Knowledge management at Airbus Group
Airbus Group stands out as one of the leading pacesetters in the production of aircraft across the globe. The company has the capacity to develop large passenger aircraft that can carry between 100 and 555 people (Weber et al., 2008). Besides, it enjoys a global industrial presence with a huge and competent workforce of close to 60,000 professionals. It has a long history of dominance in technology. For instance, the company was the first to put in place composite materials and fly-by-wire technological platforms. These have enabled Airbus Group to leverage its operations based on innovation and knowledge (Rai, 2011).
Worldwide branches, 16 different work stations, articulate manufacturing procedures and superb design are some of the main characteristics of the aircraft manufacturing firm. In addition, its supplies system is deeply integrated within the operations of the company. Moreover, most of the company’s policies are driven by Extended Enterprising (EE) and Concurrent Engineering (CE) paradigms (Weber et al., 2008).
The knowledge-intensive process is a major tenet of production at the Airbus Group. In other words, knowledge management plays a major role in accelerating the competitiveness of the aerospace organisation. For instance, engineers continuously work to bring together new technological processes with a fundamental and extreme application of knowledge at the same time. This implies that the aspect of knowledge management is instrumental in the growth and sustainability of the company’s processes within the aeronautic industry. In other words, the competitiveness and strategic strength of the Airbus Group heavily rely on the ideals of Knowledge Management (KM).
It is also crucial to mention that Knowledge Management solutions at the Airbus Group have been achieved through the deployment and development of multiple disciplines such as management science, computer science, pedagogy, psychology, linguistics, sociology and engineering. Teams from various disciplines work collaboratively as part and parcel of managing knowledge within the organisation.
When employees change positions within the company or leave the organisation altogether, it usually creates a major operational challenge for the Airbus Group. Hence, the company has developed a means through which knowledge and experience of its employees can be retained in the organisation. In fact, this remains the core duty of the Knowledge Management (KM) team established in the organisation. The Team came up with the approach known as Expertise Transfer (ExTra). This initiative aims to manage the processes of identifying and transferring vital skills, knowledge and competences so that the company does not suffer when employees depart the organisation or change departments. Successors and colleagues are therefore well equipped in advance in order to cater for any eventuality. As it stands now, the Expertise Transfer knowledge management strategy has been instrumental and successfully deployed whenever changes occur in various management positions, when job changes take place and in instances of retirement (Weber et al., 2008).
In 1994, Airbus had already instituted knowledge management ideals in its management system. A case in point that triggered or necessitated the development of knowledge management at the Airbus Group was the invasive 1993-1997 Dolores restructuring project in Germany that left the company in a state of knowledge gap after a large number of experienced staff was sent into retirement and others dismissed from the workplace. Although the company had spent a lot of both time and financial resources to build its pool of knowledge, it was lost after the restructuring program. This compelled the organisation to begin with minute bottom-up initiatives to rebuild the lost knowledge. The pilot project for knowledge management began with small projects that eventually expanded into national knowledge management departments. Thereafter, major company improvement projects took place (Weber et al., 2008). The company also invested a lot in Research and Development (R&D) with respect to the best evidence-based practices in knowledge management.
The most knowledge-intensive department of the company is the engineering sector even though the ExTra approach is applied across the board. Through R&D, the company has established that face-to-face communication and personalisation of knowledge management are core attributes of developing systems that are both technical and well documented for the sake of managing the available knowledge (Rai, 2011). Currently, a blended approach has been put in place by the company in order to effectively apply a portfolio of knowledge management solutions.
In other words, both the personalisation and codification solutions are being implemented in the knowledge management regime of the company. These include recapturing and reapplying the lessons that have already been learned, creating professional networks by connecting people so that they can communicate and transfer of knowledge through the ExTra approach, finding experts through the yellow pages, identifying knowledge needs via knowledge management and overall diagnosis platform adopted by the company (Mehrabani & Shajari, 2012).
The Expertise Transfer (ExTra) strategy
There are four main elements that comprise the ExTra strategy of knowledge management at the Airbus Group. They entail various transfer methods, transfer cell, transfer network, and process. In order to make sure that the approach is standardised and chronological at any given time, a well-defined process is necessary (Waddell & Stewart, 2008). Second, stable embedment in the company is established through a transfer network while individual cases are professionally executed using a transfer cell. In addition, specific situations are streamlined using various transfer methods.
The ExTra process involves a number of systematic procedures
First, it begins with the identification of operations (Venters, 2010). This implies that the actual knowledge-based activities have to be identified. Second, the initial start-up meeting takes place. The latter is subsequently followed by an action plan diagnosis. Hence, the plan adopted must be assessed and re-evaluated in order to ascertain its suitability. Thereafter, the transfer actions are implemented according to the regulations stipulated in the action plan. Ultimately, an interview session winds up the process. Besides, a feedback questionnaire is used to obtain final comments or opinions from the interviewees.
The Expertise Transfer approach has indeed helped the company to retain and improve its pool of knowledge. To a large extent, the process is relatively flexible, according to the management needs of the company. Most knowledge management approaches might not deliver the desired results as the ExTra initiative. Needles to say, the inherent flexibility of the approach is largely attributed to the success of the knowledge management system practised by the company. From the ideas of the ExTra approach, it can be deduced that the initiative has succeeded owing to the following factors:
- The knowledge transfer method is oriented towards exclusive interaction between the people involved.
- All the individuals involved in this type of knowledge management are considered by the process in terms of personal needs, tastes and preferences. Besides, this consideration occurs in a consistent manner.
- The transfer network established by the ExTra approach promotes organisational integration bearing in mind that both the lower and senior-level employees coordinate their activities and work closely/collaboratively to deliver the set objectives. The feedback loops created by the approach enhances a transparent process for all operations carried out in the organisation (Rao, 2011).
When employees interact with the knowledge provider, they are in a position to understand and appreciate the rationale behind the need to acquire the stated experience, knowledge and competences (Kwong & Lee, 2009). As a result, an employee who is supposed to learn or acquire knowledge from a colleague may visualize the actual meaning of knowledge transfer. Individual situations are analysed by the process coordinator or facilitator in order to ascertain specific knowledge needs. Therefore, aspects impeding the process of transferring the desired knowledge can be identified and dealt with at the right time. Therefore, supportive conditions may be created by facilitators in order to accomplish the process of transferring knowledge.
Any other organisation can utilise the knowledge management approach described in this report. Although the essentials of this approach have been beneficial in the operations of the Airbus Group, a number of recommendations can still be proposed and implemented. To begin with, the company should start transiting from the element of knowledge management to knowledge sharing. As a matter of fact, the ExTra approach described in this report is inclined towards knowledge sharing rather than knowledge management. The latter is a more general term that does not explicitly describe the key tenets of ExTra initiative. When employees understand that they are supposed to share knowledge, skills and experiences at their workplaces, they readily see the importance of contributing to a process which is part and parcel of their roles and responsibilities.
Second, the Airbus Group and specifically, the Knowledge Management team should put its employees first followed by technology in the course of implementing the given knowledge management approach (Holland & Dawson, 2011). As much as technology plays a fundamental role in the ExTra strategy of managing knowledge at the Airbus Group, the management should appreciate the fact that people propel the total success of the organisation. The daily verbal and close interaction among employers should be prioritised by the Knowledge Management (KM) team. Hence, the company should invest additional resources in building a robust human resource team which is also motivated (Rusly, Corner & Sun, 2012).
Third, the ExTra approach should be appraised regularly. There is no record of whether the Airbus Group has been evaluating its current knowledge management system. Unless the approach is assessed and improvements suggested and implemented, the system might become obsolete with the passage of time. The dynamic nature of the aeronautic industry calls for a robust change management platform (Corallo, Lazoi, Margherita & Scalvenzi, 2010).
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