E&P Knowledge Management - What's it all About?


Business professionals working within the oil and gas industry today are continually bombarded with the term ‘Knowledge Management’ (KM). There is a huge array of publications that will describe any aspect of KM in exceptional detail. This article attempts to simplify the concepts and explore some of the main issues, under headings of:


What is Knowledge?

A simple definition of knowledge is the ability to make quality decisions on information and data. There are many other definitions for knowledge, for example:

How is Knowledge different from Data and Information?

There are many definitions for differentiating data, information and knowledge; one such is given below:

For example, the reporting of daily oil production volumes may be classified as data. Summarising these data into a production decline curve produces information. Knowledge is the ability to make a business decision based on this information.

Are there different types of Knowledge?

There are equally numerous knowledge classifications. Quinn, Anderson and Finklestein define 4 types of knowledge below. The interesting aspect of this definition is that processes and technology can address the first three points. The final point of ‘caring why’ emphasises the human element that differentiates KM.

Another knowledge classification is taken from Hope & Hope (Harvard Business School):

This illustrates the fact that all not knowledge can be written down on paper or captured electronically on computers. Written knowledge often requires human support (for example in the form of training). Just because someone reads a manual, it does not mean that they understand the content.

What is Knowledge Management?

Knowledge Management is a term applied to any initiative involving people, processes and technology that leverages the knowledge within an organisation to achieve business results. KM practice requires vision and organisational communities aided by leadership.

Knowledge Architecture: Basic Model

There is a basic theme that underlies all KM techniques (see figure below). You learn while doing the work, then record and share the results, which in turn are reused in later work cycles. Innovation can occur anywhere in the process. The following section looks at some of the techniques developed for the 'learning', 'sharing' and ‘innovating’ components of this model. The supporting technologies are described separately in the technology section.

Learning and Recording

Training courses, on-the-job training and mentoring from colleagues, seminars and conferences are just some of the traditional ways by which an employee can learn. Many companies move their employees from one position to the next, from one country to the next, every 2-3 years. This is designed to maximise their opportunities for learning.

It seems that the majority of companies do not record or capture a significant proportion of the useful knowledge they generate. The increased use of technology (e.g. Web-cam, multimedia, information capture applications) to support organisational processes is enabling more information to be recorded electronically, which is in itself causing information overload for employees. It is important that the standards and processes for recording information are in place before the appropriate knowledge sharing strategy is implemented.


Sharing Tacit Knowledge

Sharing knowledge within an organisation is arguably the biggest problem to be addressed by KM. Processes like project ‘post-mortems’ are vital to share the lessons learnt throughout the organisation. Forming networks of people in knowledge communities (groups of people with a common interest) and teams (a group of people with a common goal) can also help tacit knowledge exchange. Videoconferencing and Web technology are being increasingly used in support of these networks.

Sharing Explicit Knowledge

The ownership strategy

This is the traditional way of sharing knowledge. The information owner decides when to make it available and to whom. When reports were only available in paper form this was the only way to share knowledge. The method was classically used in the 1970’s and 1980’s by the large middle management tier, which fostered inter-departmental rivalry and a ‘knowledge is power’ philosophy. Although some organisations still practice this in the virtual domain, the main issue is ‘how does one person know what is or isn’t of value to another?’.

The pull strategy If we answer the above question we find that the individual is the only person who knows what is or isn’t important to them. Office notice-boards, document management systems and traditional Web technology are examples of a ‘pull’ strategy where the user has to actively search for information they require. A weakness in the pull strategy is that it needs active information management with users having to seek out the information.
The push strategy

Both paper and e-mail are examples of ‘push’ strategies. This allows specific information to be delivered to specific people. Delivery agents search and deliver information on the user’s behalf obeying defined sets of rules. They gather information from disparate sources (e.g. document management systems, e-mail, filesystems, Web) and push it to the desktop based on interests from a user’s profile. In this way when a user creates or updates information, other users with similar interests are immediately notified.

The interfaces to these information sources, user profiles and delivery agents are called ‘information portals’. These portals deliver a customised view of information that may be collected from a number of sources matching the users interest. Imagine all the information that interests you from a newspaper, or series of newspapers presented to you electronically through a single interface.

Using knowledge to create knowledge - Innovation

The ability to use knowledge to create new knowledge is of vital importance to all organisations because of the efficiency and effectiveness benefits. Innovation could be described by the following equation:

Innovation = Learning Opportunities x Experience x Proximity to Business x Freedom

Ideas are commonly generated in an environment of accelerated learning and proximity to the business. People need the freedom to express and challenge traditional ways of working and should be encouraged to think ‘out of the box’. The traditional way of working in a hierarchical structure following instruction after instruction is in fact alien to our nature. The ability to think differently is not something we need to learn, but something we need to re-learn. Watching a child experiment, learn and innovate tells us this.

Example Initiatives and Case Studies

White and Yellow Pages

It is difficult to remember everything. In fact, you could say that you do not need to know everything, just know how to find out. Traditional yellow pages directories are used to help people find out names, phone numbers and addresses of a range of businesses. White pages are designed to connect people with people. Many E&P companies have implemented a white pages directory on the intranet. This directory can contain personalised information about employees that may be of use to others. For example, if a team was about to embark on a new venture in Iran, they could find out if any company colleagues had worked in that area, even if before they joined the current company.

BP Amoco has implemented such a system with over 10,000 employee pages. Their approach has been to encourage rather than dictate to the users. They believe individual empowerment is the key and found that a photograph on an individual’s home page is invaluable.


Many E&P companies have set up communities with the philosophy that ‘extracting the knowledge from people is not the answer, keeping them linked is’. Geoscience disciplines particularly, due to their highly interpretative and therefore subjective nature, are ideal candidates for these communities. It seems that communities are natural and exist informally as well as formally within an organisation. They appear to be an excellent way to learn and share knowledge with other people who have a common interest.

Discussion databases allow the ‘posting’ of questions and information under certain topics that are made available throughout the company. This technology decreases the costs of e-mail, addresses the full community rather than a subset and maintains a record of all information passed and therefore acts as another ‘knowledge base’.

Shell E&P have created the role of an ‘energising moderator’ for their communities. Shell sees this person as an ambassador for the community, continually marketing the concepts and benefits as well as chasing up people and maintaining the momentum of the community. Shell have found that only 20% of the value of KM originated from information/lessons learnt. However, 80% of the value of KM is generated by posting a need for information that is subsequently satisfied by someone - providing that information or referring to someone else who could provide that information. The moral of the story is that while creating knowledge databases is useful, they can only ever capture a fraction of the knowledge held by a community.

Traditional storytelling is another way to exchange complex knowledge amongst communities. Most people have heard and told stories in a company environment long before KM became topical. Some formal KM programs are embracing storytelling as a process for exchanging knowledge and aiding cultural change within an organisation. Companies like IBM are working with a number of organisations to develop these concepts.

Organisational Culture

Texaco E&P have used specific assessment methodology to understand the culture of their organisation. The same methodology was used to establish an ‘ideal culture’ for effective knowledge exchange. This identified areas where changing the culture could improve knowledge exchange within their organisation.

Virtual Teamrooms

One of the most valuable ways of communicating is face-to-face interactive discussion that can lead to tacit knowledge transfer. BP Amoco has linked over 1200 people using desktop videoconferencing and Web-cam technology to allow interaction between teams and communities, regardless of geography. It is interesting to bear in mind that approximately 90% of the investment went on coaching, rather than technology.

Knowledge Banks

BG Technology has integrated its various information sources to establish a live ‘Technology Knowledge Bank’ to connect people to explicit knowledge and information. By using a sophisticated search engine, both internal and external information sources can be interrogated by full text intelligent searching on the company’s intranet.


There are a number of software products that are becoming increasingly important in the KM arena. These include:

Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS)

Historically, EDMS concentrated on scanned paper media. The current trend is to manage electronic information (text and multimedia) from disparate sources including Groupware, technical databases etc. Examples include Documentum, FileNet, PC-Docs and CimAge.

Groupware Tools

Lotus Notes first made team collaboration Groupware popular. Although Lotus still holds the market share, other products like Microsoft Exchange, Novell Groupwise and Fujitsu TeamWare are becoming more widespread.

Search and Retrieval Engines, User Profiling and Delivery agents

There are a whole host of companies that supply search engines claiming to have unique functionality to retrieve information using keywords, fuzzy searching and conceptual searching. These search engines are customised to look for information on the Internet/intranet, e-mail systems, EDMS, databases, filesystems, the Web and back-end systems. Some vendors allow ‘agents’ to search for information and monitor information usage. Vendors include OpenText, Excalibur, Muscat, Verity, Fulcrum, Dialog, Insight, Dataware, SiteServer and Broadvision.

Information Portals

These websites aim to deliver a customised view of information to the user. The Financial Timesis an example of a generic information portal. Oil and Gas specific portals are also beginning to emerge, e.g. SageMaker and Arthur Andersen KnowledgeSpace.

Specific Information Capture Tools

Various applications have been developed to help people ‘tag’ and therefore add context to information. Although document management systems implement a ‘tagging’ or ‘indexing’ system, other specific tools have emerged around structured databases and technical applications. The Landmark OpenJournal application is an example of a specific information capture application, designed to record image intensive technical workflows.


Creating an effective environment for Knowledge Management

From the evidence of the case studies and knowledge of the industry we believe that E&P knowledge can be gathered and shared effectively. Some of the steps to create an environment where this can happen include:

Why is Knowledge Management so topical?

Knowledge Management has been used by companies like Chevron to reduce the amount of capital invested in projects and increase returns. Companies that recognise knowledge as their key asset in the information age are likely to succeed over those that do not, for the following reasons:

Why should people share knowledge when jobs are being cut?

With the current wave of mergers and redundancies in the oil industry how can some companies say ‘people are their most valuable asset’ and then make them redundant?

Ultimately ‘corporate knowledge’ is about doing more with less. Many people will have to re-train as jobs become obsolete in this current business environment of perpetual change. Many people feel that they are employed because of what they know. But should people feel that they are employed because of what they can learn to do? The ability to learn and take on roles is vital in today’s business environment.

It is clear that a motivated workplace is the most productive way of exchanging knowledge - people need to be motivated as individuals, as well as in their immediate team, division and organisation. Unmotivated people put up barriers and will not exchange knowledge readily. Companies need to invest more time, effort, resources and commitment into finding out what motivates each individual.

Future Technology Architectures

The technology ‘space’ is evolving rapidly to support and in some cases drive, KM initiatives. The figure below illustrates how the technology architecture may look like in the future. Simple interfaces and tools will allow users fast access to both internal and external information for easy analysis to aid decision making. The entire organisation becomes ‘interactive’ in the sense that users will be continually notified, where relevant, of information created or updated by other users regardless of barriers in time and space.  

KM Technologies  

How do I start a Knowledge Management initiative?

Where does an organisation start with respect to implementing a KM programme? Is KM solely for large organisations?

Can a small company apply the same techniques as a multi-national oil company? The concepts explained in this article are equally applicable to companies of less than 50 people and to organisations with over 100,000 people. It could be argued that the effective management of knowledge is even more important to smaller companies, in which the effect of an employee leaving potentially drains a significant percentage of the ‘knowledge’ of the company.


Knowledge Management appears to have the support of most major organisations. Many companies are still struggling to quantify benefits that can be displayed on the balance sheet, although some like BP Amoco, Shell and Chevron have shown some quantified benefits. More natural everyday processes will probably succeed the pilot initiatives with an emphasis on how knowledge can be re-used for idea generation.

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