When Knowledge Management Drives a Strategic Transformation Project: The Case of a Brazilian Air Force Organisation

When Knowledge Management Drives a Strategic Transformation Project: The Case of a Brazilian Air Force Organisation

Alexandre Velloso Guimarães (Brazilian Air Force, Brazil)
DOI: 10.4018/jskd.2011100103

Abstract

This article introduces and explores the case of a Brazilian Air Force Organisation, the Aeronautical Economy and Finance Secretariat, which based on different findings provided by knowledge management (KM) research, started a broad strategic transformation process to address KM specific issues while improving organisational performance. The case description is complemented by theory regarding strategic management applied to public organisations to underpin the perception that, for such organisations, not driven by market variables, KM may exert a positive influence as a trigger to strategic changes rather than other performance related aspects.
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“That knowledge has become the resource, rather than a resource is what makes our society ‘post-capitalist’. It changes, fundamentally, the structure of society. It creates new social dynamics. It creates new economic dynamics. It creates new politics.”-Peter Drucker

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The Km Research Drivers

In 2008, the Aeronautical Economy and Finance Secretariat (SEFA), although displaying a hierarchical structure, inherent to military units, gathered some important features of intensive-knowledge organisations. With four main functional areas, the Secretariat was a unanimous reference within the Air Force in the fields of budgeting, financial, accounting and controlling procedures. At that time, SEFA's Senior Officers, in average, accumulated 10 to 15 years of experience in their areas, in most cases with a strong postgraduate background.

Nevertheless, the organisation as a whole and particularly the middle managers struggled with typical KM issues, starting from an apparently excess of information, described by Girard (2006) as syndrome of the “information anxiety”. In this respect, some typical symptoms of the “information anxiety” could be noticed in the Secretariat, such as managers feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information to be understood, not knowing if certain information existed and not knowing precisely where to find the right information.

Another challenge faced by SEFA top administration was a systematic memory loss, caused by managers at different levels frequently retiring or being assigned to other organisations and taking away years of experience and memory, with significant impact on the organisations's ability to make a proactive use of its past experiences (Nevo & Wand, 2005). Such difficulty was particularly visible whenever an attempt was made to find the complete memory of past decisions (Alvarado, 2005), including those produced by work groups, a common tool used by the Secretariat to deal with complex subjects. In that context, the urgent need to retrieve the large amount of sticky knowledge, qualified by Coakes (2004) as something context-and-process-specific, before people could simply quit by the front door, became a priority for the top managers at SEFA. Moreover, it became clear that the organisation would need to be able to identify what could be considered important knowledge, to compose the corporate memory (Becket, 2000).

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