A long with the formation of Caterpillar University came the
realization that the Peoria, Illinois-based manufacturing company
needed to create and nurture an environment where information is
readily accessible and shared seamlessly throughout the
organization and within the organization's value chain.
To meet this challenge, Caterpillar implemented a knowledge-sharing
system that enables all employees worldwide to access knowledge
through three social networks:
Communities of practice. More than 46,000
employees have accessed one or more of the company's 3,942
communities of practice in the last 12 months. These communities
are organized around a specific business-related topic. Anybody
with access may initiate a threaded discussion involving members
from around the world.
Knowledge entries. Employees may post knowledge
entries that pertain to a specific work process, tool, problem,
solution, quality issue, or other problems. Entries are validated
pieces of information that must be approved by the community
manager. As the number of knowledge entries grows, so does the
repository of knowledge.
Community discussion. Bulletin boards enable
anyone with access - including external experts, suppliers, and
partners - to post information relevant to the community. Employees
may view these bulletin boards to gain access to required
The corporate university's knowledge-sharing mission was created to
provide efficient, reliable, and easy access to knowledge. Use of
the tool quickly spread to other functional areas of the
corporation, as well as through the value chain of dealers,
customers, and suppliers. Its goal was to share knowledge as
effectively, efficiently, and broadly as possible.
Culture of sharing
The knowledge-sharing process and tool are implemented throughout
the organization - functionally and globally. While management and
salaried employees are the primary users of the knowledge-sharing
tool, it is available to anyone with the necessary security
identification - including the production workforce and company
retirees. There are 184,000 unique community memberships and 3,900
communities of practice available for employees.
Currently, 25 percent of full-time management employees from the
corporate university use the knowledge-sharing tool. The yearly
budget of $200,000 includes the staff and related expenses, as well
as costs related to maintenance and enhancement.
In a corporate culture that encourages sharing, the
knowledge-sharing tool is a key enabler. It supports informal
learning and best practice transfer. A recent search within the
tool of the term "best practices" came up with more than 1,600
entries related to best practices from a broad range of disciplines
and functional areas.
The knowledge-sharing tool effectively leverages the intellectual
capital of the organization and its value chain by providing
collaborative space and access to expertise across the globe
through communities of practice. The communities - which are
grouped based on key corporate business processes - cross business
unit, geography, and value chain boundaries and range in size from
small teams to thousands of people. In many ways, the knowledge
sharing helps drive appreciation for diversity - for example, a
good idea is a good idea; it is not localized to a given job, job
level, or global location.
The knowledge-sharing tool makes it easy to collaborate over
distances, provides easy access to experts, contains a wealth of
best practices and lessons learned, and is organized based on key
corporate business processes. It provides a variety of additional
organizational and employee benefits, such as speed to knowledge,
cost reduction or avoidance through leveraged use of best practices
and lessons learned, and 24/7 availability as a forum for
innovation and knowledge generation. The knowledge-sharing tool has
helped people take risks, drive innovation, and achieve higher
quality results more quickly than would otherwise be possible.
The knowledge network enables people to quickly engage the
expertise and knowledge necessary to solve complex technical
problems. An employee joins a community of practice, initiates a
discussion thread, and interacts with other community members who
contribute ideas and resources to the discussion. Quickly
collaborating with people over geographic distances enables the
issue to be addressed more quickly and, in many cases, differently
than would have happened without using the knowledge network.
Documenting the knowledge-sharing tools financial benefits was
accomplished on a case-by-case basis for two communities of
practice. One community - the bolted joints and fasteners community
- was a mature community, one of the five most active communities,
and dealt with the core of the business. Another community - the
company dealer service training community - was one of the newer
communities, was less active, and dealt with a support group.
The threaded discussions of each community were examined and
selected for inclusion in the study if there was at least one
response to the thread originator and the thread was not merely
informational in nature - for example, it distributed meeting notes
or gave notice of a meeting. There were a total of 252 members in
the bolted joints and fasteners community, of whom 24 were selected
for inclusion in the study. The study used information from 23
discussion threads. There were a total of 96 people in the dealer
service training community, of whom five were selected and
participated in the study.
"The concept of knowledge sharing is not new to the organization,"
says Chris Glynn, President of Caterpillar University."Prior to
establishment of the corporate university and development of the
knowledge-sharing tool, employees shared what they knew, but
without the global reach and speed required today."
The knowledge-sharing process provides easy access to knowledge,
helps new employees or employees in new positions assimilate
quickly, provides access to best practices and lessons learned, and
promotes informal learning.
"The broad accessibility of the knowledge sharing tool enables
users from a variety of areas to work on the same issues while
bringing a range of perspectives and experiences into play," says