Since knowledge management (KM) first bubbled up in the mid-1990s, many organizations have tried and failed to reap its benefits. Certain enterprises never gave up. Mitre, operator of three federally funded research and development centers, is one of them. Over the past 13 years, it built a comprehensive KM environment through experimentation and internal sponsorship. The company fosters a knowledge-sharing culture to bring its extensive expertise to bear on customer needs.
The Situation: With more than 6,000 Mitre scientists, engineers and professional staff, the opportunity for staff to tap each others' experience is high. The challenge is to do this efficiently and with low overhead, while employees simultaneously work on hundreds of projects.
What They Did: Mitre started by creating a straightforward people locator as part of the Mitre Information Infrastructure (MII). This locator, or "phone book," relied on existing data from project management, time sheet and human resource systems to identify which employees worked on various assignments over time. As KM Director Jean Tatalias states, "This capability connected people to projects to organizations and to their open document spaces, allowing staff to navigate across all these dimensions."
Over time, Mitre added capabilities including: an Expertise Finder, where users can view search results by person or organization; a systems engineering and project management collection of best practices; frequent technology exchange meetings and an annual Innovation Exchange. And, of course, it continues to evolve. Experiments with Facebook- and Wikipedia-like functions are underway.
Why It Was Unique: Many expert-identifying systems require laborious surveys or a lot of personal networking—MII's Phonebook and Expertise Finder do not. The system's automation allows employees to find knowledgeable colleagues quickly; even new employee information is immediately available and grows through their project participation.
The Takeaway: Mitre's KM approach is evolutionary. They pilot new ideas, watch user experimentation, then add capabilities as they prove viable and valuable. Mitre owes its success to seeing KM as a journey with continuous improvements.
Rick Swanborg is president of ICEX and professor at Boston University. Read the full case study.