Building a Knowledge Management System in a Design Firm: The Case of XYZ Structural Department

Building a Knowledge Management System in a Design Firm: The Case of XYZ Structural Department

Toufic Mezher (American University of Beirut, Lebanon), M.A. Abdul-Malak (American University of Beirut, Lebanon), Mohamad Khaled (XYZ Engineering Company, Lebanon) and Ibrahim El-Khatib (XYZ Engineering Company, Lebanon)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2618-8.ch008
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Abstract

Knowledge management represents a strategic vision for developing an organization’s performance and its likelihood of success in dealing with future challenges in its industry. The case starts by discussing the importance of knowledge management in improving the competitive edge of firms in general and of consulting firms in particular. Then, the case discusses the process of building a knowledge management system in the structural engineering department at a leading engineering design consulting firm, based in the Republic of Lebanon. The knowledge, both tacit and explicit, needed during the design phase is identified and mapped according to the adopted design process, and an expert system was built to capture some of the tacit knowledge needed in the conceptual design stage of the process. In addition, an intranet Web-based knowledge management system was developed with the aim of helping diffuse both explicit and tacit knowledge.
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Organization Background

As engineering becomes more complicated and advanced in application, a vision must be drawn to meet tomorrow’s consulting needs. Engineering companies must look forward to adopt new technologies as well as improve available technical skills in order to accelerate the work process and compete with other consulting companies. The goal of any engineering firm is to attract as many projects as possible and deliver the services required on such projects to the clients’ established standards and within the limited timeframes allowed. One key approach to achieve such an objective is for a company to leverage its knowledge, by adopting proven knowledge management practices.

Knowledge management is known as an evolving field that has currently attracted much attention. Knowing that skilled employees are considered as real assets for their organizations, wise management can be characterized as one that shall always uphold such values and resources. However, these assets usually live in the collective human memory and are poorly reserved and managed (Augier & Knudsen, 2004; Raub & Von Wittich, 2004).

The objective of this case is to share the experience of building a knowledge management system (KMS) in a consulting firm, mainly, the Structure Engineering Department at XYZ consulting firm, one of the top 100 engineering firms operating worldwide.

XYZ is a multidisciplinary architectural and engineering consulting company that offers clients an integrated approach towards the ever-increasing need for concrete and reliable project delivery systems. The firm provides consulting services in architecture & planning; structural, electrical, mechanical, transportation, environmental, telecommunication, industrial, and process engineering; geographic information systems (GIS); and information technology (IT).

Figure 1 presents the knowledge level and decision-making process for each position inside the structural department. It has a hierarchical form starting from the lowest position (Junior Engineer) and increasing to reach the highest position (Head of Department) inside the department. As the task increases in value, the responsibility will automatically gain more importance. The figure also shows the knowledge of engineers at each position level of XYZ’s structural department. It is noticeable that as the number of years in service increases, a wide knowledge of design is developed. In other words, each stage has its own determinants and characteristics. For engineers to reach a higher position, they must upgrade their knowledge level as well as their contribution to the decision-making process of the department.

Figure 1.

Level of knowledge and experience in Structure Engineering Department at XYZ

The company has many servers for administrative and engineering purposes. The existing servers include proxy, FTP, e-mail, Web, anti-spam and anti-virus, database, and Veritas back up. In addition, there are many servers used to manage current and existing engineering projects. Other servers are used to manage all related business.

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Setting The Stage

In its most basic form, knowledge can be thought of as information that is contextual, relevant, and actionable (Anwar, Kanok-Nukulchai, & Batanov, 2005). It is a process of converting the extracted data into information, and the information, in turn, to relevant and actionable knowledge (Turban, Aronson, Liang, & Sharda, 2007; Dalkir, 2005).

In changing markets and rapid technological advances, many organizations have changed their strategies to become more flexible in coping with such trends in order to be competitive; a certain way of doing so is to strengthen their potential to learn as organizations. In this context, knowledge plays an essential role for value creation and as an organizational driver. Increased emphasis must be placed on expanding the organizational knowledge-base level, either by learning from others (colleagues, partners, etc.) or by creating new knowledge through innovation (Turban at al., 2007; Awad & Ghaziri, 2004).

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