Communication – an international success factor

Leading Norwegian researchers and companies have joined forces to create knowledge-sharing solutions that promote internationalisation and enhance competitiveness.

According to researchers in the Terrella project, which was funded under the Programme for User-driven Research-based Innovation (BIA), the key to success lies in how well people work together and how knowledge is shared. Partners in the project included Norwegian certification heavyweights DNV and Nemko.

Activating passive knowledge
A key finding of the study is that learning often takes place outside the individual’s awareness. It is not before things need to be verbalised that learning moves into the realm of consciousness. There are many indications that learning acquired in work situations is often passive knowledge.

“If people cannot communicate clearly and effectively, knowledge transfer will grind to a halt,” asserts project manager Ragnhild Kvålshaugen of BI Norwegian Business School.

Business-critical knowledge management systems
The objective of the Terrella project has been to identify what it takes to achieve good global integration in knowledge-intensive companies.

Companies with worldwide operations cannot base knowledge-sharing on employees knocking on their colleagues’ doors and asking for advice, or on discussions over lunch.

How then can these companies ensure that knowledge is adequately shared?

“Such enterprises must make an effort to establish highly operative knowledge management systems. When you can’t just ask the person in the office next door for help, you need to have a map of which employees know what, regardless of where they are localised,” explains Professor Kvålshaugen. “The Terrella project has been looking at precisely these kinds of system.”

“To succeed, global enterprises must overcome cultural differences and time zone obstacles. The ability to keep the entire company up-to-date competence-wise and implement effective systems for sharing best practice among all the units within an organisation are essential success factors,” says Karl Joachim Breunig, who has completed his doctoral degree under the Terrella project.

Ambitious partner companies 
“The project was inspired by Nemko, a Norwegian company specialising in safety certification of electronic and electrical products,” explains Helge Klitzing, who has been involved since the project was launched. “The company has established a significant international presence in recent years and wanted to measure the effect of a new, group-wide knowledge management system.

“DNV Energy came on board shortly after. This company also offers certification services on the international market. However, the two companies are extremely different, in terms of both their size and their experience with internationalisation.”

Has changed the companies
Both Nemko and DNV report that they have learned a great deal from the project.

Based on the knowledge generated, Nemko has altered its overall strategy and organised its knowledge-sharing practices and testing and certification services in new ways. The company has also created a knowledge database called Nemko Wiki, which uses the same technology as the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

The database includes an encyclopaedia of information for the individual work areas. Employees at offices around the world actively add to the base. Virtual discussion forums make it easy to ask colleagues for help across various cultural and time zone barriers. The company has also established Centres of Excellence in each product category.

For DNV Energy, the project has generated a deeper understanding of the importance of effective knowledge-sharing systems and close social networks for sharing best practice constructively throughout a global service organisation. The company has focused in particular on day-to-day learning and integrating the sharing of such learning into its competence-building system.

Partners in the Terrella project:
• BI Norwegian Business School
• DNV
• Nemko
• Computas (IT consulting company)
• Devoteam daVinci (technology and business consulting company)
• SINTEF Technology and Society, Innovation and Industrial Development