A unifying factor
Knowledge Communities are a permanent forum for debate and sharing experiences
written by: Leonardo MourãoIn December, Odebrecht tendered the winning bid for one of the largest roadways that will be built in South America: the Ruta del Sol, which will connect Bogotá to the Colombian coast. Construction of the stretch covered by the contract, a 528-km section, will only begin in 2011, but this project is already a milestone in Odebrecht’s history.
“When we were developing our bid, some technical questions arose,” says Ruta del Sol Project Director Manuel Ximenes. “So we asked the Roadways Community for advice. It was fantastic. Contributions came in from everywhere, and some of our co-workers went to Colombia to help us out. That’s how we achieved this victory.”
The Roadways Community Manuel Ximenes is referring to is one of the 11 thematic groups that make up the Odebrecht Knowledge Network. Initially created in 2001, these online communities bring together Group members with common interests and expertise who want to share their experiences at the jobsites. When one of them needs advice, they submit their question to their fellow community members. The answers usually come quickly. “It’s like an in-house consultancy system, a permanent forum for debate,” says Olindina Perez Dominguez, from CIADEN (Knowledge and Information for Business Development Support), who coordinates the Knowledge Network. “In a decentralized company like Odebrecht, these groups guarantee synergy among our businesses and preserve the massive archive of best practices and expertise that is being built up at the jobsites on a daily basis.”
The leader of the Metro (Light Rail) Community, Danilo Abdanur, sees other advantages. “These communities are democratic because knowledge is universal,” he says. “Everyone has access to them, no matter what their position in the company.” The way information is shared also ensures the initiative’s success, says Mauro Hueb, the leader of the Roadways Community, which will be present at the World Roadways Conference in Portugal this May. “Reading an article is important, but learning about other people’s experiences in the language of the jobsites gets even more professionals involved.”
The Knowledge Communities are gaining ground in Odebrecht. Several meetings were held in 2009, including three outside Brazil. Materials on Best Practices for the Roadways and Maritime Infrastructure were also published that same year.“The best of our knowledge is right here,” says Olindina Dominguez.
The communities also keep their members informed about the state of the art in their fields of interest. An event planned by Alexander Christiani, the leader of the Maritime Infrastructure Community, is one example. In November, 55 members went to Copenhagen to visit the world’s most important laboratories in the field of maritime hydraulics. “To achieve world-class excellence, it’s essential to know what’s best in the market,” says Christiani.
“Few companies value knowledge and the importance of sharing it. Odebrecht is one of those welcome exceptions,” says Marcos Cavalcanti, the director of the Federal University at Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) Reference Center on Corporate Intelligence. According to him, sharing the experience built up by thousands of members throughout the company is an unbeatable asset. “For a business, knowledge isn’t just the cherry on the cake. It’s the yeast that makes it rise.”