ICICI Bank has grown six-fold since its KM strategy was established in 2000, making it the second biggest in India today. But that strategy has been robust enough to grow with it. Central to ICICI Bank’s success has been its flexible, innovative methods, and a plethora of KM tools that were cannily marketed to staff from the very start.
By Deepa Prabhu
ICICI was founded in the mid-1950s at the behest of the World Bank, the Indian government and various ‘captains of industry’ in India. Its purpose back then was to provide medium and long-term development finance for Indian business.
In the mid-1990s its business strategy shifted to take advantage of the opening up of the Indian economy. The idea? To create a diversified financial-services supplier offering a range of products, instead of concentrating purely on project finance. ICICI Bank was, therefore, established in 1994 to provide retail banking facilities across India.
The idea was well timed and proved wildly successful. Today, it is the second largest bank in India with assets of almost $40bn and can boast a network of more than 570 branches and a steadily growing international business, with branches in the UK, Russia and Canada.
ICICI Bank’s knowledge management (KM) strategy was established in 2000. Back then, the company was very much smaller than it is now – just 1,200 staff compared to the 30,000 that work for ICICI Bank today.
However, the programme was started at a time when the company’s growth was starting to go into overdrive. Initially, the organisation developed a broad technology-linked infrastructure, including a corporate intranet, ICICI Universe, intended to provide a platform where, for instance, employees could check the human resources (HR) system for vacation entitlements, book days off or view their personal pension details.
By putting these simple, but necessary activities on the intranet, it encouraged employees to get familiar with using web-based applications, to overcome any fear of technology as well as providing them with a good reason for using the portal on a regular basis.
What began more as an idea and less as a project, was simply the belief that staff should have a space on the intranet where they could participate in collaborative activities, such as contribute or find documents, engage in discussions and post or answer queries. That idea, in essence, first converted the bank to KM.
Initially, the organisation was motivated to act due to the upheaval caused by the tail-end of the dot-com boom, which was depriving the bank of many good staff as they left in significant numbers to join dot-com start-ups – taking their knowledge and know-how with them. We therefore developed WiseGuy, ICICI’s KM intranet portal – easily accessible from the main staff portal – to provide a way of capturing and disseminating the knowledge of departing staff.
To develop WiseGuy, a team was put together encompassing KM, HR, technology and research with a brief to ‘just do it’. Indeed they did and a beta version was ready within just three months.
Before the year was out, faced with the prospect of a reverse merger of ICICI Bank with its parent ICICI, which went through in 2002, the KM team had to restructure to meet the needs of the new corporate entity. Some issues articulated at the time included:
How to connect this vast new pool of employees with each other; How to share business-related information about clients, deals and ideas; How to manage staff through the change process via communication, messages, channels and so on; How to overcome the problems caused by staff turnover;
How to ensure that every person in the company is adequately equipped with the skills and training required for their jobs and for lifelong learning and development.
The deeper question was, quite simply, how do we create a hunger among staff to acquire and share knowledge? That is to say,...