In today’s dynamic business environment, knowledge is power, and being able to find the right information and put it in the hands of the right person at the right time is an important and increasingly valued skill. Many professional services firms rely on information professionals to help them meet the increasingly difficult challenge of organising and managing knowledge in a digital environment. To mark National Library Week (5th – 11th March 2007), Accountancy Ireland spoke to some of those charged with responsibility for knowledge management in the accountancy sector.
Gerard Reilly is Associate Director of Knowlege Management with KPMG. He says: “Years ago, custodians of large volumes of mostly paper-based knowledge were regarded with some trepidation by colleagues. Their role was perceived as akin to that of the guardians of the holy grail who were under strict instructions to guard their precious charges and to keep it safely locked away until the occasional brave crusader came along to blow dust off the precious volumes! This image of information management has gone forever and has been replaced by an Internet driven knowledge based culture where “always on” databases and portals provide instant access to a bewildering array of global knowledge resources.”
The challenge now is to have the skills to utilise online and hard-copy sources effectively. KPMG’s Knowledge Management Group (KMG) works closely with the firm’s client-facing teams to ensure excellence in service delivery. Their focus is on:
- Maintaining and developing an intranet-based portal for information delivery
- Providing added value research as part of the service
- Ensuring first class customer service
- Arranging constant monitoring of new information sources
- Developing our service lines offering in line with best practice
As well as tracking key developments affecting the accountancy industry, KPMG’s information professionals produce a range of weekly industry newsletters focusing on the business activities of clients and have a significant input into competitor research, proposal support and business development activities.
“Our overall objective is to surprise and delight our KPMG user-public by providing high quality research and information products in a timely and efficient way. The aim is for our team to be aware of current developments and breaking news, so that colleagues in the firm can be informed in a timely manner about a range of issues that affect them and their clients,” explains Gerard.
At Ernst & Young, Caitriona Sharkey, Senior Manager Information Services, is charged with managing the firm's Information Centre and knowledge management system. She says that there is a growing recognition that Information Professionals can bring added value and expertise to the accounting and professional services environment.
“In the accountancy world information is power, and speed is both a competitive factor and a corporate asset. Organisations are making increasingly large investments in both online information tools and knowledge management systems to help manage information within the firm. Add to this the fact that the era of the technophobe accounting professional is well and truly gone, and our people now both expect and demand quick and easy access to timely information”.
At Ernst & Young, Caitriona’s role includes responsibility for ensuring that processes and systems are in place to enable people to access information as and when they need it, and to ensure they have access to the most appropriate mix of up-to-date and value-added information, be it of a technical nature or company and industry insights and data. “To do this successfully, we liaise closely with our local audit and tax technical teams, both of which advise and guide us on the most appropriate sources of information available and the ever-changing information requirements of our people. We also work closely with our Centre for Business Knowledge (CBK), a global network of researchers and analysts who are geared towards providing client-serving teams with comprehensive business intelligence, commercial insights and a deep understanding of current business issues. These links with CBK enhance our ability to serve our people here in Ireland.” Ernst & Young has a strong information and knowledge management system that combines multiple resources via specialised portals and the firm's intranet. Caitriona’s role includes responsibility for training:
“ We provide continuous training, as well as maintaining and updating a wide range of support materials. We play a role in managing our firm-wide intranet and, in this context, work closely with other practice support areas within the firm, such as the Marketing Department and the Quality & Risk Management group. In addition, we work with all our main service lines to help them maintain and manage their own individual knowledge management tools and databases. We also produce a number of internal updates and newsletters, which help to keep people up-to-date in areas such as business news and competitive intelligence. While based in Ernst & Young's Dublin headquarters, we provide support and services to all our offices around the country — in Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick”, Caitriona explained.
Although Caitriona has seen her role evolve and change significantly over, she says one constant remains: “When someone needs information, it's always urgent! And it's my job to ensure that their question is answered quickly and comprehensively.”
At PricewaterhouseCoopers Catherine Watters is also focused on delivering a timely, relevant service that support the firm’s 2000 people in delivering the highest quality services to clients.
“It involves getting the right information to the right people preferably before they know they need it. As part of this work, we track legislative and regulatory changes as they happen; are aware of Government research and reports in progress and report on the work of international and European organisations. We ensure that the collection of material available to staff is relevant and current. We also provide a research facility to enable PwC people to request one to one assistance with queries and to receive specialised help with specific information requests. We guide and direct our people to information resources that include standards, regulations, reports, legislation, case law, commentaries, journals, newspapers, websites and books”, Catherine explained.
2007 will see PwC relocating all of its Dublin based operation, currently working out of three separate offices, to a new state-of-the-art building at Spencer Dock. This move has given Catherine and her team the opportunity to plan a new space for the IRC: “Starting from scratch in a new space has allowed us to consider how we can present our resources and materials in more attractive manner. More space will give us the opportunity to provide even better services to our people encouraging them to spend time browsing through our resources. Customised furniture and facilities will mean that staff can make best use of range of services and resource within the Centre.”
Lyndsey McMordie has responsibility for the Research & Information Service (RIS), formerly the Library,?at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland. The RIS team serves the information and research needs of ICAI’s membership base which includes members in practice, business, public sector, overseas, ICAI students and IATI members. Lyndsey describes the diversity of her role which she says is constantly evolving: “Every day offers something new. Our team is typically receiving requests to carry out in-depth research for specific projects, creating supporting documentation for training courses, updating and developing our online databases and responding to information requests from ICAI members and students, academics, accounting historians and the general public. We also play an important role as archivists, with responsibility for the collection and management of primary material relating to the foundations and development of the accountancy profession on the island of Ireland.”
In common with her peers in the firms, Lyndsey is increasingly taking on a training role. “As we introduce new online services it is important to ensure that ICAI members and staff have the right skills to get the best possible use out of them.”
Traditional libraries may have evolved to meet the challenges of the digital age, but the core information management skills clearly remain as relevant today as they were for those erstwhile guardians of the holy grail.