Knowledge Reigns Supreme for CSC's Bothwell

Knowledge Reigns Supreme for CSC's Bothwell

Carol Bothwell

Carol Bothwell, who became Computer Sciences Corp.'s first chief knowledge officer (CKO) in December, will define the system integrator's knowledge strategy and develop, implement and manage its Knowledge Program.

Bothwell has a history of managing large, complex systems development and integration contracts with both federal and commercial clients. She joined CSC in 1970, and during the past two years has managed the company's Corporate Knowledge Program and the development of Sources, an enterprisewide knowledge environment to build and leverage CSC knowledge, experience and expertise globally. Founded in 1959, CSC has 54,000 employees located in more than 700 offices worldwide.

Bothwell, 53, graduated cum laude from Goucher College in Baltimore with a bachelor's degree in mathematics. In 1993 and 1994, she was CSC's resident affiliate at Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute.

Bothwell discussed CSC's experience in building its corporatewide knowledge environment and how it will assist customers in developing a similar capability, in an interview with John Makulowich, Washington Technology's senior writer, technology.

WT: How does the chief knowledge officer enhance your company's competitive position in the federal space?

Bothwell: We look at the position enhancing our competitive position in three ways.

First, our knowledge management capability allows us to improve the value we offer to our clients. We can leverage our knowledge resources more effectively with a knowledge program in place on a global basis. For example, we can more quickly leverage commercial best practices into our special requirements, [and] we can more quickly leverage innovations to develop both on the federal and the commercial side of our organization, and bring them to bear on opportunities.

Second, it not only increases the rate at which we diffuse innovations across our organization, it also increases the rate at which we innovate by connecting people in knowledge communities and allowing them the opportunity to share ideas, give each other feedback and collaborate on innovations. That makes us a partner of choice not just today, but two years from today or five years from today.

Third, it helps us enhance our capability to respond faster to changes that are taking place within the government. We talk a lot to our federal clients about what we are doing in knowledge management. We know it is not only ourselves who need to become a knowledge-based organization to succeed in the future.

WT: What sparked the creation of the chief knowledge officer position?

Bothwell: CSC has had knowledge initiatives that go back over a decade. What the firm decided to do almost three years ago was bring those initiatives under the umbrella of a single, corporatewide knowledge program. The drivers behind that were to take the synergies of the previous initiatives and deliver more value to the corporation, as well as increase the rate at which they were leveraged across the corporation.

When the program was first formed, I was asked to serve as a vice president for the corporate knowledge program. There were three reasons the position was established after three years. One was a growing recognition within the corporation of the strategic importance of knowledge management to our future. There was also growing recognition of the importance the program has played in supporting our globalization strategies. Van [Honeycutt, CSC's chairman and CEO] wanted to communicate the importance of the program both to our own organization internally as well as to the market and our clients. That is what sparked the naming of the position.

WT: What are the key elements of your knowledge program?

Bothwell: Today, we have a corporatewide knowledge program that is responsible for providing the services to maintain, operate and evaluate a corporatewide knowledge environment. The [chief knowledge officer] position is focused on aligning our knowledge program with our business strategy and accelerating its institutionalization within the operating units.

When we think about the knowledge environment that the program is responsible for, there are three basic components. First are knowledge communities, groups of CSC employees who are focused on building and leveraging knowledge around a certain topic. Second is a knowledge base, which captures our intellectual output and provides a map to the expertise within the corporation. Third is the collaborative environment, all the cultural processes, technology and applications that are necessary to support our people in leveraging the environment in their daily work.

WT: Is there a specific department where those three components fit, for example, sales or human resources? Or are the components indiscriminate across the company?

Bothwell: I would say indiscriminate, because the way we look at knowledge management, it is something that enables us to be more effective in executing all our business processes: business development, delivery, as well as the management of customary processes that are necessary to support our business development and delivery activities.

WT: Experts say one of the key issues in knowledge management is structured vs. unstructured knowledge in organizations and how to capture that. For example, C code vs. a salesperson's rules of thumb for sizing up a prospective customer. How do you capture those kinds of knowledge?

Bothwell: That is one of the reasons we focus our investment in both knowledge communities and knowledge base. You may have seen the [Harvard Business Review] article that came out some time ago on the strategies that companies use for their knowledge environment. The authors suggested you pick one of two strategies: You either focus on communities and the exchange of tacit knowledge, or you focus on a knowledge base and the exchange of quantified knowledge.

We really see that it is essential to balance your focus. You need to address both, because a knowledge base does not retain its value without sustainable knowledge communities to evolve that value over time. On the other hand, if you only focus on knowledge communities, then you have the difficulty of building an institutional base of knowledge.

One of the ways we organize our knowledge base is around our business processes, which are highly structured in linking assets to support those business practices which can be both structured and unstructured.

WT: Does the knowledge-based environment help you with the common problems of IT worker scarcity, for example?

Bothwell: We have quite a bit of experience with knowledge communities over the past three years. These are global communities, so they work virtually.

We really believe that things such as the scarcity of IT talent and the acceleration of consulting and relocation are going to drive companies to take advantage of resources, no matter where they are geographically, and put them into virtual teams. In fact, use the Internet to move work to people rather than moving people to work. The experience we have gained around knowledge communities gives us a model for the virtual team and how virtual teams can work more effectively.

WT: Can you give a specific example of change in your organization pre-CKO and post-CKO?

Bothwell: A very simple example would be around project management. We have a standard process for developing project plans in working with our clients. It starts with planning, direction and control and finishes up with project closeout.

The change you see in how we embed knowledge processes into the way that we do business. When you go out to do a project plan, the first thing you do is look at what you can leverage from the knowledge base to jump-start your planning effort.

At the other end, when you close out a project, part of the process now is contributing back to the knowledge base, such as the lessons learned from the project you undertook, reusable work products, products that might help the next person who comes along to jump-start that effort, particular new techniques you might have developed.

You can call all that knowledge-enabling our business processes. That is the thinking we go through in looking at how we need to work differently.

WT: What are some of the challenges ahead for you in giving the office of CKO legitimacy?

Bothwell: The biggest challenge is in terms of institutionalization of our knowledge environment. A knowledge program is basically a change program. I have to deal with all the issues of a change being really effective.

In addition to all the things we have talked about, you need a policy for personal reinforcement, you have to adapt your communications program, your orientation and training program to reinforce the change you are trying to make.

You need to embed in your reward and recognition and performance evaluation system things that reinforce that change in behavior you want. In other words, you really are changing the way you operate when you have an effective knowledge management program in place. All your systems have to reinforce that changed behavior.

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