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British Petroleum Company’s Knowledge Management Case Study

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Updated: Jun 12th, 2020

Knowledge management has gained tremendous popularity in the recent past (Edwards, Collier & Shaw, 2003). Its widespread popularity is largely attributable to British Petroleum’s (BP) successful implementation of the concept. Consequently, BP has been acknowledged as a global leader in knowledge management (Gorelick, Milton & April 2004). Against this backdrop, the present paper examines the main issues that emerged during BP’s knowledge management journey. In so doing, the author seeks to show that BP deserves the attention its knowledge management endeavors have elicited because it came as a result of due diligence and hard work by the organization.

Overview of Bp’s Knowledge Management Journey

BP’s recognition as a global leader in knowledge management was as a result of the robust and systematic knowledge management framework developed by the organization between 1997 and 2000 (Gorelick, Milton & April, 2004). The process began as a move to catalyze the continuous change process that had been initiated at BP in 1990 and entailed several key success factors.

To begin with, the BP leadership recognized the need for a change and initiated the change process. The change process entailed numerous adjustments and alterations, which were carried out under the auspices of a knowledge management team (KMT). The first major adjustment was the strengthening of cohesion among employees (Gorelick, Milton & April, 2004). It sought to improve performance through teamwork and open behavior. It led to the restructuring of BP into a federal entity with a central core and semi-autonomous business units at its periphery.

The KMT monitored its objectives through quarterly reviews, which were meetings that involved senior members of the team. The meetings culminated in a knowledge management model that guided the project. Smaller projects such as the Japan retail market entry project and the European retail project were identified to serve as the pilots (Gorelick, Milton & April, 2004). The success was phenomenal. Consequently, the KMT concluded that the successful implementation of knowledge management requires an organization to prepare adequately. In addition to the conclusion by the KMT, it is apparent that BP expended a lot of effort and resources to bring the project to successful completion.

Evaluation of BP’s Knowledge Management Journey

The above summary identifies the major processes that characterized BP’s knowledge management journey. Careful consideration of the processes reveals that they followed Kotter’s eight-stage change management model. Thus, it was a deliberate and well-orchestrated move to change BP.

Kotter’s change management model begins with the creation of urgency (Kotter, 2012). This stage was undertaken at BP before the KMT was constituted. Thus, it preceded and facilitated the formation of the KMT. The second stage, the formation of a powerful coalition that supports the change process, took place at BP both before and after the formation of the KMT (Kotter, 2012). The KMT was, therefore, formed to strengthen the change efforts that were ongoing in the organization. However, even after the formation of the KMT, the process of forming a strong pro-knowledge management caucus continued through the creation of awareness and enlightening employees about the possible benefits of the concept. The third and fourth stages of Kotter’s change model entail the creation and dissemination of an organizational vision, respectively (Kotter, 2012). These were done successfully by the KMT. It also removed the remaining obstacles by ensuring that every stakeholder had a clear understanding of the potential benefits of knowledge management. It then proceeded to create short-term wins by selecting a few strategic projects and using them as pilots (Gorelick, Milton & April, 2004). Their success led to the extension of the concept to the entire organization. Considering that the change process involved a total overhaul of every element of BP, at the end of the implementation of the knowledge management project, the organization was ready to retain the concept permanently. What remained was the assessment of areas of weakness for purposes of improvement.

The fact that the introduction of knowledge management at BP followed a well-known change model makes it apparent that this kind of process requires a model for successful implementation. It is important to note that the KMT developed its own model to facilitate the process. However, a close look at the model shows that it heavily borrows from Kotter’s change model. Nevertheless, the decision to develop a custom-made model that was suitable for BP made the introduction of knowledge management at the organization an authentic engagement. Consequently, the KMT did not over depend on outside knowledge to facilitate the process. Arguably, this approach is the reason behind the continued success of the knowledge management framework operated by BP. As such, the organization deserves every element of attention and acknowledgment it has received insofar as its knowledge management endeavors are concerned because it championed the use of a concept that is currently benefiting numerous organizations across the world.

Conclusion

Apparently, BP’s journey to the successful implementation of knowledge management was not easy. As such, any organization seeking to go down the same path must prepare adequately. The first key requirement insofar as the preparation is concerned is technological readiness. Knowledge sharing and reuse across large organizations require a technological platform that can support it. Secondly, the support of an organization’s senior management is critical to the success of knowledge management. An organization’s senior management provides it with leadership. As such, once the management’s support is enlisted, the remaining members can easily be brought on board. Failure to make these preparations can lead to longer implementation periods, higher project costs, or complete project failure. Therefore, organizations should ensure that they are well prepared to avoid such pitfalls because knowledge management, as demonstrated by the BP case, brings massive benefits to the organizations that adopt it.

References

Edwards, J., Collier, P., & Shaw, D. (2003). Making a journey in knowledge management strategy.Journal Of Information & Knowledge Management, 2(02), 135-151.

Gorelick, C., Milton, N., & April, K. (2004). Performance through learning: Knowledge management in practice (1st ed.). Amsterdam: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.

Kotter, J. (2012). Leading change (1st ed.). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

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