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Of Space Ships and Fund Operations: Why Knowledge Matters


Shortly before the Apollo 13 moon mission was to launch, the command module pilot, Ken Mattingly, was exposed to the German measles and pulled from the flight crew.

Despite being grounded, Mattingly was nonetheless critical to the mission. Two days into the launch, an explosion damaged the No. 1 oxygen tank on the command service module, seriously compromising the power capacity for reentry.

In a desperate effort to save energy, the crew moved into the lunar module-but they required a life-support power supply that the smaller module was not equipped to handle.

The astronauts' only hope was to somehow retrofit battery-powered canisters made for the command module into the lunar module's system.

On the ground, armed with the exact set of supplies and materials available to his companions stranded in space, Mattingly went to work to build a solution. His efforts were successful and two days later, the crew returned safely home.

The Knowledge Asset

Mattingly's task required more than a technical understanding of what was possible. It required an intuitive understanding of what was feasible under the extreme conditions the men faced. It required what Harvard Business School Professor Dorothy Leonard calls "deep smarts"-the ability to recognize patterns in complex situations, and to understand instantly what the patterns mean and what to do.

"Deep smarts" are critical not only for space travel. A study by the Accenture Institute for High Business Performance found that in the past 25 years, intangible, or "knowledge assets," have replaced tangible assets as the key value driver in the economy. Similarly, McKinsey & Company's research has argued that knowledge assets, and in particular the ability to efficiently create, share, retain and transfer knowledge assets, is the only sustainable competitive advantage of a 21st Century firm.

Knowledge assets are not always something that can be written down, but, instead, are tacit and even intuitive in nature. They are built from years of collective experience, deep understandings of interpersonal and inter-organizational relationships and exposure to a wide range of ideas, processes and technologies.

Knowledge assets are embedded in a social and organizational context that is part of the larger whole.

Deep Smarts in Action

We at DST Systems and Boston Financial have embarked upon an exciting journey to explore and develop ways to use our deep smarts, or knowledge assets, to help our clients differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive market. Our organizations have launched a number of initiatives designed to help mutual fund companies face the future armed with the collective knowledge, management tools, processes and experience gleaned from our nearly 40 years in the mutual fund industry.

These initiatives are in various stages of implementation in the following areas of our operations:

Call Centers. Customer service reps now have, at their desktops, a knowledge-based tool for providing immediate responses to shareholder inquiries. The tool is a text-based database cataloging the deep smarts of our most senior associates and conveniently providing front-line workers with a consistent, convenient and timely knowledge source to the vast majority of all service calls.

Client Services. Prompted in part by the recent wave of regulatory and compliance issues, and the growing complexity of asset-based products and services, our organizations have implemented a number of knowledge-based initiatives. These include topic-specific user groups, webcasts about industry issues, and a client relationship management program aimed at providing strategic and industry consulting services and analyses. A key success factor in this initiative has been to develop a stronger knowledge-sharing practice across our entire enterprise.

Core Processes. We have reengineered core processes to reflect knowledge-based practices that optimize service performance. A critical component of this initiative has been the use of a more educated and flexible workforce capable of responding immediately to short-term swings in volume throughput.

Globalization. We are building a global servicing and organizational capability that reflects our deep knowledge of both the global and local servicing needs of our clients and their regional and national markets. One of the working initiatives of this effort is a task force aimed at sharing and developing common approaches in considering our next generation of technologies.

Facing the Future

By working to capture knowledge assets-providing desktop resources, tapping into seasoned subject matter experts, centralizing core processes and thinking globally as well as locally, DST and Boston Financial are taking giant steps in helping our clients succeed in a fast-changing market.

Peter Drucker, the father of modern management principles, was once quoted as saying, "Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window."

We agree that we can't always predict the future. But we can prepare. Building a knowledge capable-organization offers our best offense against an uncertain future.

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