KM for Transportation Agencies

The Business Case for KM at a DOT

DOTs are simultaneously facing changes in their missions, project and service delivery methods, customer expectations, revenue streams and workforce demographics. These changes are creating both challenges and opportunities. Effective DOT leaders recognize that “business as usual” is not an option. They understand the need to retool their organizations to be more adaptable and resilient. An agency-wide approach to KM can help DOTs make the necessary changes in workforce capabilities and culture to achieve this resilience. DOTs can use KM to foster innovation, improve delivery of transportation projects and leverage increasingly limited resources (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Business Case for KM at a DOT

The figure shows some of the potential benefits of investing in KM.

Improving Organizational Efficiency and Effectiveness. DOTs are facing increased competition for available funding, shrinking revenues and growing public expectations for accountability about what tax dollars are buying. In this context, agencies are under pressure to increase efficiencies and strengthen performance measurement and management capabilities. Agencies have a compelling incentive to identify stronger and weaker performers within the organization and bring all work units up to a higher level of performance.

Strengthening Organizational Resilience. When there is an emergency situation or a critical need to be met with little or no tolerance for error, most DOT managers will put their “A Team” on it. The “A Team” understands what is needed, and has the experience and skills to get to the finish line and handle any curve balls thrown along the way. DOTs, like most organizations, have a limited number of “A Team” members. And many agencies are facing a “brain drain” with the loss of their most experienced staff from the baby boomer generation. Knowledge – the ability of staff to take effective action and make good decisions – is often in short supply. Without a solid strategy for replacing critical employees, building bench strength, getting new staff up to speed and growing expertise and experience in the right areas, DOTs face a steady decline in their resilience – and an increase in their risk exposure.

Strengthening Workforce Capabilities. One important success factor for all DOTs is having a strong and capable workforce that is aligned with the agency’s mission and public expectations. As the role of the DOT shifts from construction to more of a focus on operations and maintenance, DOTs need to reassess the types of skills, capabilities and experience that are needed. KM techniques can leverage existing workforce planning capabilities and bring a rich understanding of the organization’s strengths and vulnerabilities, considering anticipated retirements and changing demographics. KM strategies are also available to foster culture change – to reduce information hoarding, build more effective teamwork, and reward employees that share their knowledge with others for the benefit of the organization.

Leveraging External Expertise. Constraints on hiring mean that DOTs rely on outside contractors for a wide range of services. With increased use of outsourcing and public-private partnerships, DOTs must consider how best to leverage external capabilities of partners, while providing opportunities for knowledge transfer from contractors back to agency staff.

Fostering Learning and Innovation. Knowledge is becoming a key limiting factor in a DOT’s ability to make progress and adapt to changing requirements. As the need for innovation in areas such as performance management, traffic operations and project delivery/finance increases, DOTs need to make sure that they tap into and share the latest available knowledge about requirements, techniques and lessons learned. Rapid advances in technology have created opportunities for DOTs to deliver improved services at a lower cost. There are additional opportunities for gaining efficiencies through creative use of contract resources for project delivery, maintenance and operations. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, DOTs must have the ability to change established ways of operating. Innovation requires a boost to the level and speed of communication, learning and knowledge transfer within the agency.

Reducing Vulnerability to Employee Transitions. DOTs have been facing workforce challenges over the past decade, related to the large wave of baby boomer generation retirements. Workforce issues are still an important concern today. KM practices can help DOTs to proactively manage workforce transitions as senior employees retire and mid-level employees move on to other opportunities. KM can also be used to minimize the consequences of losing an employee with mission-critical knowledge such as a veteran chief financial officer or chief engineer.

How KM Can Help

DOTs can use KM to strengthen capabilities and reduce risks. Establishing a KM lead in the organization can provide a focal point and ensure a strategic approach to these activities.

Use KM to:


Elevate consideration of intellectual capital within DOT strategic planning

  • Better targeting of human resources investments and practices to support strategic objectives of the DOT

Transition the DOT to meet emerging needs

  • Strengthen critical skill areas – e.g. contract negotiation, operations, technology integration

Build bench strength

  • Reduce vulnerability to loss of employees in critical areas
  • Better leverage available expertise

Strengthen employee collaboration and information sharing

  • Build on lessons learned – avoid “reinventing the wheel”
  • Reduce duplication of effort

Foster innovation

  • Transition from “we’ve always done it this way” to a more streamlined approach

Figure 3. KM Benefits

Consider Intellectual Capital Within DOT Strategic Planning. An agency KM lead can be charged with identifying the gaps between the agency’s current skill and experience profile and the profile that will likely be needed over the next 5-10 years (See Figure 3).

Transition DOT to Meet Emerging Needs. Armed with an understanding of gaps, the KM lead can work in a proactive fashion to identify how to develop and/or acquire the necessary mix of skills and experiences.

Build Bench Strength. KM techniques can be used to establish and support networks for knowledge sharing and mentoring to build expertise and capabilities in critical areas.

Strengthen Collaboration. An agency KM lead can work to improve collaboration and teamwork across the organization, using Communities of Practice (CoPs) and other techniques. They can ensure that lessons learned through projects and initiatives are documented – and that relevant lessons are identified and applied to future practice.

Foster Innovation. An agency KM lead can support the innovation process by facilitating access to the experience of peer agencies, and supporting internal knowledge transfer through CoPs within target domain areas.

Workforce Knowledge Loss

“With slightly less than half of the workforce with 10 years or less department experience, the number of employees who possess the seasoned expertise and process “wisdom” is in short supply.”

– Texas DOT Strategic Plan 2013-2016

Organizational Resilience

“Organizational resilience is anchored in organizational processes aimed at enhancing an organization’s overall competence and growth (especially the ability to learn and to learn from mistakes) … quickly process feedback and flexibly rearrange or transfer knowledge and resources to deal with situations as they arise.”

– Sutcliffe & Vogus (2003) Organizing for Resilience. See reference 26

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