People-centred knowledge management in an automotive case study
John Perkins
University of Central England, Birmingham. UK
Sharon Cox
University of Central England, Birmingham, UK
Ann-Karin Jorgensen
University of Central England, Birmingham, UK
Keywords: skills needs analysis, knowledge management, socio-technical systems, e-commerce systems, intellectual
Abstract: A UK car manufacturer case study provides a focus upon the problem of aligning transactional information
systems used in e-commerce with the necessary human skills and knowledge to make them work
effectively. Conventional systematic approaches to analysing learning needs are identified in the case study,
which identifies some shortcomings when these are applied to electronically mediated business processes. A
programme of evaluation and review undertaken in the case study is used to propose alternative ways of
implementing processes of developing and sharing knowledge and skills as part of the facilitation of
networks of knowledge workers working with intra and inter-organisational systems. The paper concludes
with a discussion on the implications of these local outcomes alongside some relevant literature in the area
of knowledge management systems. This suggests that the cultural context constitutes a significant
determinant of initiatives to manage, or at least influence, knowledge based skills in e-commerce
Social practice acts to develop and apply appropriate
knowledge and skills to make e-commerce work as a
total socio-technical system in unique business
contexts. A knowledge management consultancy
case study project with a UK car manufacturer,
referred to here as ‘Carco’, shows how conventional
approaches to skills needs analysis (SNA) were
found to be deficient for the organisational needs at
a time of accelerated adoption of electronic
commerce systems throughout the organisation. The
paper then describes the progress and outcomes of
some facilitated workshops that sought to integrate
quality processes as part of an enhanced SNA
process. A discussion then focuses on how far
contextual factors such as departmental culture
appear to determine processes of intellectual capital
development through facilitated processes of applied
knowledge management.
During the early 1990s the Commercial Systems
Division (CSD) of Carco, a UK car maker, supplied
information system development expertise in sales,
marketing and financial areas developed new
business objectives. One was to improve their in-
house ability to manage expertise sourced from their
Associates, as employees were referred to within
Carco. Another was to provide competitive
advantage through e-commerce technology. By the
mid 1990s much of the e-commerce technical
infrastructure was in place. However, one of the
most serious issues constraining expansion
concerned the matching of personnel with
appropriate process knowledge and skills to new e-
commerce roles.
Perkins J., Cox S. and Jorgensen A. (2005).
KNOWLEDGE NEEDS ANALYSIS FOR E-COMMERCE IMPLEMENTATION: People-centred knowledge management in an automotive case study.
In Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems, pages 335-338
DOI: 10.5220/0002551703350338
The process for identifying skill shortages at this
time was embedded in individual annual
performance reviews that all employees undertook
with their line manager. A similar model is often
used for training analyses. Peterson (1998) explains
such a process when she identifies seven key stages
in training needs analysis that can be used to
represent the contemporary process at Carco. These
traditional stages are shown in the left side of figure
Performance concerns at CSD involved the
division’s ability to deliver information system
projects through the use of a range of contractors.
Skills classifications at Carco had traditionally been
categorised as either ‘technical’, which included
competence in the use of software packages or
‘management’. Training needs identification was the
process designed to detect and specify training needs
at individual and organisational levels. They were
analysed on a corporate divisional basis to arrive at
an overall view of current divisional skills.
The analysis of training needs was the process of
examining these needs to determine how best they
might be met. The ultimate purpose was to match
the skill deficiencies found in CSD with
programmes of development already in existence
within Carco. Much of this took place within the
normal Personal Profile Development (PPD) used
within Carco. Training objectives identified specific
skilled performance that should be achieved by the
trainee at the end of the training. According to
Peterson, this systematic process of analysis and
design leads to the final stage of optimum training
Quality Strategy
Corporate Plan
Skills Needs
An a l y s i s
Skills Matching
Measure and
Evaluate against
Business Plan
De v ’ t
De v’ t
Ac t i o n s
People Planning and
Development Process
1. Performance
2. Performance
3. Performance
4. Training needs
5. Analysis of
training need
6. Training
7. Optimum
training design
non -
The introduction of three critical projects led to a
need for a rapid approach to staffing these new
technology platforms. The skills analysis process
described above was seen to lack sufficient
responsiveness in this new context. The hybrid skills
identified as necessary for much of the new e-
commerce project were to depend upon lateral
communications and structured through human and
technological networks. As a result a joint project
was launched to develop improved means of
managing skills. The project was known as New
Skill Needs Analysis (NSNA). The deliverables of
the project involved the definition of the core skills
for each grouping within CSD, the collection of
actual skills data for each of the 39 CSD Associates,
establishment of skill requirements deriving from
business plans and Personal Development Reports
(PDR) identification of gap (if any) between skills
required by business tasks and actual skills and the
recommendations of how to fill these skills gaps.
The right hand diagram in figure 1 shows the
process used for the revised SNA. The next sections
explain how this process worked.
The quality strategy included empowerment of
Associates, seizing business opportunities and
bringing about continuous improvement in all
aspects of corporate endeavour. The corporate and
divisional plans set targets to achieve the overall
business strategy. Carco set out to maximise the
potential of its human resources and to leverage this
human resource with information and
communication technologies applied to supply chain
management. The NSNA project was to identify
skills and knowledge necessary to enable planned
projects and to evaluate how far skills currently
existed among Associates (Perkins and Nixey 1999).
The right hand diagram in figure 1 shows the general
process which used four sets of matrices showing
the types of skills necessary for critical job roles in
e-commerce, the level of competence required for
these skills, the level of competence currently in
place for a range of skills in a specific role and this
competence information presented by the individual
in that role (the ‘postholder’). This, in turn, was
categorised as ‘Grade’ i.e. the competence level
required, ‘Post’ i.e. the competence required as
defined by the postholder and ‘Held’: the actual
level of competence held by the postholder. The
measurement of competence levels for identified
skills used a scale developed during the workshops.
This scale was coded 0 (competence not required) to
3 (expert).
g. 1
Comparison of two processes of SNA
From Peterson (1998)
From Perkins and Nixon (1999)
Qu al i t
Ci r c l es
Figure 1: Comparison of two processes of SNA
Workshops were set up at this stage to measure
and evaluate the skills needs identified against the
business plan. It was during workshops at this stage
that skills that had previously been taken as well
understood were recognised as being in need of
much more analysis to be of practical use for
effective training or focused recruitment. In
considering means by which the emerging skill gaps
might be closed, proposals emerging from
Associates revolved around the use of short
apprenticeships, shadowing and mentoring.
Alternative proposals involving the use of external
analysts to conduct concentrated studies of practice
were met with less enthusiasm by the Associates. As
a result of this some expert practitioners in key skill
areas launched initiatives involving mentored
apprenticeships of Associates for skill development
mediated by skill councils, effectively communities
of practitioners in identified e-commerce skill areas
such as deal negotiation, technical troubleshooting
and new business development.
The project began as a HRM exercise, but it became
clear that the practice of conducting business
between people connected by technology networks
provide a new level of complexity. To address this,
the project became much more oriented around skills
analysis, intellectual capital development and
knowledge management.
Some lessons quickly emerged. There was a
eritage for treating skills as either management or
technically oriented. The need to deal with skills that
blended both of these categories meant that existing
language relating to skills became irrelevant and
often misleading (Dingley and Perkins 1999). The
processes of developing ways to use the technical
infrastructure were part of everyday work within the
small communities of Associates who were normally
members of quality circles (Chourides 2003). This
was where authentic practice was recognised and
where appropriate skills were developed and passed
on to newcomers to the community (Lave and
Wenger 1991). The requirement for rapid
implementation of the three e-commerce projects at
the time imposed urgency. Trial and error became
the main way of developing expertise. The original
quality circles were used as support groups to guide
and protect Associates. This was essentially a
mechanism for embedding intellectual assets in to
these artefacts of e-commerce, as described by
Snowden (2002).
Using Blackler’s typology (Blackler 1995)
mbedded knowledge in this case study was located
in the systematic routines within the structure of the
e-commerce platform that comprised application
software with the developing practice of a small
community of Associates. Embodied knowledge was
located in action, ‘know-how’ and problem solving
that depended upon intimate knowledge of the
operating situation rather than abstract rules. This
was evident in some of the expert e-commerce
practitioners. Encultured knowledge was located in
the language of shared understanding resulting from
people working closely together. It was this area that
was most problematic to Carco because the
constantly shifting boundary of participants acted to
form a wider operating community linked by a
technological network. Encoded knowledge
involved the transmission of decontextualised data
instructions as well as Carco codes of practice and
instruction manuals.
In these terms, the NSNA system at Carco
rovided effective intervention to manage, or at
least, influence the development of embedded
knowledge to provide greater embodied knowledge
to the Associates. The existence of encultured
knowledge was recognised and reified in Quality
Circles. However there was little use made of it as a
mechanism for recognising necessary skill bases.
The success of the NSNA project paradoxically was
gained by allowing the influence of encoded
knowledge – the technical versus managerial divide
maintained in all codes of practice – to decline. It
was to be replaced by encultured knowledge through
the increasing influence of the developing
professional community of e-commerce workers,
originally through their quality circles. These groups
developed into a council that had much greater
influence as the determiners of skill, skill gaps and
tactics to close them.
Impact assessment in November 2004
Since 1999 Carco has undergone further changes
of o
wnership. This period has seen further increases
in competition and increased pressures to innovate in
operation and design alongside severely limited
access to capital investment. In their annual accounts
published in October 2004 Carco declared a loss of
£70 million, but pointed out that this was 10% of the
loss recorded in 1999 and looked forward to
international collaborative projects to close this
trading gap in the following year.
During this period the division had been re-
ganised and restructured, but the cultural
movements towards a more distributed approach to
skills needs recognition and process knowledge
management are recognisable in studies of recurrent
practice in Carco’s commercial operations.
management in an automotive case study
A single instance of skills management in e-
commerce has been used to illustrate some of the
dynamics of how organisational context can
influence the implementation of what are often seen
as primarily technical systems. The principal
outcomes are firstly that the categorisation of
knowledge types provides an alternative and useful
reorientation to traditional ways of thinking about
how specific organisation contexts might constrain
e-commerce and other technology project
development. Secondly, skills are often not generic.
In this case they were highly specific to a particular
set of operating conditions. In these circumstances a
new taxonomy of skills need to be constructed by
those who have access to encultured knowledge
necessary to socialise and externalise this tacit
knowledge (Nonaka et al 2000).
Returning to the point made at the beginning of
e paper, this case study illustrates the rapidly
changing context of modern business, where e-
commerce is employed. Critical success factor in e-
commerce involves the people who develop and use
it, the knowledge and skills that they can
individually bring to these systems and the extent to
which they can form communities that cope with
needs to change practice. But it is not sufficient to
simply agree this as a corporate policy – its
implementation needs to be a fundamental and
integral part of an e-commerce strategy, and
dedicated processes and procedures need to be
developed to provide such implementation. The
centrality of real-world working practice and
associated knowledge in developing communities
provides a starting point for what might be called
knowledge, or k-Commerce. The approach is more
generally supported by work in social practice
theory, especially in the area of informal learning
(Eraut 2000).
There is considerable research work needed in
is area. There is some interesting work taking
place in the field of social practice theory, which
focuses on the study of work culture through the
analysis of professional practice. This provides a
reorientation of knowledge as an objective resource
into ‘knowing’ as attribute of doing work. This
paper makes a small contribution to this work but
more research is needed, applied to specific
instances of e-commerce and broader socio-technical
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