Show Me the Knowledge | Article

CNA Employs Hi-Tech Knowledge Sharing Solution

Chalkboard and EraserWhile many businesses feel they are suffering due to lack of knowledge, in the majority of cases it is probably more likely they are suffering due to lack of knowledge sharing. This may be particularly true for large companies with different divisions and business units scattered throughout the state, country or even the entire globe. Such corporate behemoths face the continual challenge of successfully coordinating the actions of huge workforces in the pursuit of fulfilling the corporate mission statement and attaining the maximum profit level.

CNA Insurance certainly qualifies as a big company with a need to corral the knowledge inherent in its workforce, then effectively dispense it when and where it is needed throughout the organization. CNA is the nation’s eighth largest property and casualty insurer, the second largest commercial insurance writer and the 36th largest life insurance provider in America. The Chicago, Illinois company offers 50 brand-name insurance products and has 19,000 employees in over 175 locations in the continental U.S. and Canada. To manage its size, CNA is organized into “Strategic Business Units” (SBU), which function independently and tailor their business functions according to the market demands for their product segment.

Improving Connectivity

Nina Barreiro, a knowledge management director at CNA, says there might have been a little too much independence among the company’s SBUs. “Historically, CNA has been a very silent organization and had not done a lot of communication from one business unit to another,” Barreiro admits. “There wasn’t a lot of knowledge sharing.” But in order to satisfy the mission statement-to provide the right information to the right people at the right time to help them provide great customer service-something had to change.

According to Barriera, each SBU runs as its own organization, with its own systems, processes and profit-and-loss statements (P&Ls). Because of this structure, experts in workers’ compensation, general liability or automobile liability all function within their own separate SBU. Executive management recognized a definite need to commingle the expertise inherent in each business unit and thereby capitalize on the opportunity to cross sell products. But how-and how soon-could they do it?

Connecting Human Beings to Draw On Each Person’s Expertise

What CNA wanted was more than just a database of information that employees could tap whenever they needed. They wanted to connect human beings, to enable employees to draw on the expertise of other employees in their own business units as well as in other SBUs. The company’s management proclaimed that the cornerstone of CNA’s new strategic business objectives was to “transform the organization from a collection of companies to a portfolio of expertise.”

Realizing they didn’t possess the necessary tools to create a knowledge-sharing network themselves, CNA initiated a six to eight week request-for-proposal process before choosing AskMe Enterprises, a Seattle, Washingon supplier, as a knowledge-sharing solution.

AskMe’s solution allows CNA’s employees to utilize software that connects them with a human expert anywhere in the company in any area they desire. Udai Shekawait, CEO of AskMe, says this is the essence of true knowledge sharing. “Everything in the past has been giving employees access to data; we’re giving employees access to other employees,” Shekawait emphasizes. “When you think about where a lot of good information and knowledge resides, a lot of it is in people’s heads. A fair number of consultancies approximate that 40 to 60 percent of vital knowledge that a company has is actually sitting in the heads of people.”

CNA chose AskMe to supply its knowledge sharing solution because it satisfied the following stringent requirements:

  • Scalability and reliability.
  • Intuitive user interface.
  • Superior search capability.
  • Integration with Microsoft Outlook.
  • Ease of maintenance.
  • Flexibility of a hosted service or a licensed solution.
  • A proven track record of corporate Intranet deployments.

AskMe’s software solution provides instant access to experts company-wide and automatically captures all exchanges of knowledge and stores them in a searchable knowledgebase. It also leverages and integrates the existing documented knowledge CNA already had and generates real-time reports and analysis of the depth and breadth of available knowledge.

Saving Time And Money

For every business problem that exists there is a fancy, sexy, hi-tech solution created to solve it. But the ultimate test for any racy enterprise software is how it affects the customer’s bottom line. CNA is expecting the AskMe knowledge sharing solution to contribute to its profitability through faster and higher quality policy underwriting. At present, CNA’s Nina Barriero won’t quantify the financial impact AskMe’s software has had on CNA’s business so far. “We haven’t done hard analysis on that. It’s such a soft person-based idea that it’s been hard to quantify.”

CNA, like many medium-size and large businesses, recognized that even with its sophisticated, in-house IT department, it possessed neither the time nor the manpower necessary to develop a knowledge-sharing solution. So the moment AskMe was awarded the contract, its AskMe Professional Services (APS) team commenced to getting the software up and running as quickly as possible. Says CNA’s Barriera: “Our initial implementation went up by the middle of February-I think it was about six weeks when you take out the holidays. It was a very quick implementation. AskMe’s professional services team helped us get it out in front of a pilot audience.” CNA rolled out the AskMe knowledge sharing software to the entire organization in June 2001.

While CNA didn’t require a BPO solution-the company purchased the software for seven figures and it is now administered and maintained by its own IT department-AskMe can fulfill that role. “We can do this,” says AskMe’s CEO Udai Shekawait. “We’re doing it for some other customers now, and over time we expect more and more demand for this. So the whole thing, from soup to nuts, can be hosted and maintained by AskMe.”

Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:

  • Time and manpower constraints may force companies with well-developed IT departments to go outside for a customized, already-existing technology.
  • The expertise of a company’s IT department can play a major role in assessing a potential supplier’s IT solution and implementation program.
  • Using a supplier that can also offer a BPO solution provides insurance in case of an implementation glitch.


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