Don't Lose Your Mind Share
IN FEBRUARY 1999, the global public relations company Hill & Knowlton (H&K)
came to a grim conclusion: Its knowledge-sharing system had nothing worth sharing.
The organization was relying on an intranet that was designed to handle only
certain types of internal information, such as staff bios and case studies, that were
submitted in rigid templates. Unformatted content found in e-mail or research files
couldn't make it onto the site. Moreover, the system depended on employees to
voluntarily submit and update information, which they rarely did. As a result,
employees seldom used the system. The company's most important resource -- the wisdom
nearly 2,000 PR professionals in 34 countries -- went untapped.
So the organization charged Ted Graham, H&K's worldwide director of knowledge
management (KM) services, with the huge task of building a system that could capture
all the company's internal knowledge, combined with helpful outside knowledge, like
industry news from the Web and e-mail communications with clients, and make it
available to employees at the click of a mouse. "We wanted to create one-stop shopping
for [all kinds of knowledge] rather than having to go to four or five different places
for all the things you need," says Graham.
Graham has spent the past year putting together hK.net, a secure extranet that
enables employees to share knowledge with their counterparts all over the world. Better
yet, clients can also post and access information.
Developed hand in hand with Intraspect Software of Los Altos, Calif., hK.net is a
password-protected website that gives both employees and clients access to internal and
external storehouses of information. Users log on directly from their browser and see
an Hill & Knowlton news ticker at the top. Underneath, they can open one of
several "cabinets" to access information by area or region. There's also a "News You
Can Use" cabinet with company and industry news, as well as a toolkit containing
administrative information, case studies and the "HK Directory," a frequently updated
staff listing with links to biographies. The site also features "channels" for clients
that contain budget information, e-mail archives, schedules and work-in-progress
documents relevant to their accounts. Employees can contribute to a particular channel
only if they're on that team, and clients cannot access other clients' channels.
H&K's worldwide advisory group -- an executive committee made
up of practice leaders and office managers who meet biennially
to tackle long-range issues affecting the company -- met in
February 1999 to address the issue of knowledge management.
Feedback from employees indicated that H&K's intranet was fallow
because its data was outdated, irrelevant and largely
inaccurate. Employees complained that it was useless for
anything other than looking up biographies of other employees to
figure out who'd be good for a new project. Even then, the bios
were so out-of-date -- many belonged to employees who'd left
the company as much as two years earlier -- that workers
didn't trust the system to handle even this minimal function.
The group considered trying to revamp the existing intranet, but its creators had
long since left the company. Building from scratch offered better odds of
success. "Anyone brought into the role as leader of the old intranet would have so much
baggage to deal with that they'd never succeed," says Graham.
Ultimately, the group, which was led by Tony Burgess-Webb, the newly appointed
global Internet practice leader for H&K, identified three "buckets" of knowledge
integral to a KM system: H&K's internal knowledge of its own products and services,
external knowledge such as outside research, and economic forecasts and client
knowledge, including account activity, templates and budgets. The group decided a
portal-type intranet would best fill these needs. By June 1999 Graham, then responsible
for KM services in the company's Canadian offices, was appointed as the worldwide
director of KM services and was charged with finding a vendor.
The organization settled on Intraspect's Salsa application, built on the Intraspect
Knowledge Seerver (IKS) platform, for its intranet/extranet. The company was
particularly impressed by IKS/Salsa's ability to capture and archive e-mail discussions
between H&K employees and their clients. "Our e-mail volumes had quadrupled since 1996,
growing to the point where our real corporate memory lies in people's e-mail folders,"
Intraspect's system lets an employee or client send or archive e-mails on hK.net by
simply adding an account-specific hK.net e-mail address to the routing list. When
someone sends an e-mail to everyone on a project team, the system
automatically adds the hK.net address to the distribution list, and the e-mail goes
into a client-specific e-mail repository. Each e-mail becomes indexed by subject and
includes attachments. The archives are searchable by phrase or keyword.
Graham says that accessing stored e-mails increases overall efficiency. For
example, when new members join projects, the first thing they do is read the e-mail
archive to get up to speed on the client engagement. "The client likes this because
they're not paying for the new person to become educated, and we like it because it
lowers the cost of replacing employees," says Graham.
HK.net's look is also customized for each client. When clients log on to their
hK.net channel, they see their own logo, as well as folders arranged to suit their
preferences. "Hill & Knowlton didn't want clients to log on to a generic space that
just says 'hK.net,'" says Jim Pflaging, Intraspect's president and CEO. "They wanted
something where once you're in, it looks as if your agency has created a unique,
For security purposes, access is customized for each user, too. For example,
employees have access to a client channel only if they're working on that account. And
degrees of access vary from "read only," where all they can do is view certain
documents, to "edit," where they can alter or delete files. Clients, obviously, can
access only their own channels.
The company rolled out hK.net to three practice groups and regions starting in
October 1999. After a successful trial run, the system was rolled out to the rest of
the organization this January, and so far it seems to be a hit among H&K employees.
Angela Bartolucci, a Toronto-based employee, says it's a big time-saver. For example,
Bartolucci spends about half her time marketing the company to prospective clients, an
activity that includes putting together "credential packages" that highlight the
business' experience in a particular industry. The package includes descriptions of
past projects as well as bios of staff who'd be involved in the account. Frequently,
the elements she needs have already been created
by someone else at H&K for a different package. "[In the past] we'd be reinventing the
wheel each time," she says. "Now, through hK.net, we'll have access to all this
information not only across Canada, but all over the world."
HK.net also eases the transition when a key employee departs, says Lorraine
Doherty, account director for the company's advanced technology practice. "When people
leave in midproject, I'm fairly comfortable that whatever they're working on is posted
on the extranet," she says. "We no longer have to search through a hard drive, worrying
that the knowledge is either somewhere it shouldn't be or just in the employee's head."
Clients like it, too. H&K client UPromise in Brookline, Mass., is a startup that
eenables parents to earn college savings through credit-card spending. Its PR director,
Liz Carpenter, says hK.net was indispensable during launch preparations. By getting on
the site, she could see which media contacts H&K was talking to or view press kits and
media documents at various stages. But the most useful feature has been a calendar
that's kept updated on the site. "Just before we made our announcement, we had several
different spokespeople doing interviews," she says. "Schedules are difficult to manage.
So I had one central place to check the schedules to know who's interviewing with whom
and when. It's great to be able to update that information in real-time.
Although hK.net undeniably has a lot to offer, the company still struggles with
getting its employees to incorporate the system into a daily work routine.
One issue is connectivity. The company's 68 offices are hooked up to the Internet
at varying speeds. For example, Toronto and New York City boast T-1 connections, while
Paris is stuck with a 14.4K trickle of bandwidth. Graham must be realistic about what
kind of information the bandwidth-challenged offices can contribute or receive. "In
some cases we're trying to have them rely on their e-mail system to contribute things
instead of using their Web browser," he says. "They'll attach a document, and it'll go
into a repository. On the retrieval side, they may get an e-mail notification with a
URL attached that'll take them directly into a document instead of having them browse
or search the site."
Graham also must persuade sometimes-reluctant workers to post information on the
extranet as a matter of routine. Bartolucci says it's been slow at first, but she sees
people gradually falling into line as they acquaint themselves with hK.net's
capabilities. "The problem is that right now, we're all socialized to just use [what's
on our local networks] and when something new comes along, it's hard to push everyone
into it," she says. "Technology alone can't make things right. People need to be
trained to use it."
People also need to be motivated to use it, so H&K has built an incentive system.
The company offers bonuses to managers whose departments contribute the most (though
it's totally up to the managers to see how this trickles down to subordinates). And
recognizing that cash isn't the only incentive, H&K has added "reputational" incentives
via a "best-seller" list that publicizes the most frequently accessed contributions.
The theory is that if you're on the list, your coworkers will recognize you as an
expert on certain subjects. By becoming an acknowledged expert, "you'll end up with
better assignments," says Graham. "Who gets to fly to South America to work on an
exciting new project? Is it just someone nearby, or is it someone who's really an
Though this reputational motivation is largely theoretical at this point, H&K is
institutionalizing it by making knowledge sharing a part of performance reviews this
fall. "We've gotten tired of people just saying 'I'm an expert' when they haven't
earned it," says Graham.
Another challenge is getting people to seek knowledge on the extranet. H&K is
dealing with this by hiding "beenz," a form of micropayment created by New York City-
based Beenz.com, throughout the site. Every time you open a document or contribute
information, there's a chance you'll collect beenz, which can be redeemed for books,
CDs and even Caribbean vaccations. But H&K is also using a more basic approach: putting
many of its internal announcements on the extranet and sending employees the links,
instead of e-mailing the announcements directly. Once they're on, they can see what
else hK.net has to offer.
Once people get comfortable with hK.net, Graham hopes they'll explore beyond their
own client accounts. "We want them to be able to see what else is being done around the
network, so that they can leverage that," he says.