The Telkom Group is that largest integrated communications company in Africa. We provide integrated ICT solutions to a wide range of customers of across the African continent. The company’s vision is to become a world class ICT provider and key to this vision is customer centricity. The company has in excess of 22000 full time employees and over a hundred sections, divisions and business units with different focus areas. As such the Telkom Group does not have a unified knowledge management strategy.
There are multiple knowledge management systems and approaches that have been adopted and deployed throughout the organization. The strategies and solutions chosen were done so in a manner that enabled the different focus areas to achieve their objectives and targets effectively.
Being a communications company, knowledge management and implementing a successful knowledge strategy is crucial to survival of Telkom in this era of added competition. Top management needs correct information in timeous manner to ensure that critical business decisions can be made.
The Dimensions of Knowledge
It has been widely accepted by knowledge management practitioners that knowledge can be categorized into two areas of focus namely tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge. The type of knowledge that an organization predominantly uses determines their approach when implementing knowledge management initiatives. In the Telkom Group the vast nature and diversity of the solutions that the organization provides makes it nearly impossible to choose a single approach for the entire organization. The knowledge management strategies and systems that have been adopted and deployed in my organization have been designed to capture both tacit and explicit knowledge because of the nature of Telkom’s business and spectrum of the solutions it provides.
Tacit Knowledge In Telkom
Telkom has several divisions within the organization that provides unique and customized solutions for their customers. These solutions include but are not limited to designing and implementing complex networks spanning multinational companies to multi-tier IT Security solutions and designs performed by highly specialized and skilled teams and individuals.
The knowledge required to perform such specialized functions comes from individuals that typically have an engineering background in terms of education coupled with vendor specific technology training and years of field work. The explicit knowledge portion of their work comes from the vendor specific training on the latest products and services however the most challenging part of knowledge management is the portions of knowledge that was acquired over the years through experiential learning. This type of knowledge cannot be acquired from textbooks or vendor training. This knowledge is acquired through real life experiences and projects when dealing with customer requests and challenges over a number of years. The majority of this knowledge that was acquired remained largely in the heads of these individuals and very little was documented.
This biggest challenge facing the managers of these divisions is the high turnover rate of these highly skilled individuals. These individuals found themselves in a very a sought after and lucrative position. Due to massive shortages of technology skills and knowledge both locally and internationally these could literally demand what they wanted in terms of remunerations with numerous offers awaiting them.
The strategy that Telkom implemented to guard against losing these employees with critical the skills and knowledge was twofold. The first portion of this plan was to identify all the individuals that were critical to the business unit’s survival. Telkom then created a program called the Skills Retention Program which was designed to incentivize individuals with critical skills to remain in the employment of the company for at least a predetermined number of years. These individuals were given lucrative financial rewards to remain in Telkom’s employment however they had to sign contracts which stipulated a number of terms, conditions and deliverables. Some of the conditions of the contract included that they do a skills transfer to a nominated employee, train and mentor that employee. These conditions were evaluated on a regular basis by line management and only when line management and the individual trained were satisfied with the knowledge transfer would Telkom payout the financial reward promised.
The second portion of this process was employing the right people to be trained by the employees with the critical skills and knowledge. Telkom created a division within its HR department called the Centre of Excellence (CoE). The Center of Excellence was responsible for finding and giving out bursaries to talented individuals that intended studying in the fields of engineering that Telkom required. Once these students graduated with engineering qualifications, they were placed within Telkom in the divisions that had the highly skilled individuals. The graduates where then partnered with the skilled individuals for the duration of their Skills Retention Contract. The students are given vendor and product specific training and then work closely with the skilled workers for the on the job training and skills transfer. The terms and conditions of the Skills Retention Programs was that the skilled knowledge workers must guarantee the company that the graduate would reach the appropriate level of competence within the retention period which is normally three to four years.
In this implementation of knowledge management in which Telkom tried to capture the tacit knowledge of employees with critical skills, an environment with a win-win situation was created. The students benefit from receiving bursaries and proper skills development once they have qualified. The skilled individuals are compensated for their skills and knowledge and the company benefits by creating a pool of resources that will ensure that they will always be able to deliver excellent services to their customers.
Explicit Knowledge In Telkom
By far the majority of the knowledge that is used on the daily basis by Telkom employees to perform their duties is explicit knowledge. This type of knowledge is the routine and repetitive tasks that is well known and has been documented, stored and disseminated to those that require the information to perform their jobs.
As described earlier due to Telkom’s size and the diverse solutions that it offers to its customers, there are aspects of the business that require employees to be equipped with explicit knowledge so that they can perform their duties efficiently. This knowledge is transferred to the employees via job specific training, job aids, and training manuals and on the job training. To disseminate explicit knowledge throughout the organization, Telkom has created a division called Centre for Learning (CFL). The rationale behind this strategy was to create a division whose sole focus would be to transfer explicit knowledge to employees.
The explicit knowledge created in Telkom for the specific job functions normally comes from the vendors whose equipment is installed in the Telkom network. This knowledge normally comes in the form of step by step procedures and user manuals. This knowledge is used for solutions that are similar in nature for every customer. Some of the divisions that use explicit knowledge in Telkom are the Call Centers, Telkom Internet, Telephone – Field Technicians, Exchange Technicians, ADSL Installers, etc.
The Centre for Learning division is responsible for equipping these employees with the relevant knowledge to perform their duties. The people employed for these positions require little or no technical background and all the skills that they require comes from explicit knowledge that the company already has stored in its Knowledge Management repositories.