Epistemics helps Rolls-Royce develop a knowledge acquisition capability to capture, retain and share expertise
Rolls-Royce plc is renowned for its world leadership in jet engines and gas turbines, but how can such a company at the forefront of innovation harness the knowledge of their experts and enable a new generation of engineers to continue advancing the boundaries? To address this issue, Rolls-Royce embarked on an ambitious programme starting in the late 1990’s to capture, model and publish the knowledge assets within the organisation. Today, they are reaping the benefits of that programme. Nick Milton of Epistemics and Colin Cadas of Rolls-Royce explain.
Rolls-Royce plc is a world leader in the design and manufacture of jet engines and gas turbine products with annual sales totalling nearly £5,800 million, and an order book of over £16,000 million. The company operates in four global markets - civil aerospace, defence aerospace, marine and energy. It has a broad customer base comprising more than 500 airlines, 4,000 corporate and utility aircraft and helicopter operators, 160 armed forces, and more than 2,000 marine customers, including 50 navies. The company employs over 36,000 people, of which 22,000 are in the UK, 8,500 in North America and 5,500 in Germany and the Nordic countries.
Crucial knowledge is held by experts
In the mid-1990’s Rolls-Royce recognised a number of problems associated with the management of knowledge across the organisation. One pressing problem was that many key experts were due to retire within a few years and no systems were in place to allow them to pass on their vital knowledge to their colleagues. The widespread availability of specialist expertise could be a bottleneck and slow down the pace of lead-time reductions. In addition, best practices were not easily established and shared across the organisation. A further complication was the time required for new recruits to become proficient in complex technical disciplines, typically taking 9-12 months to become a valuable member of a department.
A structured methodology to capture knowledge
To help address these issues, Rolls-Royce embarked on a programme to develop a structured methodology known as KAMP (Knowledge Acquisition and Modelling Process). This methodology aimed to capture, model and publish knowledge from experts onto the Rolls-Royce’s corporate intranet system. Within an organisation the size of Rolls-Royce, this called for the capture of vast amounts of knowledge. As such, it was decided that employees with no previous experience of knowledge acquisition and knowledge management would perform the knowledge capture and publishing.
This decision meant that a methodology had to be developed that was easy to learn and operate by inexperienced knowledge engineers. It also had to be effective at capturing key knowledge and best practices from experts, whilst minimising the time spent with experts. The methodology also had to result in professional-quality intranet sites containing easily accessible knowledge.
Specialist software used to manage and publish the knowledge
In developing such a methodology, Rolls-Royce engaged Epistemics, a leading developer of knowledge acquisition, modelling and management tools and techniques. Epistemics consultants assisted in various aspects of the development of the KAMP methodology. They had a significant involvement in the development and delivery of intensive training to educate novice knowledge engineers in the correct knowledge acquisition practices. Epistemics also supplied specialist knowledge software (PCPACK) to Rolls-Royce to support the KAMP methodology. This software enables knowledge to be captured, modelled, validated and published using the latest techniques from knowledge engineering and artificial intelligence. Epistemics was also involved in on-going coaching and quality assurance on specific projects ensuring that the right knowledge acquisition techniques and modelling methods were being adopted.
The KAMP methodology has now been in use since 1998 and in that time has supported over 150 separate projects. Each project has captured valuable knowledge from numerous experts and published this knowledge as a website on Rolls-Royce’s technical intranet system. Many of the projects have been completed by recent graduates or new recruits to a department. This has allowed them to access vital knowledge directly from experts and has considerably reduced the time taken for them to learn the necessary skills.
A broad range of benefits
Looking at the projects undertaken to date, Rolls-Royce has identified five typical benefits:
Colin Cadas, Knowledge Manager in the Design Technology Department at Rolls-Royce, sums up their experience of using leading-edge knowledge acquisition technology to help capture and disseminate expert knowledge: “Epistemics products and services have played a significant role in the development of processes to capture, retain and share specialist knowledge that is at risk or in short supply. PCPACK supports the efficient and reliable capture, modelling and publication of knowledge vital to our design and engineering processes.”
This knowledge management programme has broken new ground for Rolls-Royce in harnessing the expertise available within its organisation. It has proved a great success, enabling Rolls-Royce to safeguard its most important asset for future generations of engineers – the knowledge within its organisation.
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