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In the Know: Knowledge Management Case Study

Knowledge management pays off for BAE Systems.

By Thomas Hoffman
October 14, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - It's one of those blue-sky goals to which many big companies only aspire: capturing the seemingly infinite amount of intellectual capital that's carried by tens of thousands of employees around the world and using it to achieve competitive advantage. But it's a flight that's well under way at London-based BAE Systems PLC, formerly British Aerospace, which is getting solid returns on a knowledge management intranet. Thousands of BAE engineers scattered across five continents in 110 offices are using the system to search for information that may be vital to big initiatives and to identify and eliminate redundant project work.

Like other far-flung multinationals, the $20 billion-plus aerospace and engineering giant suspected that its engineers and other workers might be wasting a lot of time searching for information scattered across the enterprise. So in early 1999, BAE Systems invested roughly $150,000 to study its global operations to see whether "we had the right information to support decision-making processes and if people had the right learning systems to help them support their day jobs," says Richard West, BAE's organizational and e-learning manager in Farnborough, England.


Richard West of BAE Systems PLC
Richard West of BAE Systems PLC
The results, says West, "were certainly eye-opening." BAE Systems discovered that nearly two-thirds of its top 120 decision-makers didn't have the right information at key stages. The company also found that 80% of employees were "wasting" an average of 30 minutes each day trying to find the information they needed to do their jobs. Another 60% were spending an hour or more duplicating the work of others.


"In an organization as massive as BAE Systems, we seemed to be working in silos where we didn't seem to know what was going on elsewhere," says West.


One of the problems BAE Systems officials discovered through the study was information overload on its intranets. The information itself was often unstructured, and the search engines were inadequate for conducting keyword searches to find information, says West. The company decided to test two or three of the top intranet search engines over three months and compare their ability to find information, says West.


One of the search engines BAE Systems tested was from San Francisco-based Autonomy Corp., whose "ability to retrieve information was second to none," says West. What sold BAE Systems on the technology was its ability to flag whether other people in the organization are searching against similar information and, perhaps, working on common problems.


That kind of matching identification helped the Windows NT-based Autonomy system pay for itself just seven months after it was installed in late 1999. One of the system's first big payoffs came soon after, when two disparate groups of engineers in the U.K. were working on wing construction issues for the company's Harrier 2 military aircraft. After using the Autonomy system to search for wing specification information across the company's intranet, one of the engineering groups discovered that the other group was working on the same problem. Catching the redundancy early in the cycle helped save the company millions, which ultimately paid for the licensing and maintenance of the Autonomy search engine, says West. He declined to say how much BAE Systems paid for the search engine.




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