintaining the
and exchange the group’s group
knowledge expertise
Formal work To deliver a product Everyone who Job requirements Until the next
group or service reports to the and common goals reorganization
group’s manager

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Project team To accomplish a Employees The project’s Until the project has
specified task assigned by senior milestone and been completed
management goals
Informal To collect and pass Friends and Mutual needs As long as people
network on business business have a reason to
information acquaintances connect
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Source: Etienne C. Wenger and William M. Snyder, “Communities of Practice: The Organizational Frontier”, Harvard
Business Review, January-February 2000.
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No
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