Learning Executives Briefing: You majored in
industrial engineering at Bradley University. How did you move into
the learning field?
Barfield: Industrial engineering is really about
helping businesses run more efficiently so it's not that great a
leap. I was hired after college by Accenture as a software
developer to work on inventory control software. When that project
ended I moved to our training organization, which was developing
innovative uses of computers to support learning. This seemed like
a great opportunity to develop my technical skills. My first
training project was to develop a product that leveraged virtual
reality concepts - one that earned Accenture a U.S. Patent.
Q: One of your goals at Accenture now is to
connect people to the things they need to be successful. Tell us
how that has evolved.
A: We were piloting a program with one of
Accenture's suppliers, at that time known as CBT Systems. My
challenge was to drive usage of the library of more than 1,000
computer-based programs available for Accenture employees through
CBT Systems. That led me down a path of leveraging our knowledge
management system as a software delivery vehicle. We saw the number
of downloads climb to around 200,000 a year.
That started me thinking about how to make people aware of the
benefits of using those learning resources as well as others within
Accenture. I shifted to the (training) product distribution team
where I created a downloadable curriculum guide and a method for
keeping it up to date and distributing it.
Then in 2001 under our new CLO, Don Vanthournout, we created an LMS
called "myLearning." I was a member of a team responsible for the
vision and business requirements for this new system. One of my
responsibilities on that project was the development of the
myLearning search capability. In addition to improved search for
courses, we also wanted to make our other important assets
searchable - knowledge, methods, and expertise. That search
capability later evolved into Accenture's enterprise search
The scope of training organization, now called Capability
Development, grew to include knowledge management and other areas.
It's concerned with creating a learning strategy to give
Accenture's 150,000 people the skills, knowledge, and information
they need to be successful at helping their clients be successful.
We are going from supplying training to creating learning
opportunities and experiences for employees.
Q: What are some examples of these new learning
A: Knowledge management connects people with
content and connects people with people. Connecting people with
people is a great way to support informal learning. Communities of
practice, discussion, wikis, and blogs are some of the ways we are
doing this today. A knowledge management approach is likely to
involve the informal learning that goes on between people and is an
excellent support for informal learning. We are beginning to
understand why people seek knowledge at work beyond what they are
mandated to obtain. Often it is because they need knowledge or
information to perform a task better or solve a client's problem,
or because they need deep specialization in a particular area.
Q: How do you know if your knowledge strategy and
knowledge infrastructure are working? What metrics do you apply?
A: We survey employees on four topics: Are you
encouraged to share the knowledge you have? Do you have the
information and knowledge you need to be successful? Can you find
it? And recently we have added the question: "Can you find people
with expertise to help you solve your problem?" Responses indicate
we are doing very well on the first two questions. There is room
for improvement on making it easier to find content and find other
people. That's led us to invest again in improving our search
capabilities and explore profiling and social networking software
that could help people connect to others with the information they
We also look for efficiency because we can't afford to build
learning experiences around every concept that an Accenture person
might need. And I look at usage, of course, especially at the
executive level, because that drives behavior down the line. We
expected to find that knowledge usage was highest among younger
employees but we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the top
users are our managers, senior managers, and senior executives.
Q: Where are social networking and profiling
A: We have just begun to pilot "Accenture People,"
which is our internal version of MySpace or Facebook. It combines
social networking and profiling along with wikis and blogs where
people can develop their own points of view and develop content.
It's all about connecting people with each other. Historically, the
biggest challenge with social networking is motivating people to
create and maintain their profiles. There appears to be a cultural
change - particularly with our younger employees - to be more
engaged with these profile capabilities. Additionally, we are
investigating technologies to help automate aspects of the profile.