Knowledge Management: British Telecom’s New Competitive Weapon

British Telecom (BT) plc is one of the world’s leading telecommunications service providers, offering local, long distance, and international telecommunications services; mobile communications; and Internet services, primarily in the United Kingdom and Western Europe.

Until deregulation, BT held an unchallenged dominance of telecommunications services in the United Kingdom. Since the early 1990s, it has had to face competition from a wave of smaller, nimbler, newer companies. As of June 2000, BT’s customer base had dwindled to 8.5 out of 10 million business lines in the United Kingdom, a far cry from total dominance of the market in 1992. The company had to find ways of responding more quickly to competitors and market changes.

The company’s traditional library and research services could not provide business information and intelligence quickly enough for the company to respond to its new competitive pressures. British Telecom’s corporate library was stuffed with unfiled paper and reports. Everything had to be checked in and out by hand. Librarians frantically tried to satisfy the research requests from several hundred employees in sales, marketing, and strategy. Analysts who couldn’t wait for the research to arrive by mail had to travel to London and do the work themselves—a 200-mile round trip for some. The company could only support a few hundred users with its traditional newspaper clipping service for competitive research.

Management realized the company needed a much quicker way to get competitive information into the field. BT converted its traditional paper clipping and research library services into a one-stop Web-based intelligence center called Intellact. Intellact puts many of the resources in BT’s old research library on-line, where they can be accessed immediately by nearly 90,000 of the company’s 137,000 worldwide employees in nearly every job function and every level of the firm. The system provides data, news, and research on almost every topic of concern to the company, incorporating sources such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, proprietary industry research from firms such as Forrester Research and Gartner, and even obscure telecommunications journals. Its core news feed comes from Factiva’s Reuters Business Briefing Select, which includes content from a large number of newspapers, magazines, and news wires, including Reuters and Dow Jones. The system provides 2,000 to 3,000 daily stories classified into 100 different topic “channels,” including 40 competitor profile sites, 20 vertical market portals, and dozens of technology and regionally focused centers.

Every major topic, such as major competitors, industry customer groups, or wireless technology, has its own Web page populated by news feeds and BT’s content management system. Intellact staff organize the pages, selecting and highlighting the most important stories for users. If users can’t find what they need on the edited Web pages, Intellact provides a search tool powered by Verity where they can search on key words, timeframe, or information source.

The system handles about 7,000 user sessions per day, and its timely knowledge is credited with helping the company expedite sales deals and capture new customers.

Sources: Jason Compton, “Dial K for Knowledge,” CIO Magazine, June 15, 2001; and

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