Conference Report - Knowledge Management in Oil and Gas (March 1999)

The First Conferences Knowledge Management in Oil and Gas was well attended with over 100 delegates. PDM offers the highlights and an insight into current practices in Knowledge Management.

Kent Greenes and Chris Collison (BP) presented BP's attempts to "learn faster than the competition". Where the rubber hits the road, this is achieved through BP - "Connect", a web-based yellow pages service which allows projects to be monitored before and after they are undertaken. "After Action Reviews", where lessons are learned and recorded from a project are a key component and the Yellow Pages allow employees to post their experiences to form "communities". So far there are 170 communities and the website has had 4 million hits since 1/1/99. It is interesting to note that material posted is not checked for accuracy!

not k-management

Projects from Statoil, Enterprise and Shell de-emphasized the knowledge management component. Experience has shown that excessive focus on theory tends to hinder uptake. Thus knowledge management becomes "knowledge networking" for Statoil, "learning networks" for Shell, and the knowledge worker is re-assigned to the position of "knowledge minder" with Entreprise.

Martin Vasey and Ken Pratt, BG Technology, presented the "Technology Bank", an Intranet which merges in-house information with outside feeds such as the Financial Times and the Economist. Current and legacy in-house reports are available on-line as are competitor intelligence, BG technology reports, business units' databases and a technology, skills and contractor database. Technology deployed includes RetrievalWare from Excalibur. This allows for both structured (database) and unstructured (full text) storage and retrieval.

No buy-in

Arjan van Unnik (Shell) originally had limited success and 'no buy-in' for knowledge management within the organization. KM concepts were therefore re-packaged in two more palatable ways. One, Communities of Practice (CoP) is typically a large, distributed group of users spread across the organization while the other, the Distributed Project Team comprises a small team with a clear deliverable. Cost per community is of the order of several $100k per annum. Van Unnik claims this is a lightweight solution, "there is no point in doing more, we are going for the low-hanging fruits". Some of these concepts have been discussed at the San Francisco Workshop where Shell and 7 other companies share CoP experiences, data and are developing tools for measuring CoP performance. Shell's main technologies are Altavista Forum and the Mezzanine Document Management Product.

no capture

Intriguingly, there is no systematic capture of corporate knowledge, no strong measures in place to keep knowledge within the company.

fair CoP

More CoP tales were related by John Keeble from Enterprise Oil - Enterprise is aiming to remove time and geography as barriers to communication by setting up a knowledge community. Four pilot projects will show benefits within a six month time frame. Some recommendations from Keeble;

KM is all about people. Technology can make it fail, but will only contribute to success.

Remove KM theory and language - and then remove some more!

Confidentiality - "Don't put anything on the web that you wouldn't put on the company notice board".

Use good consultants, for Enterprise this was Arthur Andersen, but Keeble told PDM "the final choice came down to the individuals on offer from the consultant".

PDM Comment

What is Knowledge Management? There are as many definitions as there are protagonists. We suggest that it is best understood as a Trojan horse for management consultants. What the Trojan horse vehicles into the organization is whatever the consultant has currently on offer. This may be a counsel-oriented offering (coaching of teams in communicating with each other). It may be some theory-oriented novelty or a hybrid offering incorporating an IT component. Finally it may be just the dressing-up of a prosaic IT service (Intranet or email) into a "K-M initiative". Intriguingly, success stories from Statoil and Shell both involved the dressing down of Intranet-based projects from grand K-M projects back into a more straightforward categorization.


Another important categorization and a key to understanding the positioning of KM in the organization is the rediscovery of matrix management by the KM industry. As management fads have come and gone, one persistent trend is the separation of the business into Asset and Discipline related chains of command. Thus an organization may have a drilling manager for a geographical asset - the North Sea, and also a head of drilling at headquarters who holds corporate technical responsibility. Few organizations can afford to staff a full matrix and this is where the KM practitioners come in with the offer of a Community of Practice. This is a virtual community with members working in Assets, but contributing their knowledge to the Community of Practice through the Intranet.

While almost anything can be passed off as knowledge management, we offer the following distillation of the essence of the current KM project.

The essential KM project

The basics of KM are a) capturing 'knowledge' from employees and b) distributing it around the organization. The theory of what Knowledge really is can be rather painful. There is an attempt to define knowledge as intrinsically different from 'data' or 'information'. This then raises the level of debate above the level of populating the corporate database and opens up the field to allow the company intranet to become the vehicle for distributing knowledge.


Of course some of these distinctions are quite artificial. The breakdown into data, information and knowledge may actually reflect the IT behind the solution more than the intrinsic nature of the problem.

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