Building a successful knowledge management program

Intel's program demonstrates the benefits of KM tools

When Janet Craycroft joined Intel Corp.’s legal department 13 years ago, the department already had a knowledge base where she could find information about company policies and practices. Over the years, as the demands for sharing knowledge expanded with the growth and dispersal of the legal team around the globe, this rudimentary knowledge management (KM) system continued to evolve, using new technology tools as they became available.

This year, the department’s KM program took two giant steps forward. In February, the department appointed a lead counsel-global knowledge management to focus full time on advancing KM practices. Then, in mid-July, it launched the Legal Portal, an information management system using various tools from third-party providers. It integrates KM with content, document management and Wiki capability to provide a one-stop solution for Intel lawyers seeking information. The portal enables microblogging and includes an “Expertise Finder,” allowing lawyers to quickly find others in the department with the experience they are seeking.

“It’s probably unique and very exciting,” says Craycroft, Intel’s director of legal counseling.

With complex laws and legal departments’ store of information continuing to grow exponentially, the issue of effectively managing and sharing this knowledge base becomes an ever-expanding challenge for in-house counsel.

KM comprises a range of strategies and practices used to identify, create and distribute insights and experiences, sometimes referred to as institutionalized knowledge. Although it is sometimes confused with content management, KM consists of searching for answers, whereas content management consists of searching for documents that may contain answers, says Bruce MacEwen, president of legal consulting firm Adam Smith, Esq.

“The goal of KM systems is actionable knowledge—knowledge you can use this very minute, information needed to make a decision, the resolution to a problem, or the answer to a question,” MacEwen says. “Knowledge is created for specific purposes such as drafting a brief or specifying covenants in a securitization indenture.”

Tapping Intelligence

One key to enabling “actionable knowledge” is facilitating access to tacit knowledge, the knowledge in-house experts carry around in their heads that isn’t written down anywhere. That can be a challenge in a large, global department.

“It was a lot easier when we were a smaller legal department,” says Craycroft. “When you wanted to ask someone, ‘How did you do that contract?’ you just walked down the hall and asked him. Now that we are a really big department [with 250 attorneys at 29 sites in 14 countries], it’s not so easy to do.”

Fortunately, technology companies have developed tools to bridge the distances.

“A KM system has to be smart enough to point us toward colleagues who actually know something about what we’re trying to research or draft,” MacEwen says.

Intel’s new Legal Portal accomplishes this by combining profiling capability with the Expertise Finder. “If an attorney is looking for an expert in the department on trade secrets, he can go into the tool and find there are five people knowledgeable about trade secrets he can call,” Craycroft says.

The portal also has microblogging capability, allowing an attorney to post a question and get a real-time answer, and enabling threaded discussions to share experiences, according to Sandy Owen, Intel’s legal and corporate affairs operations manager.

“The portal makes tacit knowledge more available,” Owen says. “You can find it by posting on the microblog—‘Has anyone ever dealt with this issue?’—or use the Expertise Finder to find someone knowledgeable about the issue.”

A second kind of information integral to KM is known as explicit knowledge—knowledge that is written down. One tool the Intel legal department has developed for preserving and sharing explicit knowledge is known as Playbooks. Currently the Legal Portal houses 24 Playbooks covering an array of topics across practice areas, and more are in development. Amy Fox, the recently appointed lead counsel-knowledge management, serves as project manager for in-house and outside counsel subject matter experts who create Playbooks containing useful tips on that topic.

Small Steps

Often in-house departments consider KM to be too expensive a proposition, and MacEwen says full-blown systems can cost $2 million to $3 million. But Owen says even small departments can benefit from developing KM.

“My advice is that it doesn’t have to be some big, formal system that encompasses everything,” she says. “We started off small, we used the things that worked, and we looked for creative ways to evolve the system.”

Owen says a place to start is looking at how department members currently share information and thinking about how that can be built into a knowledge-sharing culture.

“Even sharing on a Wiki or the web is a good place to start,” she says.

Law Firm Access

Another avenue for smaller departments without the resources to develop a full-blown KM system is tapping into the extensive KM systems many large law firms have developed. MacEwen notes that law firms with KM systems can use them as major selling points when they allow law department clients access to the systems.

One such firm, Littler Mendelson, offers a subscription service called “The Littler GPS,” a 52-jurisdiction online database with 24/7 access for clients to state and federal laws and regulations on employment-related topics. For example, the firm’s online system can reveal that a restaurant client might be entitled to a tip credit against the minimum wage in certain states, Scott Rechtschaffen, Littler’s chief knowledge officer, says. He adds that the firm’s KM capabilities have become more sophisticated as the demands of the market have changed.

“Years ago companies used to call us with questions like, ‘What is the minimum wage in Arkansas?’ Clients don’t do that anymore. They can find that on Google,” he says. But Google cannot customize an answer to a client’s specific request.

Littler’s KM system also makes the firm’s attorneys more efficient, Rechtschaffen says. He supervises a staff of 25 people, including 11 attorneys and five research librarians. A KM “concierge desk” includes an experienced KM attorney on call to respond to internal research inquiries and answer questions.

“Our clients can’t wait for a week for an answer,” he says. “When attorneys develop innovative ways to reinvent processes and deliver services, clients really appreciate it.”

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Michael Kozubek

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