Structuring Organizational Knowledge

Page 1

Structuring Organizational Knowledge in Virtual Knowledge Rooms at Philips Semiconductors Frank Pauleickhoff, Alexander Roth, Thorsten Hampel (University of Paderborn, Germany fpaul | roth |

Abstract: Effectively managing organizational knowledge is a key in today’s knowledge intensive businesses to evolve a company’s future development. This essential task is supported by software systems, providing means to share, structure and work on knowledge items. In a case study at the Innovation Center Hamburg of Philips Semiconductors, different views on organizational knowledge determined by functional working contexts are elaborated. Considering these contexts, providing dynamic but also concise and recognisable structures to knowledge items as well as enabling cooperative work on them describe the main challenges of a supporting infrastructure. As a promising concept, the metaphor of virtual knowledge rooms is introduced. Based on a technical framework supporting this metaphor natively, a knowledge management system was developed, meeting all requirements and providing an extremely flexible and easy to maintain solution to the initial problem. Keywords: Virtual Knowledge Rooms, Knowledge Management, knowledge structures, Webbased systems, sTeam Categories: H.3.2, H.3.3, H.3.4, H.3.7, H.5.4



Knowledge is the most important resource of economic power and the basis for an organization’s future development. All knowledge existing in an organization forms the organizational knowledge base. Supporting its use and enabling its extension, are the key tasks of knowledge management (see [Gold et al. 2001]). For targeting efficient knowledge usage and extension, it is essential to enable employees to create commonly shareable knowledge, and to share this externalized knowledge with others. Assisting them in the field of knowledge structuring and organization, as well as supporting processes on top of these structures for creating, updating and maintaining can accomplish this (see [Hampel 2001]). Applying structures to an organizational knowledge base aims at allowing persons to easily locate and access knowledge. The awareness of existing expertise has to be maximized, wherefore knowledge management systems have to provide means to implement well-designed structures, keeping a knowledge base concise. Knowledge is in its nature highly dynamic and ever changing. Therefore all structures and organization concepts have to consider these continuous changes and enable an extremely flexible adjustment to the evolving knowledge environment. Other difficulties in structuring information are different contexts in which people nowadays work together and share their experience. Knowledge units, single pieces of explicit, formalized knowledge (see [Zack 1999], p.48), are often focused by multiple

persons – but not in the same way. An individual has to be able to locate and access required information, and to arrange it in his/her own logical structure, determined by the given organizational context. The result is a specialized view on information, often shared within a small group of other colleagues working in the same context. In addition, knowledge-structuring concepts have to consider the dynamic character of these views, determined by alternating factors like working scopes, responsibilities and organizational structures (see [Köhler 2005]). This emphasizes the need for high flexibility in knowledge structuring concepts as well. This paper discusses the utilization of the concept of virtual knowledge spaces for implementing a system, which should support a continuous evolving of an organizational knowledge base and, at the same time, consider the alternating conditions mentioned above. Summing up the role of contexts in knowledge creation, Nonaka et al. introduced “ba” as a shared physical, virtual or mental space in which persons work together (see [Nonaka et al. 2000]). Hampel took up this concept of ba and designed shared spaces as distributed cooperative knowledge rooms. These rooms and other related objects are combined in an object model, extended by functions to create, maintain, share and transfer knowledge by means of the metaphor (see [Hampel 2001]). An implementation of this system is the sTeam-server 1. The server and its underlying object model constitute a solid IT-architecture for the development of the Xpertise knowledge management system described in Section 3.3. Beforehand, the requirements elaborated theoretically above are substantiated by a case study to get a close connection to needs in practice. Varying views of employees on knowledge and knowledge management processes have been analyzed by examining the product creation process at the Innovation Center Hamburg.


Organizational Knowledge at Philips Semiconductors

The Innovation Center Hamburg, a research and development department of Philips Semiconductors GmbH mainly focuses on the conception, design and prototypic implementation of silicon system solutions. Most activities can be summarized in the process of product creation – an innovative and therefore knowledge intensive business. Since many persons are involved in these processes, all work on knowledge is influenced on different views, determined by personal and functional contexts as described in the following. 2.1

Different Contexts, Views and Structuring Requirements

All research and development activities at Philips Semiconductors are managed as projects. They are organized in strategic programs, focusing the development and maintenance of a certain product line, and are divided into subprojects and workpackages. This hierarchical project structure can be seen as one special view on the organizational knowledge base. It mainly focuses on project execution, resulting in


See for more information about the open source server and its possible field of application.

combined areas containing expertise and knowledge related to a certain project. The project manager, all project members and associated persons are using, sharing and creating knowledge in project areas. Different types of common knowledge units (mainly documents) created and maintained during project execution are listed in the left column of Table 1. In addition to the hierarchical structure, a line organization is deployed, clustering all resources by their key abilities and skills to pool functional groups of experts in certain fields. They are distributed across projects, but also evolve their respective field of knowledge with expert colleagues in their group. Also affiliated staff like management, controlling and human resource management is focusing on their own context. These functional groups represent another direction of views on information, depending on specific personal tasks and expertise (see middle column of Table 1). Furthermore, the executive process of project-oriented product creation is regulated and defined by certain process areas, providing rules and guidelines on project planning and execution. Each area represents another view on the organizational knowledge base. Types of knowledge units generated in the process areas are shown in Table 1 (right column). Functional View • Line Organization • Expert Knowledge • Resource Management • Controlling

Process Area View • Planning, Moni-toring & Control • Quality Assurance • Configuration Management, …

• Project Manager • Project Members

• Functional Manager • Functional Experts

• Process Owners

• Org-Charts • Departmental Documentation • Formalized Expert Knowledge

• • • •

Knowledge Items


Context / Area

Project View • Project Execution

• • • • •

Contracts Plans Reports Instantiated Checklists Product Description

Process Descriptions Training Material Best Practices Frequently Asked Questions • Discussion Boards

Table 1: Views on knowledge and their contexts, roles and common knowledge items created and maintained in the product creation process at Philips Semiconductors. Views are not independent of each other and do not form enclosed bases of knowledge. There are a lot of interdependencies and overlaps concerning knowledge units and interests. A single unit or object can be in the focus of many persons, each having another view and context. Different views lead to cross references in the knowledge base, which have to be considered when designing knowledge structures and access. Sharing, maintaining and creating organizational knowledge are supported at Philips Semiconductors by several source control and document management systems, serving as document and knowledge bases. The above examined executive and regulating activities lead to specialized views on knowledge, which cannot be satisfactorily supported by the used systems. They are designed using a limited, static structuring concept, based on a common paradigm: a

single hierarchical order clustering knowledge items. As a consequence, immense structuring effort is required in maintaining a single view on information, interfering with the specialized view of many knowledge creators and users. Usual ways to overcome these structuring problems are powerful full-text search engines and indexing mechanisms. Typical user feedback when using these functions is addressing the problem of locating information in a structured way they are used to. Positions of and relations between knowledge items are subject to continuous changes. Many users try to generate kind of maps in mind to be able to locate and retrieve information in future, which is hardly possible for search results and automatic indexing. A knowledge management system therefore has to address a trade-off; on the one hand, static (macro-)structures have to be replaced, enabling diverse and dynamic views on knowledge. On the other hand certain static (micro-)structures have to be preserved or emulated to conduce users in navigating through recognisable locations, enhancing the overall awareness of knowledge. Providing navigation and handling of information analogue to user’s way of working is the key to gain acceptance of a supporting infrastructure. Disregarding user’s views and habits leads to inconsistently used applications that waste as additional document dumps. They are only used when regulated by management instead of being empowered by the community due to simplifying and supporting their daily work. Accordingly a common awareness of knowledge is hard to achieve as well as controlled versioning and structures. 2.2

Version Control, Document Lifecycle and Publication

Common requirements for valuable business documents as version control and lifecycle control have to be met, as well as workflow oriented automatisms to manage and evolve versions and statuses. Also freezing a certain status of a document set in a baseline is needed for example at project gates and milestones for later reference. Additionally, evolving documents require enhanced publication mechanisms, since not necessarily all or only recent versions have to be published. Rather publications should consist of special “approved” versions, also dependent on the context of the accessing person. As consequence, the knowledge management system has to provide not only different views on the whole knowledge base, but also different views on single knowledge units, determined by a user’s view. 2.3

Transferability of Requirements

The discussed requirements are mainly influenced by a functionally clustered, projectoriented organization. Even if not all working scopes and functional views on knowledge can be found in other organizations, the existence of different scopes and views on knowledge is common to all kinds work, involving persons or teams with varying contexts and functions. Therefore the room metaphor is a generous and valuable concept for organizing and sharing knowledge. Facing the diverse contexts and functions, it provides adequate structuring capabilities and adjustable views for team-oriented work.


Applying the Room Metaphor on Organizational Knowledge

Abstracting the requirements, especially the focused structuring and collaborative capabilities demand a highly dynamic and adjustable environment, serving all needed information to the user, considering personal views and contexts as well as enabling the manipulation of knowledge items. In the following the metaphor of virtual knowledge rooms will be applied as key concept to meet these requirements. 3.1

The Metaphor of Virtual Knowledge Rooms

The metaphor is derived from MUDs; virtual spaces emerged in the end of the 1970s (cf. [Bartle 1983], [Bartle 1985]). Originally used for room-based computer games, they unfolded their structure in simple text on screens. Further development in the 80s brought up MOOs as object-oriented implementations of MUDs (cf. [Curtis & Nichols 1994]). The latter inspired Hampel for the design of a generic object model (cf. [Hampel 2001]). It describes the relationship between eight basic object types, representing the common structure of interconnected virtual rooms and hallways. Here, users navigate and create, (re-)structure and share knowledge units. Applying the metaphor of virtual rooms to knowledge management, rooms can be interpreted as a shared space maintaining the structural relationships of knowledge units and enabling users to be aware of and create knowledge. Targeting a hypermedia structure, hallways can connect rooms and knowledge units can be referenced by links. Thus, room-based structures are highly dynamic and as such fit as a structuring metaphor for evolving organizational knowledge. 3.2

Structuring Information in a Team (sTeam)

As an abstraction layer of Hampel’s object model, the sTeam-server provides persistence of objects and their primary media functions like creating and handling objects, attaching attributes and annotations, as well as linking them. In extension to flexible access rights for these objects, standard administrative functionality like managing users and groups is also supported. Due to various adaptors for standard Internet protocols2, sTeam is designed to serve as an architectural backend layer inside a heterogeneous IT-infrastructure. This generic object model can be extended and specialized through sTeam’s application programming interfaces (APIs) in languages like JAVA, PHP or PIKE. Systems can be designed by applying the metaphor on real-world problems. This so called terminology-based development approach leads to understandable and consistent sources, which in turn results in rapid development, lower maintenance effort and simplify further extensions and adjustments widely 3.


As an example, sTeam supports protocols for e-mail, directory access, chat and instant messaging, as well as a protocol for web-based distributed authoring and versioning (see [Hampel and Roth 2005]). 3 This is, because the terminology-based approach is not reliant on the development and maintenance of an integrated conceptual data schema (see [Hampel and Roth 2005]).


Xpertise – A Room-Based Knowledge Management System

Coming back to the initial requirements to apply dynamic structures and support processes on top of them, basic functionality for both tasks is already provided by the sTeam server. But although rooms are flexible and can arrange knowledge due to working contexts, they are not directly providing different views on single knowledge units. Another remaining conceptual challenge coming up is to provide concise and global structuring means for rooms as entry points to the organizational knowledge base extending the local navigation provided by hallways. Additionally, the application has to provide enhanced functionality required by business needs as elaborated in Section 2.2. All these requirements are demanding an extension of the sTeam object model. Therefore, the knowledge management system Xpertise emerged as an application layer for sTeam. To ensure easy system deployment, it is designed as a web-based application using a standard browser as interface. Its key concepts to fulfil business demands are described in the following. The room-based concept of the sTeam server provides a central space for all contexts of knowledge work. Knowledge units are organized in rooms building the main structural concept. The possibilities to structure knowledge in rooms (micro structure) and organize rooms in the global environment (macro structure) are enhanced by Xpertise as explained below. 3.3.1

Micro Structures

Rooms act as a workspace for users within a shared context, working scope or field of interest. As a consequence, specialized rooms emerge as sources and targets of expertise. Users can be assigned to those rooms whereas they become members. Here they can organize and work on knowledge as well as share their knowledge with other members. To prevent rethinking, the real world structure of their work can be applied to knowledge rooms. By enabling users to organize knowledge units in containers and sub-rooms, recognizable micro structures evolve, grouping items and increasing a room’s clarity. Knowledge units can be of different types. The majority is of type document, but also discussion boards and other types are available. A powerful feature is also the possibility to annotate all objects by attaching annotation objects. In this way, content related hints and comments are available without directly influencing an objects main content. To easily control a members access rights on items, room-based roles can be assigned, defining permissions or restricting access. Furthermore assigning an owner defines additional rights and responsibilities as well as indicating a contact person for questions and suggestions. 3.3.2

Macro Structures

Rooms are somehow floating in the overall knowledge base provided by the sTeam server, and at the beginning only useful as a pool of knowledge for its members. A certain structure can only be determined, when rooms are connected directly through links or hallways, a useful feature to group rooms belonging to a certain scope or being directly dependent on each other. As a consequence, many room clusters are evolving as interlinked rooms, but an overall structure is not emerging.

Figure 1: Rooms have a micro structure, organizing knowledge units internally. Linking and publishing knowledge units between rooms can integrate these inner structures. Hallways connect rooms to clusters (here project A and subproject B), whereas views structure rooms subject to certain contexts (here according to project structures and process areas) creating overall macro structures. To increase the awareness of room clusters, these floating rooms have to be somehow integrated in overall structures. This can be done with the help of views. Views are common hierarchical ordered indexes, applying a certain structure to a set of rooms in the knowledge base. This is implemented by organizing links to rooms in folders as structuring elements. Using links instead of really positioning knowledge units in the hierarchical positions, is the key to support not only one single structure but as many as needed to implement different views on information (see figure 1). In the Innovation Center case, a view for each of the structuring options can be used to map the project hierarchy, the functional line structure and several views of process areas (see Chapter 2). 3.3.3

Publishing Knowledge Units

An important requirement is to provide different views on single knowledge units. This intends to serve each person with the appropriate version of the document and applying the corresponding access rights. Having the room based structure and the clustering of knowledge due to context in mind; a promising conceptual feature would be to use enriched links between rooms implementing a selective access to objects. A precondition of this solution is to keep the object’s access through publications to be read-only, since full access can only be granted in the containing room. This seems to be a feasible solution, as documents are mostly generated and maintained by only a group of users working in a similar context (i.e. process experts, project members) and as such can be organized in a single room, but viewed by a large number of persons.


Summary and Conclusion

At first, we emphasized the need for high flexibility in organizational knowledge structuring concepts, due to the various viewpoints of individuals on the same piece of information, and due to frequent alternations of organizational conditions. Upon this, we analyzed these aspects at the Innovation Center Hamburg, and elaborated requirements for an adequate solution to manage organizational knowledge. It turns out, that especially a great support for individual views and configurable document management are required. In Section 3, we cited the knowledge room metaphor as an optimal concept for sharing information in teams, which can also provide a high flexibility through its hypermedia structure of interconnected rooms and interlinked knowledge units. Fully supporting this metaphor, the sTeam server is designed to serve as backend layer for knowledge management systems. This was the basis for an efficient and fast development of Xpertise, a knowledge management system enhancing structuring options and providing means to support knowledge processes. Because of sTeam’s support for common Internet protocols, Xpertise could be integrated into the existing IT-infrastructure at the Innovation Center with ease. Due to the cited advantages of the terminology based development approach, the developed application layer provides great adaptability.

References [Bartle 1983] Bartle, R.: A Voice from the Dungeon, Practical Computing, December 1983, 126-130. Retrieved June 22, 2006, from [Bartle 1985] Bartle, R.: MUD Advanced Project Report, an internal memorandum, CSM-73, published in the Department of Computer Science's series at the University of Essex, January 1985 [Curtis & Nichols 1994] Curtis, P., Nichols, D.A.: Muds grow up: Social virtual reality in the real world. In: Proceedings of IEEE Computer Conference '94, IEEE Computer Society Press 1994, 193–200 [Gold et al. 2001] Gold, H.G., Malhotra, A., Segars, A.H: „Knowledge Management: An Organizational Capabilities Perspective“; Journal of Management Information Systems, 18, 1, 2001, 185-214 [Hampel 2001] Hampel, T.: “Virtuelle Wissensräume – Ein Ansatz für die Kooperative Wissensorganisation”; PhD thesis, University of Paderborn, Paderborn (2005) [Hampel and Roth 2005] Hampel, T., Roth, A.: “Rapid Development of Non-Monolithic CSCL-Applications – About the Benefits of Using a Prescribed Terminology in Web Programming”; Proc. E-LEARN ‘05, AACE Publishing, Vancouver (2005), 2095-2102 [Köhler 2005] Köhler, A., Fuchs-Kittkowski, F.: “Integration of Communities into ProcessOriented Structures”; J.UCS, (Journal for Universal Computer Science), 11, 3, 2005, 410-418 [Nonaka et al. 2000] Nonaka, I., Toyama, R., Noboru, K.: “SECI, Ba and Leadership: a Unified Model of Dynamic Knowledge Creation”; Long Range Planning, 33 (2000), 5-34 [Zack 1999] Zack, M.: “Managing Codified Knowledge”; Sloane Management Review, 40, Cambridge (1999), 44-58