KM Australia Congress 2012—an interview with Felicity McNish

Last year, Australian firm Woods Bagot won the Asian Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise (MAKE) Award from a shortlist on which they were the only architectural practice. According to this article from Architecture & Design magazine, Woods Bagot commit two percent of their business revenue to research and knowledge management; and much of that material is made accessible to anyone around the world.

Felicity McNish is the Global Knowledge Manager for Woods Bagot and she’ll be presenting “Mobile knowledge management: dealing with tools in the wild” on day one of the KM Australia Congress. She’s kindly given her time to provide comprehensive responses to my questions in the following interview.

 

1. Can you describe the services Woods Bagot provides and the nature of the organisation?

Woods Bagot is a global design studio with 700 staff working in architecture, consulting, interior design and urban design. Initially founded in Adelaide in the 1860s, the company now has a strong global presence with 14 locations across Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and North America.

 

2. What about your role as Global Knowledge Manager—what does that involve and how did your experience lead you to that particular role?

Knowledge management is paramount to achieving our aspirational vision:

“NEXT GENERATION GLOBAL STUDIO IS UNDERPINNED BY THE COLLECTIVE KNOWLEDGE, EXPERTISE, INNOVATION AND RESEARCH OF A GLOBAL TEAM.”

Our Next Generation Global Studio vision is built upon two strategic pillars. Firstly we operate as a truly global organisation, what we call our ‘global studio’ strategy. Secondly, everything we do is underpinned by knowledge and research.

Our knowledge and research pillar is, in essence, the mantra that defines how we deliver our work – without research and knowledge we cannot deliver intelligent designs. My core role as Global Knowledge Manager is to embed this strategy across our organisation by:

  • Defining a global knowledge management approach and resourcing a knowledge team to manage implementation.
  • Supporting  and indoctrinating our project methodology, Design Intelligence Methodology, which defines each element of research, consultation and knowledge capture throughout the design process.
  • Building a bespoke knowledge tool, Design Intelligence Portal, to capture and share intelligence, dialogue, compliance and designs for every project, across the organisation.
  • Championing pure and applied research; and working with specialists to develop authoritative research resources and design technologies to enable innovative design.
  • Nurturing a virtual and mobile communication and knowledge environment for professionals to collaborate, problem-solve, capture and share information and ideas.

Our two strategic foundations leverage and amplify each other. A global studio enables research and knowledge to flow effectively across the entire organisation to enhance our client’s project outcomes wherever in they may be. Knowledge and research also provides the tangible value of the global studio to both our people and our clients, thereby reinforcing this global approach. We reinforce these two central strategies through alignment with our core values and our partner performance metrics.

My knowledge roles at international accounting firm, Ernst & Young, and consulting firm, Cap Gemini, gave me the groundwork to understand the significance and complexity of managing virtual knowledge on a global scale. I took the role at Woods Bagot knowing that it was a new position for the organisation and establishing  formal knowledge management would be a challenge.

 

3. How do your KM initiatives weave into the core values of Woods Bagot?

The Woods Bagot core values are the result of extensive consultation with our staff and leaders to distil the ‘essence’ of our organisation and to define the attributes that make us unique. Importantly when we were defining the core values we also looked at how we needed to be to compete globally in the 21st century, taking into consideration our interactions with peers, clients and the world. Interestingly, terms such as knowledge, research, experience, intelligence were common in our consultation; but more importantly the behaviours we need to exhibit to enable them. The results, were our five core values:

1. include – we share and communicate without boundaries

Knowledge initiatives include the intranet, communities of practice, wikis, brain scan [global open Q&A forum], Design Intelligence Portal

2. enable – we build trust and respect to achieve outstanding results

Knowledge initiatives include focus on mobility and open access

3. care – we support and mentor to grow opportunities and realise full potential

Knowledge initiatives include training, mentoring and support

4. engage – we take initiative and responsibility to make a contribution

Knowledge initiatives include design research projects, such as Zero-E. Recognising the need for an integrated, multidisciplinary approach, Woods Bagot partnered with Buro Happold, the world leading global engineering consultancy. Together the two firms created a dedicated team for developing zero emissions design, a process and tools suite based on our philosophy and principles, designed to power our approach.

5. intrepid – we fearlessly investigate to generate an authentic idea

Knowledge initiatives include our design project methodology, research fund and access to various tools and external knowledge sources

 

4. Woods Bagot won the 2011 Asian MAKE award for Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise—congratulations, by the way—what were the particular achievements that contributed to that recognition?

Becoming a knowledge organisation has been a journey of sorts. Over the last six years we have matured in the way we capture, share and build knowledge. Our most notable achievements have been the creation of our knowledge tool, Design Intelligence Portal, and the evolution of our intranet from a place to look up a policy to a portal to share information and experience. And the transition to being more mobile has been critical in enabling the discipline of knowledge to be seen as a valuable asset to the organisation.

Since the implementation of our global studio and knowledge strategies, we have more than tripled our revenue, improved our profit margins, built a strong global client base, expanded strongly into China and North America and attracted key talent from our competitors.

These outcomes have seen Woods Bagot acknowledged as a three-time Asian MAKE winner and a global finalist in 2011.

 

5. As a global organisation, how do you manage the currency of information across different timezones and the security implications of data storage in different countries?

Ensuring that the business remains abreast and adaptive to the expanding communication and knowledge technologies; whilst ensuring that knowledge can be accessed beyond geography and time, in secure and safe collaborative environments is paramount to mobile knowledge management. Initiatives I work on to drive knowledge management include:

  • Evolving our intranet, Public Edge as an intelligent and responsive collaborative platform, with the ability to integrate social media and transmedia platforms and host alternative forms of media.
  • Ensuring that our current information management policies take into consideration new mobile device technology tools such as tablets, iPads, social media and cloud applications.
  • Building on our knowledge toolbox [such as wikis, brain scan, communities of practice] and creating alternative mediums for knowledge capture [like video conference vodcasts].
  • Advising on the redevelopment of the website and digital media strategy.
  • Working collaboratively with information technology leadership and external vendors on new technology and applications.

 

6. You’ll be speaking at the KM Australia Congress on the impact of mobile devices on knowledge management. How have you seen the capture and reuse of knowledge evolve in your organisation in recent years?

When I started the intranet was a one-way library and uncovering knowledge about a project in most instances required face-to-face communications. Now through our intranet, communities of practice, wikis design intelligence documents, Design Intelligence Portals, podcasts and most importantly a knowledge driven culture, access to intelligence and knowledge has no physical or time-based barriers.

 

7. In terms of KM, have you experienced any notable failures in developing a mobile strategy and, if so, how did you address them?

At Woods Bagot our journey with our global mobile workforce is ongoing and we are constantly challenged by new technology and ways to work.  We have not met with any notable failures; however my advice to any organisation would be to continue to keep on top of what is happening and ensure there is a strategy in place to manage change.

 

8. Mobile concerns are front-and-centre for many companies, right now. Do you have any advice for organisations that are thinking about establishing a bring your own device (BYOD) policy?

Technology is changing at such as pace that keeping policies relevant is a challenge. When developing a bring your own device (BYOD) policy I would encourage organisations to seek legal counsel and ensure that the policy is progressive but not too specific so it does not become obsolete too quickly. Also, organisations may wish to consider one of the many pieces of software available on the market that can assist with BYOD information management.

 

You’ll have the chance to hear more from Felicity towards the end of day one on the Congress programme. There will be a range of workshops available on the third day of Congress. Loads of KM goodness to choose from, but my recommendations include: What is your critical knowledge?, Applying the Plan-Do-Check-Act concept to knowledge management projects, and Developing and nurturing communities of practice and networks.
Read the interview with Chandni Kapur, Change Manager, Strategy Execution from Rio Tinto, here. The final interview in this series will appear on Tuesday, and features LEGO’s Online Community Editor Signe Lønholdt.

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