Funding cross-company communities

Farida Hasanali who writes the APQC blog on KM in her recent post says:

“The very notion of going to an external source for funding would mean that the funding source would own some of the community or at least some rights to it and that may not be in the best interest of the organization.”

There are scenarios where joint funding as opposed to exclusive external funding(by the organization with an external entity like a partner,supplier,customer)may make solid business sense.While information security is absolutely crucial,that should not become the bottleneck to effective knowledge sharing across the value chain. Let me explain two scenarios where this may help:

Each one sets context first and then speaks about why joint funding makes sense.

1.In the IT services sector,alliances with vendors is very crucial to deliver end-to-end solutions to customers. While many IT services companies have formal alliance groups in place to manage vendor relationship,it may make sense to augment this group with a cross-company community.However,there is a very clear understanding of what can be shared and what cannot and there are processess in place to ensure that these are adhered to.(Over a period of time this “process adherance” becomes a part of the common context of those involved).

The knowledge activities could range from addressing customer issues in a joint engagement to bringing employees within the IT services comapny upto speed on the latest products from the vendor.So,if the community can augment formal structures and help accelerate the companies involved towards a win-win situation,joint funding does make sense.Where the funding should go and who will contribute what depends so much on the problem that the formal groups is trying to address. IBM Institute of Business Value’s paper on Community budgets may help comapnies see where they can share the costs. Could not find the original paper online. A recent review of this by Shawn here.

2.Again in the IT services sector addressing the needs of global customer needs requires a combination of nearshoring/offshoring.And most of this work is usually distributed across the globe in facilities dedicated for the customer. These facilities act as an extension of the customer’s organization .There is a need to share knowledge across these facilities to adddress typical KM challenges like ensuring that we reuse best practices,present one face to the customer etc.,

There have been instances when the customer recommends/suggests setting up a Community to address these issues and more.The customer could completely fund the community(As all the facilities involved serve the same customer) or the service provider and the customer could share the costs.Again unlike a typical community,the lines have to be drawn clearly.It again boils down to being a balancing act.Do the serivice provider and the customer see a win-win situation if communities are jointly funded?

I feel that exclusive funding of a community by an external entity might be a bit over board.My gut feeling is that this may make sense in not-for-profit community attempts.(Like the WHO or the FAO communities where the sources of funding may not always be the parent body). For all other organizations “Joint funding” to solve common issues makes more business sense.

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