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PMC-Sierra: Leveraging KM to help engineers support customers better



Madanmohan Rao interviews Odilia Lee, head of Web operations, PMC-Sierra


PMC-Sierra (www.pmc-sierra.com) is a leading provider of high speed broadband communications, storage semiconductors and MIPS-based processors for enterprise, metro optical transport, wireless and storage area network markets. The company has offices throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Cahners Research, Inc. rated PMC-Sierra's web site as one of the top 10 "Manufacturer Web Sites Visited by Engineers".  In addition to the company's Solution Advisor virtual sales tool, the site features a technical support Knowledge Base (KB) for customer support.



Q. What knowledge-related initiatives did you have in your company before you formally called them "KM"?


PMC-Sierra had a "Frequently Asked Question" (FAQ) document that captures technical questions and answers exchanged among PMC-Sierra applications engineers and customers. With over 100 products to support, our Web site strategy led to the development of PMC-Sierra's Knowledge Base (KB).


Q: When did you formally launch your KM initiative, and in what manner?


In March 2000, PMC-Sierra formed a new group called "Applications E-Support" to launch the "Knowledge Base" (KB) initiative.  A new software application, "Teamsite," from Interwoven was deployed to enable multiple authors to build the online knowledge base in XML with appropriate approval workflow.  These resources were essential to start the project. 


PMC-Sierra has a well-defined document control procedure maintained by the company's Quality Assurance department.  The Knowledge Base (KB) is one of many knowledge management initiatives within PMC-Sierra.


Q: What are the Top Five objectives of your KM practice?


1. To provide on-line 24X7 self-service technical support to our customers and to enable them to share our knowledge in a timely manner so as to improve support efficiency.

2. To raise the awareness of the importance of knowledge management among applications engineers.

3. To define a knowledge base control procedure that is compliant to PMC-Sierra's document control procedure.

4. To build an authoring and approving process that enables engineers to capture the knowledge with consistency and high quality.

5. To build an infrastructure to store the knowledge so that the knowledge can be re-used, maintained and published on demand.


Q: What sort of connectivity and platform do your knowledge workers have?


All authors of PMC-Sierra's Knowledge Base have computers that connect to the PMC network.  Any customers who have registered at the PMC website (www.pmc-sierra.com) have access to the public version of the Knowledge Base.


Q: What kinds of knowledge assets do you include in your knowledge base, and how are they classified?


PMC-Sierra's Knowledge Base contains frequently asked/answered technical questions, tips and techniques, and product resolution information.


Q: How many communities of practice do you have? Which are the Top Five CoPs?


We have at least nine communities of practice.  The Top Five are:

1. E-Support team

2. Applications/Field Applications

3. Information Technology

4. Technical Communications

5. Sales


Q: What kinds of commercial and other incentives are being offered for knowledge sharing?


1. We acknowledged authors who contributed the most number of KB items monthly in an email newsletter.

2. Gift rewards were given out to the author who received the highest number of hits to his/her KB items.  Also, rewards were given to the team (author and approvers) who worked on the most useful KB item based on the feedback from the web users (after the KB was rolled out eight months).

3. We have also included the KB contributions as part of the Field Applications Engineers' objectives.

4. We write about the top KB item in our weekly employee newsletter.


Q: What kinds of workshops and training do you offer in increasing awareness about KM?


1. The user manual of the KB was posted on the company's Intranet.

2. Group training (1 hour) was provided to all authors and approvers when the KB was first rolled out.

3. Individual training (30 minutes) was provided via Netmeeting upon request.

4. All new applications engineers were trained on the KB tools.  


Q: What are three ways in which you are promoting a culture of knowledge and learning in the company?


1. Sell the idea to management and executives.

2. Discuss the benefits of building the knowledge base with engineers.

3. Share the usage and feedback of the knowledge base with managers and engineers.


Q: What challenges do you face in overcoming obstacles to cooperation and knowledge sharing?


1. Initial buy-in from the applications engineers, as engineers are sceptical about the usefulness and effectiveness of the knowledge sharing.

2. Limited resources for implementation of the infrastructure due to resource conflicts with other projects. 


Q: What kinds of investments have you made in your KM system, and how are you measuring its usage?


In addition to the internal resources involved, we invested in extra licenses for our content management system.  We track the number of knowledge base items that were approved and accessed each month.  We also track the rate of return of the web users who access to our on-line knowledge base.


Q: What have been the Top Three benefits of your KB system?

1. Customers can access answers to frequently asked technical questions via the web-based knowledge base 24x7.  Customers submit feedback to us and tell us that the KB has helped them resolve problems on their own.

2. Knowledge can be updated and published on demand with consistent information.  No matter what medium the knowledge is published to, the knowledge is sourced from the same database.

3. Engineers can spend more cycles in learning and supporting new products as they can reuse the knowledge of the old products and be more effective in supporting customers.      


Q: What are your future plans on the KM front?


1. To include other document types in the knowledge base e.g. the errata notice

2. To implement a workflow to review expired content and to automate obsolescence of expired content.

3. To integrate the knowledge base with other information systems in the company to further reduce the redundancy of information.   


Q: What are the Top Three things you have learned about KM over the years?


1. Take time to plan and solicit requirements from key stakeholders before implementation.

2. Develop a knowledge sharing process that is as close as to the daily working behaviour of the knowledge workers to reduce the resistance to adopt the new process.

3. Roll out the system in different phases.  Measure and analyse the usage, solicit feedback from users so that the system evolves better in the next phase.   




Madanmohan Rao is the author of "The Asia-Pacific Internet Handbook" and can be reached at madan@techsparks.com


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