Knowledge Management
Ministry of Finance

The Problem

Knowledge is THE capital of the Federal Ministry of Finance, guaranteeing the citizens equal taxation and uniform interpretation of the law by its employees throughout the whole country.

The problems of the demographic change are to be noticed in the Ministry of Finance, too: The average age of the employees is 46 years, the average age of the senior management is more than 50. This implies that in the next ten years large groups of employees will retire and will leave respective knowledge gaps.

Further factors that underline the urgency of the knowledge management project are the continuous staff savings measures of the past years along with the increasing world-wide trend of e-transformation of all private and public service institutions – hence also within the Ministry of Finance.

The former results in an increasing workload with regards to the quantity of the services to be rendered by the employees of the Finance Administration, the latter is a continuously growing challenge concerning the quality of their work: Constantly more and more complex EDP-programmes imply that the willingness to learn and flexibility of employees have to be basic properties.

Already some years ago it was realized within the Finance Department that actions have to be taken in order to maintain or even increase the performance level and the motivation and commitment of the 11,500 employees. In this context one has to stress the importance of our approximately 800 line managers.
They are nominated as being responsible for the learning processes within the organisation, as being those who are responsible for the knowledge process as a whole, starting from identifying the knowledge demand to the transfer, generation and implementation of knowledge.

Particularly in times of reforms – like the constant and ongoing change process within the Finance Administration during the last years – the line managers are that group of persons which has to use creative methods to work out new solutions, implement them and finally take care that the solutions are accepted by the employees.

While there is the possibility to change the composition of the human resources in private sector enterprises quite easily, public institutions are not so flexible concerning their personnel. This can cause big problems both for line managers and employees, especially with regards to their willingness to learn, their motivation, their performance and their commitment.

All the more it has to be highlighted that despite these difficult conditions, in the last few years the Finance Administration has managed not only to maintain, but to broaden the basic knowledge and the willingness to learn and perform of its employees by means of its innovative instruments and methods of the knowledge management project. This can be demonstrated both by the increasing figures of nearly all competence areas of the Tax and Customs Administration and by the positive results gained from the 2008 and 2011 employee surveys.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
The knowledge management project revealed different results all of which are at the moment being implemented or are already in use.

Knowledge Platform
For many years the Finance Department has had a comprehensive intranet that was available for the employees. As a result of several re- and new organisation measures (e.g. merging of Taxes and Customs) significant differences were noticed concerning programmes, layout, design and the logical structure, which caused big challenges for the users. In order to do both unify the process logics and minimize the time necessary for research, the knowledge platform Taxes & Customs was created

Knowledge Networks (WIN)
In general, knowledge networks work in a way that experts meet on a regular basis to discuss and solve case studies handed in beforehand and then have the answers put to the disposal of everybody via intranet.

Knowledge Benchmarking
As a preparatory work for establishing a knowledge balance sheet, a knowledge benchmarking was carried out to make the knowledge work and performance of Tax / Customs Offices visible. Multiple methods such as questionnaires, interviews and the collection of statistical data were used.

Knowledge Management Day
The knowledge management day had a three-step concept. At first such KM-Days were only held with heads of legal services as participants. They were informed about the results of the project and they were presented different knowledge instruments. Later all heads of legal services were trained in knowledge management in regionally held seminars. Special attention was paid to the different roles in knowledge management. The next step was to have such KM-Days organised in the local offices and to offer instructions, a design and standardised documents.

Knowledge Mentoring
In order to make sure that the knowledge of those employees facing their retirement will not get lost, the knowledge mentoring tool was introduced.

Learning Days/Weeks
The aim of this tool was to optimise the exchange of experiences and to optimise knowledge distribution among local offices.

Branch Information System (BRIS)
When auditing certain branches of companies, specific knowledge is sometimes very helpful. Therefore experts were invited to make their expert knowledge available to the BRIS. The BRIS is an electronic application which is available to all employees, but of interest mainly to tax inspectors. The existing information is updated regularly and the BRIS system is enlarged by new topics.

Event Calendar
It is a typical feature of the Finance Department with its nearly 12,000 employees that a lot of events take place throughout the year.
The event calendar is published in the intranet and is thought to help employees to arrange and plan their schedules more easily.

Knowledge Instruments Handbook
This handbook was aimed at displaying the basic features of knowledge management in the Finance Department. It includes for example knowledge targets, roles, identification, development, acquisition, distribution as well as project management and infrastructure.

Management Toolbox
This toolbox contains a collection of tests that ought to support employees and line managers in the process of knowledge distribution (and also in the course of meetings).

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
Two heads of divisions – Management and Human Resources tasked two of their employees with the project. The inner circle of the project group comprised eleven members and was enlarged by furthers groups of people depending on the topic. Project work was consistently conducted out of line management in the form of a matrix organisation.

The main stakeholders of the project were the Director Generals of three directorates in the Ministry, the Management division, the Human Resource division and the Regional managers.

The project partly restructured existing features in a new manner or broke completely new grounds with regards to some special groups of topics. Consequently some data is quite easily available, but a large portion of the efforts and costs can only be determined by approximation and estimation.

A knowledge demand survey was carried out by the project members in having interviews and having (personally or indirectly) questioned approximately 700 employees working in all various regions, technical areas and on all hierarchical levels.

The aim of the (sub-) project knowledge platform was to edit all contents of the intranet in a way that optimal satisfaction and acceptance was achieved among the internal clients. As it was possible to use already existing contents and structures, and as also new contents and designs had to be created, the completely new input and costs cannot be specified.

The knowledge networks, where experts on various topics such as wage tax, PAYE-audit, international tax law and others meet on regional levels to discuss and solve open questions are a very time and resource saving method. Currently there are eleven topic networks which meet one day per semester to solve actual legal problems.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The targets of the knowledge management project are manifold and are derived from the strategies of the Finance Administration which directly result from the government programme. They have a large bandwidth and include elements both based on communicative face-to-face exchange and on electronic systems. Some of the aims are for example to reduce the time spent for searching information. Furthermore they put many efforts to fasten and improve the access to sources of information in order to augment productivity by enlarging the rights of access to information. A core aim was and still is to avoid to re-invent the wheel several times and therefore to increase the willingness to co-operate by encouraging the exchange of knowledge. To facilitate the contacting of experts by establishing e.g. knowledge maps or yellow pages and to promote the safeguarding of knowledge by creating individual incentive systems for the generation and transfer of knowledge, or by fostering knowledge mentoring turned to be very important as well.

All these targets were implemented in the Finance Administration in a multi-level process which started with the target definition, followed by a practice-oriented knowledge demand survey, which was carried out among nearly 700 employees. This approach to implement knowledge management by involving of as many employees as possible is aimed at both guaranteeing a close integration and interaction between knowledge management and administrative processes and at contributing to put the project on a maximum wide basis. The evaluation of the knowledge demand survey should be the fundamentals for increasing the innovation potential and for making implicit knowledge visible and traceable. Furthermore the accessibility of explicit knowledge should be fostered, thus optimizing the culture of how knowledge is treated and creating a basis for knowledge organization in the Tax and Customs Administration.

Additionally it was tried to increase the acceptance of knowledge management by inviting people from the most various areas and management levels, so that finally representatives of the top management were participating in the project as well as experts from various competence areas.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
In order to give all involved participants a uniform starting position, the work in the project was accompanied by continuous qualification measures. The project group convened in regular meetings to work on the concept and the realisation of the project.

The process consisted of the following phases:
• Qualification
• Needs analysis
• Development of a KM-Concept
• Concept for Implementation
• Implementation

A considerable part in this process is occupied by the knowledge demand survey, in the course of which approximately 10% of the affected employees participated in the survey by answering a questionnaire. The evaluation produced a catalogue of strategic knowledge targets and other complementary knowledge sub-targets.

The results were used as basis for the development of instruments supporting the achievement of the knowledge goals. Furthermore it included the review and assessment of the knowledge instruments already in use. The result showed very clearly that a lot of instruments have been in use so far without the employees being aware that they are using knowledge instruments.

For the newly developed instruments the project group established accompanying documents that are aimed on the one hand at a uniform understanding but should also realize aspects of knowledge management with regards to knowledge sharing in particular.

Additionally a knowledge management concept was established with the implementation already included. This resulted in the integration of knowledge targets in the management objectives and in accompanying seminars offers for all target groups involved.

The local heads of the legal services and the employees of their divisions are an essential target group for knowledge management. They are the technical specialists on the local level who service and support all employees with their technical and legal expertise. An additional target group are the employees of the federal competence centres who assist both the local offices and the Ministry of Finance with their expert knowledge on a federal basis. Finally the employees working in the regional management units and basically all line managers are essential pillars with responsibility for knowledge management.

The line managers were made familiar with the topic in several ways. The topic was first presented in the framework of a nationwide meeting to all office managers, where the essential elements of knowledge management and the responsibilities were pointed out. In the course of knowledge management days internal measures were agreed upon in order to safeguard the future engagement with and application of the topic.

In addition it has to be pointed out that members of the project group use every possible major event to refer to instruments of knowledge management or promote the knowledge platform as a source of information.
Regular communication does of course take place especially on the occasion of all meetings of those units rendering essential contributions to the knowledge platform.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Every change causes problems in the beginning. The officials were used to do many things, using various instruments/tools and naming them the way they thought is the best.
By being confronted with a systemized approach to knowledge management there was the first fear that new things will be invented and put in force and they have to do the work.
As knowledge management became a topic there was the fear that everything will become new and therefore even more work will have to be covered.
The approach that was chosen was very close to daily work and tried to cover the main fields of concerns. Therefore a lot of efforts were made to communicate the intentions and the concept.
Being a practice-oriented concept that is closely linked to the workplace, the knowledge management project includes numerous contents, measures, instruments and varying starting points thanks to which the acceptance among line managers and employees turned to be quite high. Especially the involvement of people from all regions, competence areas and hierarchical levels shows that the entrenchment of the topic knowledge in a wider sense has increased a lot in the organisation, as is also shown the examples listed below:
• Background information and instructions for line managers concerning e.g. learning weeks and knowledge mentoring can not only found in the intranet, but these instruments are also dealt with and discussed repeatedly during management meetings;
• the knowledge demand survey was based on group interviews;
• the knowledge benchmarking resorted to instruments such as statistical investigation, questionnaires and individual interviews;
• the communication if the knowledge days in the local offices was conducted by one-day workshops which were organised and moderated by the project managers;
• the creation of a wide, uniform basis with regards to knowledge management within the upper management of the tax and customs administration is dealt with in the framework of regularly held nationwide management meetings and other events.

Most acceptance was achieved by having included key players from the offices. These project members were not only active in the project itself but also multipliers and opinion makers at local level. They were present at local level and could be asked on a daily basis about the intentions and outcomes of the project. Furthermore this group of people was also facilitating the implementation.

In the Finance Department, where changes have belonged to the workaday life for years, line managers act as promoters, companions and supporters of these processes and – in this function - they also act in an exemplary fashion for their employees. The following steps taken may serve as examples:
• Furthermore learning and doing were connected in parallel by the project group by putting the learned knowledge into practice immediately or even by applying the things learned from the beginning by learning by doing.
• The responsibilities of the line managers concerning knowledge management were clearly defined in the knowledge management handbook.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The project started, when two employees were tasked with the project. The inner circle of the project group comprised eleven members and was enlarged by furthers groups of people depending on the topic. Project work was consistently conducted out of line management in the form of a matrix organisation.

The project partly restructured existing features in a new manner or broke completely new grounds with regards to some special groups of topics. Consequently that some data is quite easily available, but a large portion of the efforts and costs can only be determined by approximation and estimation.

Precise figures are available for those personnel resources that were necessary for the project planning and the training activities. Since the beginning of the project, the 11 members of the project group have spent 207 working days on the project, plus 10 days leading introductory workshops all around the country, plus 43 days interviewing employees in various offices in the framework of the knowledge benchmarking project.

In many cases, however, figures can only be achieved by approximation, such as with regards to
• the knowledge demand survey: Concerning this survey the project members carried out interviews and (personally or indirectly) questioned approximately 700 employees working in all various regions, technical areas and on all hierarchical levels. Calculating only one hour per interview, the time required for the survey amounted to 700 working hours, not taking into account the time spent for elaborating the report.
• The aim of the (sub-) project knowledge platform was to edit all contents of the intranet in a way that optimal satisfaction and acceptance was achieved among the internal clients. As it was possible to use already existing contents and structures, and as also new contents and designs had to be created, the completely new input and costs cannot be specified.
• An additional (sub-) project, where the costs in terms of personnel resources used cannot be specified, are the knowledge networks. Experts on various topics such as wage tax, PAYE-audit, international tax law and others meet on regional levels to discuss and solve open questions. Currently there are eleven topic networks which meet one day per semester (= 22 days per year). As the number of participants representing the tax offices can vary, it is not possible to determine the accurate amount of the necessary resources.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
In order to spread the information about the knowledge management within the Finance Administration and to facilitate the ongoing process a „Crossborder Knowledge Conference“ was carried out. Internal and external knowledge management experts were invited to give their view on future developments and impacts on the public service. The audience consisted not only of the top management of the Finance Administration, but also of representatives of all Ministries in Austria and members of a knowledge management network where the Ministry of Finance is part of.
This network opened exchange of expertise and cooperations with the local government of the City of Vienna, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Interior. The Federal Chancellery is currently extending their efforts in the knowledge management field.
Even the Parliamentary Administration asked for information exchange in order to learn from the experiences and learnings from the Finance Administration.
The Knowledge Management Austria Academy applied for expertise in some of their trainings. The University of Economics and the „Forum Innovative Verwaltung“ also requested information.

Many invested figures can not be mentioned financially. But the experience being done shows that training activities could be reduced in those fields where the Knowledge Networks are carried out. The reduction of training as mentioned reduces training costs of trainers, travelling costs and allowances of trainers and participants.

Efficient knowledge exchange ensures the equal treatment of tax payers and nationwide equal application of law. This all leads to Fair Play which is one of the principles of the Finance Administration.

Long term continuity is guaranteed by contracting also knowledge management aims in the annual management contracts.

Knowledge is rated very high in the Finance Administration. Therefore a lot of endevour was put in the upgrading of jobs and qualifications – not least to mention the creation of a bachelor´s as well as a master´s degree program in „Tax Management“ in cooperation with the FH Campus Wien/University of Applied Sciences. The intention of all these investements in higher qualifications is to have high quality work done by the employees of the Finance Administration itself and on the other hand all work processes that can be done by the support of IT applications/solutions will be done electronically or outsourced.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
Knowledge per se is difficult to define and can therefore hardly be measured. So it was necessary to approach this topic from various perspectives. Following the knowledge life cycle according to G. Probst, the project group tried to develop key figures for each of the phases (i.e. knowledge identification, knowledge development, knowledge acquisition, knowledge distribution and knowledge assessment) or – where this proved to be impossible – to define qualitative impact objectives. The examples below may illustrate this approach:
• The management objectives of the Tax and Customs Administration increasingly contain knowledge targets. e.g. each office has to make contributions to the knowledge platform Taxes & Customs;
• with regards to knowledge distribution, the emphasis is being shifted from training off the job to trainings on the job or trainings near the job;
• instruments such as knowledge mentoring and learning weeks are especially aimed at the line managers being the persons who are responsible in their teams for knowledge identification and knowledge assessment and consequently responsible for the preservation of the knowledge in the organisation in the case when employees retire or change their job;
• as figures and ratios can always only show a small part of the knowledge of an organisation, the finance department has started to make the “knowledge activities” of the local offices visible by means of a knowledge benchmarking;
• launch of the competence management project which aims at establishing a comprehensive, sound compilation of different functions and task areas on the one hand and of methods and instruments used to transfer these competencies on the other.

The involvement of the „basis“ assured a high grade of acceptance and direct communication. The fact that the concepts and implementation were developed and done by internal staff also facilitated the process. Because the „basis“ was involved no theoretical concepts were issued, but a very practice-oriented solution was elaborated and carried out.
Multiple methods and a variety of methods tailored so that they can be applied in and for many situations serve the opportunity to find individual knowledge approaches.

Among the lessons learned it has to be pointed out that
• the involved persons need to be released from their daily work,
• the core factor for success is the high level support,
• communication to the principals is one essential contribution, and therefore all interim reports and results were passed on to them and subsequently confirmed or approved by them.

Finally it can be concluded that the knowledge management project, which became a community of practice, generated a cultural change in the Department and continued a change process, which had begun with reforms. The aim was achieved to make line managers aware of their tasks to be chief knowledge managers in addition to the leadership role, and to give them instructions thereupon. This was confirmed by the results of the 2008 and 2011 employee surveys, in which the line managers received very good marks in all areas.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of Finance
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Lisa Mandl
Title:   Deputy of Head of Unit HR-Development  
Telephone/ Fax:   +43664 6129272
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   Hintere Zollamtsstr. 2b
Postal Code:   1030
City:   Vienna
Country:   Austria

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