Accelerated learning

Global companies include networks of knowledgeable experts: but how can companies identify these experts, access their knowledge, and ensure that know-how is shared, developed and reaps positive results? Welcome to online collaboration with a purpose.

Keolis, an international public transport company operating in 16 countries worldwide, has placed digital mobility at the heart of its business strategy.

Five years ago we embarked on a formal, internal knowledge management programme. One of the key objectives was to accelerate the sharing of knowledge amongst our widely spread business experts, dealing in areas such as continuous improvement initiatives, problem-solving experiments and innovation.

The ambition was that this would provide ongoing benefits for Keolis’ public transportation clients and passengers across the globe. 

Our approach was to decentralise knowledge-sharing so that every expert in the business could reach out to his or her peers, whether in a neighbouring business unit or across the globe. We launched KeoShare, an online collaboration platform in January 2015, accessible in our then-14 countries of operations, which allowed experts to exchange between one another in theme-specific communities.

This tool now represents a major milestone in Keolis’ internal digital transformation, because it has now influenced the way we work. We have 4000 employees who now interact and exchange content in the form of document-sharing, forum discussions or calls for help, as well as company social networking, following key contributors and thought leaders as they would do in their private sphere. We attribute this success to seven major decisions we took following extensive external benchmarking and five months of rigorous testing of our real-life ability to adopt a digital tool:

1. We did not set out to deliver digital transformation. We designed our online collaboration tool to provide solutions. Chiefly, to access knowledge in a centralised way, give voice to experts in subsidiaries, circulate experiences in real-time and provide tools to run projects more efficiently (which the IT platform does as well with document-versioning, alerts, forums, etc.). 

2. Sharing is organised in communities, and every community has at least one community manager. There is no free lunch, and nothing happens by the sheer power of the mind. Online collaboration serves a purpose, and we identified that it was best reached if we allocated the right resources to it. This is by no means a full-time job in our organisation. Most community managers allocate five to 10 per cent of their time to running their community, and many communities have two or more managers to allow constant monitoring and co-ordination, and to divide up the topics when the scope is large.

3. The creation of communities is centralised, but also supported throughout by the Knowledge Management team. This centralisation ensures all key success factors are available and that the community has an official sponsor, who designates the community manager, and ensures that clear objectives are defined as well as related key performance indicators. We feared employees would view a centralised process as too military, but they actually enjoy the special care, training and advice they receive as part of the process. And we’ve also been able to combine several online collaborative needs, emerging from different stakeholders, into a single community, to reach critical mass, widen the initial scope and optimise community management resources. 

4. Online collaboration can take many forms and is evolutionary. Some colleagues are comfortable sharing existing documents (much as they would send them as an e-mail attachment), while others prefer an informal interaction through a forum discussion, or simply will want to identify the peer that has the relevant experience, and get in touch outside of the tool. Online collaboration is an enabler, a road with several branches that all lead to an ultimate goal of higher efficiency. Depending on the individual’s profile, the itinerary will differ. We also accept that communities will evolve over time as members’ digital maturity increases.

5. The deployment of the tool would be progressive in its scope. Not all business areas were represented at first. This has resulted in triple benefits: (a) change takes place more easily when employees feel they are free, and not forced, to engage. While we focused on those teams that were ready to collaborate online (b) we were focusing our training and coaching efforts on a few, doing a better job at it. This eventually led us to (c) great examples of value-creating collaboration, which in turn became great tools for – circling back to (a) – more employees wanting of their own accord to use KeoShare.

6. You shall communicate relentlessly. Online collaboration is not natural, except to the digital native. Employees feel anything from ”not interested” to simply “against it” because they fear it will take the human touch out of their working relationships. It is vital to constantly communicate about the added value, success stories and testimonials from peers in every business area to convince the sceptics that it is worth diving into, and yes, putting in a little effort.

“Online collaboration is not natural, except to the digital native.”

7. Buy-in must be won from experts, but top management sponsorship is vital. Sustained sponsorship by our top management has helped foster this internal digital transformation. Our leaders have clearly spelled out their vision, encouraged cross-department and inter-subsidiary efforts, included knowledge sharing into corporate objectives guidelines, and shown the way by using KeoShare themselves.

Syntus, a subsidiary of Keolis, is a public transport company operating bus and passenger train services in the Netherlands / Photo: Keolis 

Reaping rewards 

So here we are, with a successful online collaboration platform with usage statistics continuously increasing month-by-month since early 2015, and great examples of knowledge shared and re-used across the company. We have created efficiencies, with business areas and business units working closer together, experts are now able to join forces with their counterparts in other subsidiaries, their relationships are tighter and more benevolent. 

We are, in fact, also reaping the results of seeds we did not intentionally sow. We never intended our employees to be more benevolent to one another. It has either naturally happened, or a sense of it has happened due to the tool’s global reach and the experience of truly sharing, which has heightened a sense of belonging in our employees to a group, as opposed to a single business entity.

“We are, in fact, also reaping the results of seeds we did not intentionally sow.”

We have testimonials of experts thanking their peers because they now feel part of a community, part of a family at large, a group with the same values or interests. It is a win-win relationship, and it is possible because now they are more likely to find the resources they need in a wider network. As a result we have also impacted the company culture with tangible demonstrations of the value we place in human interactions, in the experience initiated in the field, and the freedom to communicate outside of one’s immediate sphere. We walked the walk before even talking the talk, but our employees are now talking for us. 

This strong adoption rate led us to merge two previously separate internal tools, so that as of April 24 this year, Keolis now offers a single Collaborative Intranet Portal, which brought together both our online collaboration platform and our intranet. KeoShare is now part of KeoSphere that now delivers a more comprehensive user experience and a single access point to corporate and subsidiary information and knowledge. 

Laurence Fourcade

Laurence Fourcade is vice president, knowledge management and online collaboration at Keolis Group. In her current role at the international public transport compan, Laurence rolls out a full knowledge management and collaboration programme as a key transformation element in Keolis‘ pursuit for more efficiency, quicker innovation, and higher commitment in public transport. Laurence was previously senior manager, planning and skill management at professional services network PwC France. Prior to that, Laurence was based in USA, first as a marketing analyst for transportation company Hapag-Lloyd, and then as director of consulting services at engineering and consulting company TranSystems.