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Case Study:
Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing International (CAM-I)

The Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing (CAM-I) was founded by a group of manufacturers from the aerospace and defense industries in 1972. Its ongoing role has been to create "communities of interest" where experts from around the world can collaborate to solve problems that are common to their organizations. CAM-I's original efforts involved research into factory automation issues such as advanced robotics and numerical control of machine tools. It produced a number of ANSI standards through the face-to-face interaction of experts from member manufacturing companies. Today, membership includes over 60 companies in North America, Europe and Asia working to create solutions to critical business problems through a unique and evolving process for intercompany and international collaboration. The Knowledge Innovation assessment tool was used by the CAM-I to evaluate the innovation capacity of its Cost Management System (CMS) program.

In 1998, under the guidance of Debra Amidon, a group of CMS members and staff completed the ten-part innovation assessment. The goal of the exercise was to better understand the KI assessment tool and to create a tacit awareness of the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities inherent in the CMS program's collaborative processes. The value of the instrument is twofold: it creates an opportunity for key participants in the innovation process to perform an objective assessment of their competencies and structures, and perhaps more importantly, it creates a vehicle for dialog about the key dimensions of innovation. The radar chart that resulted from the assessment of the Cost Management Systems program is represented in Figure 1.

CMS Innovation Assessment

Using the assessment tool, we concluded that the CMS program is more competent and well balanced with regard to external capabilities than internal capabilities. The nature of the CAM-I organization, consisting of professional staff directing and supporting an international network of industry practitioners and subject matter experts, seems to discourage the development of formal structures, performance measures and documented procedures. Completing the assessment highlighted a few areas where better documentation and more formal measurement systems could potentially lead to growth and increased flexibility and adaptability within the organization. It also highlighted a unique opportunity for CAM-I to use the unique skill sets of its member engineers, technologists and accountants with extensive experience in creating activity based metrics. They can make a critical contribution to the advancement of innovation within any organization. The following paragraphs will highlight some of the learning about strengths and opportunities that resulted from our assessment.

Internal Capabilities

Collaborative Process - This is an area where the CMS program is generally most effective. The nature of the interactions between our industry participants is the main vehicle for value creation. Most of the opportunities in this area result from the lack of structure and documentation around the innovation process. Most of the knowledge of the process is tacit, and is transferred informally by seasoned participants to newcomers. Further, explicit recognition of the innovation process could lead to new products or intellectual assets that would create value for members. CAM-I has a very productive collaboration process. The ability of members to replicate that process to create communities of practice within their organizations could be of substantial value.

Performance Measures - There is a limited formal measurement system to assess the effectiveness of the members and the staff in creating new innovations. Formal performance measures for staff are tied to level and quality of participation. The lack of formal performance metrics is largely due to the perceived difficulty in quantifying the ongoing effectiveness of the collaboration process. Given the learning that was generated from the assessment, and the unique competence of CAM-I members in this area, there is an opportunity to create formal performance measures and objectives around selected dimensions of the innovation assessment. Some of the possible measures will be developmental (creating appropriate structures) while others will be ongoing (sustaining the innovation process). The development of appropriate objectives and measures is one of the key opportunities that the assessment exposed.

Education/Development - Given that the CMS program is a forum for continuing education and learning, this was an area of particular strength. In fact, almost every question in the assessment generated a favorable response. The biggest opportunity in this area is to develop structures and approaches to more effectively capture the tacit or fugitive knowledge of the group that emerges during the face-to-face meetings and share that knowledge with the participants at large as well as other members of their organizations. Audio and videotaping, collecting and sharing notes from structured breakouts and Internet message forums are all being explored to capture this knowledge.

Distributed Learning Network - While CAM-I does have programs that operate very effectively on an international basis, the CMS program activities are largely centered in North America. The barriers to face-to-face interactions that are created by international time and travel constraints have not been effectively overcome. One of the developmental opportunities that are currently being addressed is the increased use of Internet tools to connect geographic regions and diverse centers of excellence. However, we are still learning how to effectively use this medium to support international collaboration.

Innovation Intelligence - While CMS is the acknowledged world leader in management research using the consortium model, increasing connectivity and ease of knowledge transfer is breaking down the barriers to collaboration. As a result, the barriers to informal and ad hoc collaboration are eroding. An important opportunity for the program will be to continually canvass for new collaboration processes and incorporate the emerging practices into the consortium model, thus reducing the effectiveness of the organization and increasing the speed and lowering the cost of collaboration.

Addressing the challenges outlined in the internal categories will insure that the CMS program continues to be recognized as the foremost organization worldwide for the advancement of cost and performance management research. Meeting the improvement opportunities highlighted by the assessment and formalizing the innovation and knowledge transfer process should continually improve the effectiveness of the organization in creating and transferring knowledge. In this respect, use of the tool has brought the organization into awareness of growth opportunities similar to those that would be identified using the continuous improvement processes of the quality movement.

External Capabilities

Products/Services - This dimension is the weakest area for the CMS program with regard to external capabilities. To a large degree, the collaboration process is the value-added activity for members. Members "own" the intellectual capital that results from their investment and in-kind participation. For several years we have held this research as proprietary to our members and offered only limited printed distribution of the work. However we discovered that the change agents who participate in CAM-I need a broader set of tools to transfer the knowledge within their own companies. As a result, we have expanded our product/service offerings in the past three years to include books and other publications, best practice studies, conferences, workshops and training. However, there are still additional opportunities to "unbundle" our products and create more diverse opportunities for participation and knowledge transfer. This is perhaps the area where the organization can create the most immediate growth opportunities.

Alliances/Joint Ventures - This is an area of particular strength for CAM-I and particularly the CMS program. Partnerships with other organizations for activities as diverse as joint research, conferences and workshops, best practice studies, and joint publications is common. This is an area that the program will continue to pursue very aggressively in order to create the maximum leverage from its investments.

Market Image Campaign - Aggressive marketing is a relatively new area of competence for the CMS program. The new strategy includes promotions that include conferences to highlight ongoing research, frequent publications in respected industry periodicals, and exhibitions at relevant trade shows and conferences. The challenge of developing promotional messages that fully capture the relevance of the organization's products and services is an ongoing challenge as well as an improvement opportunity that was highlighted by the assessment.

Leadership/Leverage - The Program Director and the chairpersons for the research projects play a key role in establishing and maintaining a leadership position for the CMS program in industry. Speaking opportunities, frequent publications, and service on committees and panels are frequently undertaken. While this is an area of strength for the program, the assessment highlights the importance of maintaining on ongoing focus on leading thinking.

Communications/Technology - Aggressive development of communications technology has led to a world-class tool set for international collaboration via the private member's areas on the CAM-I web site. An improvement opportunity still exists around improving the state of practice for virtual collaboration. A good deal of training and conditioning is still needed to reinforce consistency in the use of information technology to support collaborative research.

KEY FINDINGS

The assessment is a useful tool for helping organizations evaluate their innovation structures and capabilities. The dialog that occurs between the participants during the assessment is a valuable outcome. It may be useful as organizations perform the assessment to audiotape or videotape the conversations so that the findings can be captured for further evaluation. There may be an opportunity to add a scoring or weighting criteria to the assessment to allow organizations to finetune their critical success factors and to cause participants in the evaluation to be more precise with their observations and to build greater consensus through dialogue and debate.

For the CMS program, the assessment was useful for creating an explicit recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. By acknowledging these dimensions of performance, the participants are forced to engage in a dialog about improvement opportunities. "How can we better leverage the strengths of the organization and its processes?" "How can we develop structures and processes to support our competencies and improve on our weaknesses?" Further, involving members and staff for the assessment helped us to move toward consensus about what the critical value creating processes of the organization are and how to measure and improve their performance.

The use of the assessment tool to qualify and quantify the performance of the CMS program and its innovation processes supports one of the fundamental management axioms developed by the program:

You can't manage what you don't communicate

You can't communicate what you don't measure

You can't measure what you don't define

You can't define what you don't understand

For further information contact:

Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing International (CAM-I) www.cam-i.org 

This is an excerpt from an article which originally appeared in The Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 3,

No. 1, 1999, pp. 61-65

Copyright Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing International

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