The importance of Intellectual Capital and Knowledge in the Design and Operation of Enterprise Supply Chains

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1 The importance of Intellectual Capital and Knowledge in the Design and Operation of Enterprise Supply Chains Kate Andrews (2009). Chapter 26 in Gattorna, John (editor) Dynamic Supply Chain Alignment, Gower Press, pp In the global knowledge race the key driver is the rate at which organisations can transform enterprise knowledge into intellectual capital and products, services and solutions 1. There is significant agreement in 21 st Century management thinking that value is created predominantly from knowledge-based goods, services and solutions. Surprisingly, there has been little research on learning and knowledge transfer associated with successful supply chain management 2. Whilst a focus on knowledge processes could be expected to improve supply chain performance, benefits have not yet been realized 3. In this chapter we apply a knowledge lens to supply chain design and operation. We suggest that applying intellectual capital (IC) and knowledge management (KM) principles can create an inimitable advantage 4 for enterprise supply chains. Alignment is a critical factor in this topic. Supply chain design begins with a deep understanding of customer requirements and should be operated to maximise responsiveness to customer needs. We will see that the four generic supply chains have distinctively different knowledge personalities that require unique processes. Metaphors of Factory, Test Lab, Cafe, and Triage are proposed to describe knowledge priorities of the generic SCs. Finally, we will build on our understanding of Cultural Capability factors by proposing KM as an essential enabler of supply chain performance. Knowledge and Competitive Advantage Knowledge creation, use, sharing and retention have always been important. What is new is the significant shift towards a focussed, strategic approach to managing knowledge, knowledge processes, and knowledge products. Throughout OECD countries, corporate investment in intangibles (research, education and knowledge) is growing at a faster rate than tangible investments. Knowledge management is the discipline that formalises approaches to understanding and benefiting from knowledge assets at the firm level. The key contribution of 1

2 knowledge management is its focus on knowledge as a strategic and competitive resource. Organisations that manage their knowledge and information resources as strategic assets are advantaged in today s knowledge economy. Maximising enterprise knowledge potential delivers tangible benefits which are of direct interest to enterprise supply chains operational efficiency; opportunities to better service customer and stakeholder needs; and a springboard for innovation. A foundation concept in the field of intangible assets that is important for practice is that there are two dimensions of knowledge, explicit and tacit. Transferability is the dimension that has emerged as distinguishing between knowledge types 5. Explicit knowledge can be expressed easily and transferred between people without loss of meaning. Explicit knowledge is know-how that has been recorded in some kind of medium such as a document, image, process or tool. Examples include Standard Operating Procedures, Manuals Checklists Computer code Tacit knowledge is difficult to articulate, and cannot be transferred without close personal contact, demonstration and involvement. Tacit refers to highly personal knowledge that resides in a person's mind, and includes physical skills as well as aspects of culture or ways of doing things. Importantly, tacit knowledge cannot be captured, but it can be transferred in discussion or via observation. The tacit dimension is personal, context-specific and experience dependent. Tacit knowledge is sticky difficult to transfer and for competitors to replicate. More specifically, it is the difficult-to-replicate knowledge assets and the manner in which they are deployed that is significant for competitive advantage. Build the image in your mind of knowledge exchange as a social process. Research confirms that knowledge flows in organisations are mediated by psychosocial factors 6 : where trust is low, knowledge doesn t flow. Knowing and trusting colleagues is an important enabler of knowledge transfer, well expressed colloquially in the aphorism to promote knowledge transfer invest first in travel and beer, and second in information technology. Also important here is to beware the trap of relying on information systems. McDermott 7 describes this as the great trap If a group of people don t already share knowledge, don t already have plenty of contact, don t already understand what insights and information will be useful to each other, information technology is not likely to create it. 2

3 In summary, here s the checklist for you to judge your existing knowledge maturity. Do you: Explicitly recognise that knowledge is an important asset requiring management focus? Have a firm-wide important to you? shared mindset about what sort of knowledge is most Have processes in place to routinely create value from knowledge creation and transfer? In the next section, we develop these ideas further by interleaving intangible and traditional firm assets. Later in the chapter we identify the special knowledge characteristics and priorities for the four generic supply chain models. The Intellectual Capital Approach The traditional view of commercial value emphasises tangible or financial resources (those typically found on the balance sheet cash, property, buildings, machinery and equipment). Turning to your own company, it s very likely that value is better represented by also understanding intangible resources or intellectual capital. In effect, the intellectual capital approach complements the firm s traditional focus on financial capital by also factoring in valuable expertise, know-how, processes and relationships. Intellectual capital comprises all nonmonetary and nonphysical resources that are fully or partly controlled by the organisation and contribute to value creation 8. Figure 1 summarises the three categories of intellectual assets described here: Organisational - know-how that has been converted to something tangible. Examples include databases, processes, methodologies, guides and brands and other formal intellectual property; Relationship - the relationships with customers, supply partners, competitors, research alliances and other stakeholders as well as its market standing and reputation; and Human the firm s people, their capabilities, expertise and know how. 3

4 TOTAL CAPITAL FINANCIAL INTELLECTUAL Monetary Physical Organisational Relationship Human Intellectual Property Figure 1 - The Intellectual Capital View of Firm Value The left hand side of the diagram is well known territory. No doubt you have professional teams in your firm who manage, monitor, and account for every unit of monetary and physical asset. You track how these assets are acquired by the entity, how they are deployed, and how and when it exits your balance sheet. In contrast, the intellectual capital component is not well understood; it is a black hole of strategic analysis 9. We recognise intuitively that intangibles are important, but their management is problematic. In contrast with financial capital, there is no professional discipline focussing on maximising the impact and contribution of these assets. Typically, no one in your company stays awake at night wrestling with questions such as: What are our key knowledge assets? Are we combining them to strengthen our competitive position? Are we maximising their use in alignment with our business intent? The key challenge in intellectual capital management is transforming intangible assets into something that creates value for the organisation. Dynamic capability is the ability to achieve new forms of competitive advantage by appropriately adapting, integrating and reconfiguring intangible assets - organisational skills, resources and competencies. 10 Putting intangibles and tangibles on the one page offers up new insights about what creates value for your organisation. Here s an example: using a traditional lens, we think of customers in terms of the revenue (tangible assets) we earn from them. A 4

5 knowledge view recognises that we may also earn intangible revenues from our customers. Some customers (capacity-building clients) not only give us revenue; they also build our skills and expertise in ways that set us up to attract new clients. They help us to create new human and organisational capital. Some customers (image-building clients) not only give us revenue, but also build our brand or image in the market place (if x is a client of yours, you must be good!) 11 Using this perspective, we may choose additional criteria in customer and supplier selection. For example, if 100% of our clients give us $ but no intangibles, what does this mean for our sustainability? In summary, understanding intangible assets provides new strategic insights and competitive options for SC design and operation. These issues are further developed in the next section. Strategies to Manage Knowledge What s the best way to manage knowledge assets? As you would expect, successful knowledge practices are aligned with the firm s strategic intent. In the late 90s an influential article in Harvard Business Review 12 suggested that there are two fundamental approaches to knowledge management, with their appropriateness dependent on the firm s business strategy. No doubt you can see that the type of knowledge to be transferred is influential here: we know that explicit knowledge can be readily expressed and transferred and hence is the appropriate focus for a codification strategy. Conversely, tacit knowledge cannot be readily expressed and transferred therefore a personalisation strategy would be appropriate. Note that the article contrasts firms in the same industries (consulting, health and IT) for whom either a personalisation or codification strategy may be appropriate. That is, the appropriate knowledge strategy is firm specific, rather than industry-specific. The article remains highly significant for its emphasis on aligning knowledge strategy with business strategy. We will reshape the concepts slightly to emphasis the types of customers being serviced; this is a foundation for later discussions that will identify knowledge priorities for the four generic supply chains. 5

6 Model 1 Operational Excellence. Do your customers expect highly standardised products and services? Systematic management of reliability, efficiency and timeliness are key features of the operational excellence business driver. Standardisation is achieved when the enterprise consistently applies its best practices system-wide.for the customer, there is high consistency and predictability; variation is unwanted. The Key Performance Indicators for Model 1 organisations are items such as consistency, reliability, timeliness and productivity. You will recognise that Lean supply chains respond directly to operational excellence imperatives. Turning to the knowledge impact, for organisations whose business model is founded on offering standard products and services, the appropriate knowledge management focus is knowledge re-use. Documenting knowledge (codification) to make it transferable should be the emphasis here. Our aim is to rapidly identify excellent practices, consolidate them into replicable procedures and get them into use. In intellectual capital terms, converting human capital into organisational capital allows best practices to be applied flawlessly by everyone in the organisation. We make the knowledge independent of those who created it and open up the possibility of achieving benefits of scale. Model 2 Design Excellence Your clients may have expectations that are quite different from those outlined in the previous section. It your clients come to you for innovative, highly customised products and services, Key Performance Indicators such as innovation, agility, responsiveness and customer intimacy will be significant. Our aim is new standards and breakthrough service, rather than consistency. The Fully Flexible supply chain responds directly to this type of driver. Given the design excellence characteristics, a knowledge re-use model will not be appropriate for these firms. There will be relatively little emphasis on standardisation and more focus on creating new knowledge. In intellectual capital terms, fostering human and relationship capital are our key levers for servicing this customer type. We will transform expertise to create service breakthroughs. Identifying our experts and making it easy for them to connect is a priority. Knowledge will be transferred person to person (personalisation) and through networks, rather than documented. Benefits flow when the organisation encourages, identifies, uses and repurposes value created from its own experience, informal innovation, formal research and development, and emerging customer and stakeholder needs. 6

7 Generic supply chain models and their distinctive knowledge priorities. This section builds on the operational excellence and design excellence discussion to propose distinctive knowledge profiles for the four generic supply chain models. Understanding the generic models unique knowledge personalities allows us to commit resources to high-payoff areas. A clear understanding of what knowledge creates commercial value allows us to craft initiatives to support the creation and transfer of knowledge that is most significant to our supply chain. The starting point for each model is understanding customers needs. This provides the basis for deriving distinctive knowledge priorities. =3'("4-7<&1 ;<<5' 6+$%&)+5#7&$+'(& 4")#,()) % +>&/2*!!"##$%!#&'()#&* (04!!"##$%!#&'()#&* % (5 & ( " & #/. +=120(2"1"3% =3'(24AB.&5#&2(348&20* +,-(#&* +,-(#&* 6(5-/#+,)1#*)&.-//('& =#$37.+)/ >#$3 ;<? :9&;(70/)(#(0$%1<% ;&8/2;% 0$1#(2#,3&/1(& #.*+))#45( =&#4$'!"#$%&'()*+,)(& #)&*-'-.+",/ "#$%&'(()*(+','&#-(.%//01(234#,5(4,6(73'#&(8,7'00'-7%40(24/#740(9':4,65 Lean Supply Chain rock solid core business With its unambiguous efficiency focus and low relationship requirements, the Lean supply chain is a pure operational excellence example. The knowledge metaphor for the Lean supply chain is the Factory, with its image of consistency, standardisation and production focus. For Lean supply chains, focus your efforts on four areas: Rapid identification of excellent practices; Replicating best practices in procedures, guides and methodologies; (organisational capital); Promoting the consistent take up and application of organisational capital throughout the supply chain; and 7

8 Focussing on continuous improvement how can we learn from our experience to get better at what we do every day? Fully flexible where nothing is impossible The Fully Flexible supply chain is of course very different. Here the focus is on solving the unsolvable problems. The metaphor is the Test Lab, where what s possible is continually challenged. Key points for the Test Lab: We don t apply the rules, we redefine them. We have a strong focus on external scanning, formal and informal R&D, and creative people. Building knowledge networks, providing access to experts and a high trust culture will fuel the Test Lab In combination, this means that organisational capital is relatively less important. Instead our focus in on human capital, and relationship capital (including alliances, research partners and thought leaders). Continuous replenishment where relationships matter most The Continuous Replenishment supply chain has very predictable demand from known customers. With its focus on customer retention, the appropriate metaphor is the Café, denoting a collaborative, high-relationship zone. Our knowledge efforts emphasise creating and deploying information and knowledge about the customer s particular requirements. To mitigate risk, we need to build organisational memory (rather than individual knowledge) about the customer and their particular requirements. If customer relationships are tied up primarily with particular staff, we risk losing the client if key staff from either party depart. The challenge is to build the trust zone and a wide and deep relationship between yourself and the client. Converting relationship capital into organisational capital is the focus in continuous replenishment supply chains. 8

9 Agile where quick response is paramount The Agile supply chain also has a distinct knowledge personality. With its emphasis on responding instantly to the unforeseen, the knowledge metaphor for the Agile supply chain is that of Triage 13. The key connotation is not the battlefield (though this may sometimes feel right) but the rapid diagnosis and identification of priorities as the basis for offering an instantaneous and appropriate response. Competitive advantage will be derived from making the fine grade distinctions in diagnosis that allow well honed responses to be provided. Agile supply chains need to invest in learning from their experience; specifically, drawing evidence-based conclusions on what works best for this type of customer in this situation. Robust lessons learned processes will be important. The knowledge focus is developing corporate memory (organisational capital) around diagnosis and response patterns. Alignment Insights Different customer needs drive particular supply chains which in turn make distinctively different demands of your body of knowledge. Your high-impact knowledge and key knowledge challenges are determined by your particular supply chain model. Knowledge management is a critical cultural capability in enterprise supply chain design and operations, and runs across all four generic supply chain models. Viewing supply chains through a knowledge lens creates new insights and opportunities to maximise customer alignment and value. 9

10 1 Chase, R. (2007) Examining Global Knowledge Trends. Knowledge Management Review, Jan/Feb, Two recent articles have considered knowledge and learning in relation to supplier development. Giannakis, M. (2008). Facilitating learning and knowledge transfer through supplier development. Supply Chain Management: An International Journal 13/1, 62 72; Mason, K. J. & Leek, S. (2008). Learning to Build a Supply Network: An Exploration of Dynamic Business Models. Journal of Management Studies 45:4, Giannakis, M. (2008). Facilitating learning and knowledge transfer through supplier development. Supply Chain Management: An International Journal 13/1, Defying or surpassing imitation, matchless. In intellectual capital terms, inimitability is the extent to which the strategic asset is resistant to imitation (see for example Roos, Pike, Fernstrom (2005) Managing Intellectual Capital in Practice). Butterworth-Heinemann, USA 5 Nonaka, I (1991). The Knowledge Creating Company, Harvard Business Review November December Andrews, K & Delahaye, B. (2000) Influences on Knowledge Processes in Organisational Learning: the Psychosocial Filter. Journal of Management Studies, 37, 6, McDermott, R. (2000). Why information technology inspired but cannot deliver knowledge management. In E.L. Lesser, M.A. Fontaine & J.A. Slusher, Knowledge and communities (p ). Boston: Butterworth Heinemann. 8 Adapted from Roos, G., Pike, S., and Fernstrom, L. (2006) Managing Intellectual Capital in Practice, Butterworth-Heinemann. 9 Spender, J. C. & Grant, R. M. (1996). Knowledge and the firm: Overview. Strategic Management Journal, 17 (Winter Special Issue) Roos, G., Pike, S., and Fernstrom, L. (2006) Managing Intellectual Capital in Practice, Butterworth- Heinemann. 11 See Sveiby, K. E. (1997). The New Organizational Wealth: Managing and measuring knowledge-based assets. San Francisco: Berret Koehler Inc. 12 Hansen, M.T., Nohria, N., and Tierney, T. What's Your Strategy for Managing Knowledge? Harvard Business Review, March-April Triage: the determination of priorities for action in an emergency. 10

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