"We share a lot of things. That's how we should treat our knowledge, too."


Learning organisations differ from other companies primarily in their open approach to knowledge. In this interview, Andreas Plaul, CIO of the Haufe Group, talks about knowledge management in the company. And what role IT plays in this.

Minutes to read

Andreas Plaul, you not only deal with classic IT topics, but also with new issues. What is knowledge management all about for you?

We look at the topic from two key aspects. First, we ask ourselves how the company is positioned in terms of knowledge management as a whole. What support we offer. What tools we have. Where our knowledge is at home and how we make it accessible. On the other hand, we are interested in the development and life journey of our employees. In their current and also upcoming tasks, they acquire more and more knowledge and share it for common tasks in the team.

We often talk about knowledge islands in this context. What do we mean by this?
As consumers, we are used to typing our questions into a single search field. We don't really care where the knowledge is located. But our company - like many others - is not yet set up in this way. We have experts with knowledge on different topics and in different contexts. The knowledge is often unstructured or not formulated in wikis, databases, tickets or even in people's heads. While one team collects and processes its knowledge in Tool A, another team does the same with Tool B. Even if both teams work directly next to each other, this creates two islands that are not jointly accessible.

How centrally or decentrally should knowledge be accessible?
Knowledge doesn't reside in one place, it resides in many places. Attempts to consolidate knowledge in a single place have already failed ten times. So it's not about centralized or decentralized, but about linking and how these places of knowledge become searchable through a common approach. We want to make knowledge islands and federally distributed knowledge centrally accessible without centralizing them.

What tools do you make available to your employees at Haufe Group?
We have a bouquet of widely used tools. These include the Microsoft Teams landscapes, Wiki, Jira and SharePoint. But we also use whiteboarding tools like Miro, conceptual design tools from Designoffice, and also process modeling tools. Those are all places of knowledge. In addition, another great place of knowledge is our ServiceNow service portal, where everything employees need for their daily work can be found.

In everyday life, employees often wonder which documents are still up to date and which are not. How do you deal with this?
Ensuring availability, quality and up-to-dateness is a challenge. But we shouldn't let ourselves be driven by guidelines; not all documents should be reviewed every six months. Establishing a rigid life cycle for knowledge - what becomes obsolete is renewed or goes away - in a company as diverse as the Haufe Group is difficult. Instead, we ask what is necessary. This involves the teams with their different requirements. Some only look at their own needs, they want to keep their team members up to date, for example. Others have regulatory requirements, they demonstrably keep their knowledge up to date and document how it is viewed or released. True to our motto. Know what's coming. Do what fits.

How can teams and employees successfully participate in this process?
In our private lives today, we naturally share our bicycle, our e-scooter, even our car. We share many things. That's how we should treat our knowledge, too. Not as an element of singularity for individuals, but as a catalyst for team success. If every individual shares this and goes to work with a mentality of sharing, we will have taken a big step. With such a basic attitude, we can enter into any discussion well and we only need to talk about how.

The basic positive attitude toward sharing is unfortunately often missing in reality. What can we do?
Knowledge influences people, it makes them relevant to their team and to their company. As leaders, we want to foster intrinsic motives and drivers, so we need to understand the reluctance to share. Is someone afraid of losing relevance or status? Is it concern about expense? Once I understand the problem, it's on to support. Transcription tools help reduce the writing burden. If there are problems with the form of documentation, employees can switch to simpler tools or use predefined standards. The common goal should be to make knowledge accessible. Pressure and coercion can work, but most of the time it only leads to rejection. We should avoid that.

Foto by Haufe Group - "Knowledge influences people, it makes them relevant to their team and to your company," says Andreas Plaul, CIO of the Haufe Group. Photo: (...)

How do you accompany employees on the path to lifelong learning?
We want to make things possible. But as an IT team, we don't do it alone. Our colleagues from Organizational Development also help to promote the mindset for lifelong learning. Then there's our Learning and Development Business Group, which fortunately has the expertise in-house. They discuss with employees what they want to learn, what their goals are, and how these goals fit with the team. They often have the appropriate offerings ready themselves. As IT, we decide which technological tools we will use to support them. We also do this for our IT employees, who want to acquire new knowledge and change their roles over the course of their lives.

What is the Next Big Thing in knowledge management?
In the last two years, we have established more online learning together with other business groups of the Haufe Group. Instead of traditional one-day training courses, knowledge tends to be consumed in slices. Platforms specifically for IT, such as Udemy, are being used more and more and this will also increase in the coming years. Furthermore, we will introduce an overarching enterprise search for knowledge. A Google-like search box to which many and, hopefully at some point, all knowledge islands are connected. With this, we want to make knowledge easily accessible to the people in our company, according to today's habits.

About the interview partner:

Andreas Plaul represents a new generation of IT leaders and is CIO of the Haufe Group, where he and his team are redefining the role of IT. With his column "IT as a zoo", as well as with introductions and contributions on topics such as the working worlds of tomorrow, everyday life in IT or business-driven IT, Andreas Plaul shapes the discussion on the modern task of the CIO. He comes up with new ideas while bouldering.

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