Collecting and distributing an organisation’s knowledge: Knowledge management and QM at ASIS GmbH – a use case
ASIS GmbH from Landshut works in the area of automation technology. This medium-sized company is focused on surface engineering for the car industry. ASIS develops and produces, amongst other things, painting and grinding finishing systems. They currently have about 120 employees.
I spoke with Jana Timinger, Technical Editor at ASIS GmbH, about how knowledge and quality management have changed as the firm has grown.
Ms Timinger, ASIS has experienced many changes in the last few years. What challenges have these changes brought with them?
We have grown from 70 employees to 120 in just a few years. As well as this, we have two locations, and many members of staff who work a great deal out and about, or at customers’ premises. This means that we always have to consider the question: How we can organise teamwork over these distances properly, for example for projects in which planners from several locations collaborate. Put most generally: How can we keep all members of staff informed of important information on a regular basis, and how can documents be centrally accessible and findable? Our previous data storage structure was not ideal for meeting these challenges.
What made you want to find a system to meet these challenges? And what were your requirements for such a system?
The first thing that set us off was quality management. For this, we had documents in a type of intranet. This was not particularly convenient, and we were not happy with it because things were often filed twice and our members of staff could not access the documents easily. In addition, our technical departments wanted to be able to keep their knowledge centrally so that it was available for everyone in that department, but also for everyone across the company. Word documents disappear too easily and too quickly somewhere on the server – they are not really able to be found again.
Now, our quality management is completely documented in the wiki and we have set up subportals for our individual departments, in which the technical departments can place and stress relevant information and news.
We also had, previously, an organisational handbook in word with company-internal rules, pictures of employees and suchlike. This has been brought completely into the wiki too.
The main requirement we had for the new solution was that it was easily accessible for anyone who needed to read it. Being able to find documents and information again needed to be much better (for example via a full text search) and it was also particularly important to prevent data being saved redundantly. We also wanted that everyone who wanted to contribute could do so without barriers being in their way.
ASIS has used the wiki software BlueSpice since Summer 2014. Which departments are involved and who is responsible for the wiki and its contents?
We have a person responsible for the general care and organisation of the wiki, who is also the point of contact for other members of staff. That is me.
Our IT department deal with the technical part, of course, but the system needs very little effort to maintain after the implementation. The technical departments, like, for example, electrical and mechanical design engineering, however, create content independently, content which they want to document and simply make known more widely within the company.
Of course, any member of staff can also suggest content which he or she would like to have in the system – and naturally, every member of staff can also place material there themselves. We have consciously decided on a very flat rights system so that theoretically every member of staff in every area can contribute to every area except for quality management. Writing is also allowed from one department to another because it is often the case that, for example, a member of the software department has knowledge which is also interesting for design engineering.
And the last area, for the present, is administration, which looks after the contents of the organisational handbook.
Am I right in saying that you have taken quality management under your wings?
That’s right. We are certified under ISO 9001, and I look after the documentation for quality management. We have moved this area to the wiki completely. We use Semantic here and almost completely avoid Word documents as in the wiki we can read metadata like ‘creator’ and ‘inspector’ easily and in an organised way, and evaluate it. This is a significant improvement. One can get an overview with just one click. This is also excellent for auditing. And maintenance will be significantly easier in the future.
Many companies do not make good estimations about the effort and planning involved in the introduction of such a system. Could you describe the phases to me please, from the planning right up to the current situation today?
Well, from the determination of the criteria and requirements up to the first workshop with Mr Heigl from Hallo Welt! and the final decision to use the wiki software BlueSpice was about three months. After this there were about two months in which the solution was realised technically and the first user training sessions took place. Alongside this training for the key users, we also carried out internal training in order to involve lots of members of staff as soon as possible so that they could get to know the system. After this, we transferred existing content into the wiki. This took about 3-4 months as we had to transfer some areas completely into the wiki, for example the whole of the quality management and administration areas. We tried to make the existing documents and procedures unnecessary as quickly as possible so that everything really can be found in the wiki and Word and Excel documents are superfluous.
Currently, we have 1,337 articles in the wiki and we are very happy with this “first version”. However, we still have a lot we want to do – there is still a lot of content which sooner or later should be relocated to the wiki. We have some clean up operations lined up for this, and working out what is best to be put in the wiki. By the way, it’s quite funny but one of the most popular pages in the wiki is the cafeteria plan and the telephone list.
What has changes with the wiki over the year it has been running?
It is very helpful that the material is kept in one place, as for most questions that people have, you can refer them to the wiki. There are, for example, IT tips in the wiki already, so that the standard questions do not have to be constantly answered individually. This saves time and avoids annoying people. A lot of information and things which seem like details, such as pictures of our members of staff, are now much more easily available via this location. The contents of the organisational handbook are also enhanced by the wiki and are looked at more often.
It is also very good that employees who are travelling also find out what has happened when they return, what the news is – a lot of information is now visible when before it often disappeared. Also, previously emails were often sent which, of course, would not reach colleagues who joined later. So the wiki is a point of reference for many questions which new colleagues have.
What lessons have you learned during the introduction and implementation of such a knowledge and quality project?
It was good that we transferred content very quickly and discontinued the other systems at the same time – this allowed us to avoid doubling. It also forced the people to look in the wiki. Unfortunately it is now still the case for some people that while they write in the wiki, they still save a “safety document” on the server – we need to prevent this more effectively.
The acceptance of the wiki is generally good. Almost all read the wiki, but writing is something else. Many still have inhibitions about writing in the wiki, because they are worried that the article might be too long or too short, or they are worried about making things worse or something similar. But when they have learned it once, the staff do use the wiki too. For this reason, I carried out targeted individual training for members of staff in key positions. And we continue to train our people to make them more familiar with the system. In particular, the departmental managers play an important role as they should set an example. And employees should not have to justify themselves when they document important knowledge in the wiki.
The year that has just passed, the first with the wiki, was very intensive. What is lined up in the future? A break?
Oh no, certainly not. Now we have the QM audit lined up, and then, above all, we will focus on the conversion to the new ISO standard. In parallel, we should bundle further content in the wiki so that more areas on the server can be decommissioned. And I will consider further how I can bring more people into the wiki, for example there is the newsletter from the general management in which, amongst other things, new employees are introduced. We could replace this with the blog which comes with the wiki. The wiki should be lively and this means it must continue to be regularly cared for.
We wish you continued success, and thank you for the interview.
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