This chapter focuses on the community and collaboration tools as means of creating business communities of practice (CoPs). First, the state-of-the art of these tools is presented with respect to diffusion and usage, and then emergent communities are analysed in terms of targets, goals, models and barriers. The research is based on 16 retrospective case studies that cover more than 50% of the banking sector in Italy by number of employees and refer to 33 communities. The findings provide interesting elements and suggestions to develop a community in a banking context. The authors aim to develop actionable knowledge to support management in understanding how to manage a business CoP, in order to create value for both the organization and its members.
The Challenge Of A New Working Environment
Since KM became a prominent topic in management literature, various perspectives have been developed: ranging from a first, technology-focused view to the taxonomic-based standpoint; from ‘knowledge as what is known’ to the later socio-practical concept. Each perspective embodies a different role of ICT: which may be a classical information system (IS) which allows users to translate knowledge into information, as well as to extrapolate knowledge from information (technology-focused view), or the need to transfer non-codified knowledge (taxonomic-based standpoint), or a backward role with respect to managerial and organizational levers in the what is known perspective (knowledge lies in the individual mind).
Our perspective on organizational knowledge is socio-practical, and considers knowledge as a common good rather than a mere individual asset (Von Krogh, 2002). Knowledge creation and sharing are interpreted as social processes, in which the most important role is played by individuals and their relationships with others (Senge, 1990; Brown e Duguid, 1998). The creation and transfer of knowledge are considered as social phenomena and an integral part of a community (Brown et al., 1998, Wenger, 1998a). Indeed, individuals choose other individuals with whom to cooperate from beyond their structures and formal ties (i.e. departments, divisions, etc.), so creating informal networks that overlap formal, and top-down designed structures within the organization.
Among the different types of informal networks, Communities of Practice (CoPs) are the most interesting from a knowledge management point of view.
New Needs from Workers
Through communities, individuals find the answers to those needs of sociality, belonging and experience-sharing that organizations find increasingly difficult to satisfy. Moreover, through communities, firms see the possibility of finding new ways to connect people, so overcoming the geographical and organizational bonds of traditional company structures. This is a growing need considering the ‘mobile workers phenomenon’, which represents an increasingly more important share of the total workforce (Drucker, 2002; Laubacher and Malone, 2003; Corso et al., 2006) and requires different solutions compared to the traditional approaches.
It is clear that these developments have a strong influence on the working environment: on the one hand, the very concept of space changes, while, on the other, there is a different relationship between companies and employees. The latter identify less and less with their companies and are left alone with their needs and professional projects. In many cases, being a mobile worker is an obligation rather than a choice and compared to the traditional figure of the worker involves individual qualities such as independence and spirit. At the same time, the distance workers are more interested in their professional development than in personnel development policies.
For companies, all this means finding new ways to respond to the people’s needs (safety and identity, membership and sharing, visibility and status, learning and personal development), re-designing the workspace on the basis of a number of guidelines: process re-configurability and layout independence, predominance of people over ICT tools, and finally, operations, collaboration and access. In other words, processes need to be made re-configurable independently of layout and of an organizational structure that is becoming ever more fluid; the focus needs to be on people and competences with the integration of support tools and not the other way round; the system needs to be brought in line with changing operations, allowing people to work and collaborate, and access information and competences wherever they are and under all conditions.