Like the intranet, the Internet has enabled global corporations to use their knowledge bases advantageously. These corporations are striving to make possible anytime , anywhere use of the Internet. The newest innovation in the Internet arena is a wireless Internet access system called Wi-Fi, which stands for wireless fidelity ( Time Magazine , 2002). It is starting to find widespread use in public places like airports, restaurants , railroad stations , hotels, and shopping centres of cosmopolitan cities. It can also be used in houses and offices as part of existing local area networks (LANs). The Wi-Fi allows commuters to download information from the Internet when they are in public places or travelling. Thus, global managers do not have to limit knowledge management usage to specified points in offices.
Even a relatively closed country like China has become hooked on the Internet. Less than 2 per cent of China's population own a computer ( Time Magazine , 2001h). Nonetheless, this is 2 per cent of a population of 1 billion. Increasingly, the Chinese are keen to invest in hand-held computers. There is currently an effort on the part of transnational corporations to capitalize on this keenness of a few million Chinese. The research firm BDA China reported in 2001 that China has 21 million Internet users. Its online population is projected as more than doubling every year. The provision of Internet- related services in China has therefore become a matter of interest to transnational corporations. Such global corporations as AOL, Yahoo!, Microsoft MSN Online and Lycos Asia are all seeking to do this. Time Magazine (2001d) reports that Lycos Asia spent US~$12.8 million to buy myrice.com, a portal used by Chinese-speaking Internet users.
The use of the Internet as a means of knowledge building and knowledge sharing has become so widespread that lawsuits pertaining to its use have been filed and won/lost, while a legal system to guide its use has emerged. Harvard Law School even offers a course on cyberlaw. There are copyright laws that govern ownership of material put on the Internet.
Business transacted on the Internet has proved profitable for many players worldwide. For example eBay, an online auction company, has 38 million registered users. It has sold items ranging from computer servers to the costumes leading ladies wore in famous movies. It has hewn costs to the barest minimum by dispensing with carrying and holding costs.
Groups with membership spread across the entire world have used the Internet to organize and work towards their objectives. For example, antiglobalization protesters have used it. According to Time Magazine (2001g) the Internet has been used by antiglobalization protesters who move from one summit to another, to share knowledge and build knowledge bases in the form of Web sites. The use of the Internet is so cost-effective that a global movement around a social issue can be organized within a 24- hour period, linking together even cash-strapped but committed activists. It is also enabling companies everywhere, from small businesses to transnational corporations, to sell more at less cost.
An innovation put on the market in April 2002 makes it possible for the Internet to link people across cultures more comprehensively. It enables phone calls to be made online for a fraction of the cost of using landline phones. Global managers are seeking systems that offer both communication and computing systems, are portable, and can be used on an anytime, anywhere basis. Computing and communicating capabilities are essential requirements for intercultural knowledge management. Hence, devices with various combinations of computing and communications systems are being fabricated. The mix and match components and properties of such devices include wireless, video, music, computing power, size and broadband.
The creation, dissemination and management of knowledge are all key areas today, but are often not accorded the importance they merit.
Progroup is a US corporation that focuses on workplace diversity. It not only has its own knowledge specialists who build knowledge bases, but also has arrangements with various corporations from whom it obtains knowledge to supplement its own efforts.
One type of arrangement involves buying specialized knowledge bases from other companies. This involves negotiating formally with the intention of purchasing an intellectual property right. Another arrangement involves the mutual sharing of knowledge by like-minded companies. These less formal arrangements have yielded a synergy that has proved extremely helpful to both the concerned companies over the long run. The arrangement has worked for both partnering companies because each one has been as committed to the success of the other as to itself. Thus the nature of the relationship that exists between both the partners has been important. Investing in a quality relationship takes time and effort but has proved worth this time and effort for Progroup.
Source: Bukowitz and Williams (1999).
Two features about knowledge management from the point of view of intercultural management can be described. First, the process by which knowledge is created by managers from different cultures collaborating together may be complex. Knowledge creation and assimilation may have cultural aspects and an intercultural team should be aware of this. Second, the process by which knowledge is transferred from one cultural context to another can also be intricate .
These two points were grappled with by the Legend/AOL Internet partnership. Legend is a Chinese home PC maker, and at the time that it entered into partnership with AOL in June 2001 had 40 per cent of the Chinese market. AOL Time Warner is an American conglomerate that has businesses in the Internet, movies, cable TV and communications areas. In June 2001, AOL Time Warner had Internet operations in 17 countries . The two corporations entered into a partnership to sell Legend home PCs that are Internet-compatible. This was to induce Internet users to subscribe to AOL Internet services. The partnership worked to ensure that the Internet services of AOL, developed in the American culture, were transferred to China, keeping in mind the reality of life in China. In China, the government frequently blacks out Web sites and there is censorship of information that is made available for public perusal.
Legend/AOL took into account that government regulations in China are different from those in America. Time Magazine (2001f) reports that AOL's CEO Gerald Levine pointed out at a press conference in Beijing that the company's insistence on autonomy only extended 'to the journalistic enterprises within our company from Time Magazine to CNN'. The implication was that the company practice of autonomy and freedom from government interference did not apply to Internet use. Levine went on to say that AOL's Internet services 'respects the cultures and different regulations in each country'. At that conference, a Legend manager observed that AOL had a filtering device that could block out Web sites or portions of Web sites. It was used in the United States by parents to block pornographic material on the Internet from children. It was to be used in China to censor information at the discretion of the government.
Another challenge to the transfer of AOL Internet services to the Chinese cultural context pertains to the habits already formed by Chinese Internet users. Chinese Internet users are accustomed to using Internet services in Internet shops and paying for its use by the minute. Legend/ AOL had to try to convert Chinese users to switch to monthly subscriptions.
In the mid-1990s, the consultancy division of IBM Global Services started a unit for knowledge management. By 1999, the unit comprised 40 knowledge managers worldwide. This unit has focused on getting specialists to both contribute to knowledge bases, and use these bases extensively. Central to the success of this unit are the communities of practice. These communities of practice have been described as 'distributed centres' of knowledge that can contribute in ways that are compatible with knowledge building and sharing through electronic means. A community of practice at IBM Global Service is sponsored by a business unit. Once sponsorship is received, the community of practice institutes a knowledge management team. This team then decides what the knowledge base that it is building should comprise, and what resources the base requires.
Performance criteria are employed to assess the efficacy of each community of practice. Criteria used include the extent of contribution that was elicited and the extent of use of a knowledge base. This is important considering that the knowledge management team spends about 10 per cent of its time managing a designated community's knowledge base. Apart from identifying existing sources of information for a knowledge base, a knowledge management team has to find ways of making that base comprehensive and complete. The knowledge base has also to be kept current.
Source: Bukowitz and Williams (1999).