We hired a new person in Beijing today. Every time I hire someone new it raises the question of why it is as expensive to hire a graduate from Beijing as one from California. This is both confusing to clients who perceive China as a 'low cost' outsourcing market and a challenge from a business-owner's perspective.
My goal was to build the KM platform before expanding EASTWEST regionally, and this has, in my view, been a core component in our success in China. The perennial question of technology is whether to buy or build. In my experience it is imperative to map the entire processes and identify all the content formats (docs, video, images etc) prior to making this decision.
What I found was that for my business specific needs, such as putting a PR agency online, there was no application. For the generic business applications there are a plethora.
I decided that I would undertake a hybrid approach; I would build my business specific applications and integrate off-the-shelf applications. We built Connect, one feature set at a time, starting with media contacts, press releases, press coverage, then linking each of these three into JRM (journalist relationship management) application which mimics CRM features; then we added an events engine, then sales, then a blog for collaboration and a wiki for document storage and latterly groups on flickr, slideshare and youtube.
We bought MS Exchange as it integrates nicely with Blackberries and use the Mapi spooler from Exchange to power the e-mail component of the JRM. We continue to host domestically with an 80 GB hard drive /1GB RAM IBM blade server and 1 MB ISDN line to the office. This has taken a lot of time to design, and we have two vendors; one for email and system administration and one for developing Connect.
My goal was to build the KM platform before expanding EASTWEST regionally, and this has, in my view, been a core component in our success in China. China-based consultants have access to the 10 years of history that I have assiduously stored on our servers and can search and review documents, create quotations, show pictures and video of events, and discuss client activities as if in the same office; well nearly. I get an alert whenever a prospect posts an enquiry on our site, and can view the entire sales pipeline and financials via Connect:Sales and the Wayki. Account directors can review the releases, approve them, and follow the media progress via the call sheets display. Clients receive auto alerts when articles about their company have been published by other (known as coverage) and we are moving to create a self-service functionality for them—this saves time for all parties and enhances service levels.
All this sounds very well you may be saying, but what did this all cost and has it been worth it? EASTWEST is a privately held firm and we have funded development ourselves from cash flow. Net margins have improved back to the 20 per cent level, though this is largely due to the tremendous efforts of the consultants who can engage with clients from a position of knowledge power. We are able now to subcontract consultants and give them access to Connect for temporary work; they access our knowledge and we their time for as long as it is beneficial for both to do so. New recruits, most of whom join via our intern programme, are able to work on fee paying work within a month. And, yes, we have started charging clients for the real time news service that is the Connect:Alerts media monitoring service. This exercise has taken me four years, but it could be quicker if there was a decided KM person or external consultants involved. I have little change from S$100,000 and have not billed for my time; but the first application of media contacts only cost S$5,000 and is still worth its weight in wheat.
We are smarter than me’ writes Joe Wikert about the power of social networks, and I would push that to say that with KM ‘we are more powerful than me.’ This is not false humility on the part of a British public relations person, but rather a recognition that social networks have always been, and always will be, more powerful than the individual. They can also be more fun, more productive and more profitable. From a leadership perspective, KM demands a thorough and honest review of your business and also your own attitude towards being in command and control. If we assume that the future belongs to the next generation anyway, in my view it is better that I create the platform for them to build that future, than be left behind while they build it themselves.
Besides, I know that they are smarter than me so why get in their way.