So What Do You Do? Knowledge Management at an Accounting Consulting Firm

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Sarah Dashow.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Sarah Dashow, and I am from Raleigh, North Carolina. My undergraduate degree is from NC State in English and International Studies. I am pursuing my MLIS at the University of Western Ontario in London. My focus is on archives, information and knowledge management; although Western does not offer such distinctions, I simply choose courses based on my interests.

I completed two terms before applying for the co-op program, which is fully integrated, though not required, into Western’s MLIS degree. The terms I completed gave me time to get through the required courses as well as some electives, since I went in with no library or information background. I knew that a co-op placement was a chance to get into the library/information world and get a better idea of what I could do with my degree.

I am currently working at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), an accounting, consulting, tax, and legal firm, on the knowledge management operations (KM Ops) team, for a four month term. Located in Toronto, Ontario, this PwC branch is the headquarters for PwC Canada.

So what do you do?

There are a lot of ways to talk about knowledge management, but when broken down, it is not much different than collection management or records management. Instead of working with books, periodicals, or legal/archive documents, we work with any type of information that needs to be shared among a group of people – moving expertise to where it is most needed.

In practice, my position on KM Ops involves working on the company’s intranet, managing and updating the content that is accessed by thousands of employees across Canada. This content includes news from the various cities, leaders, and business partners, human resources policies, technology and IT help, learning and development resources, employee benefits, brand information, and anything else an employee at PwC might find useful for their line of service.

A day in the life at PwC can involve a wide array of things. On most days, I will be making policy updates and responding to requests made by intranet users. The policy updates are straight-forward, simply adding or deleting information, and perhaps more tedious than anything, but some things just need to get done. The requests can be much more interesting. Sometimes it may be a broken link, so I would need to find the reason for it and a potentially a suitable replacement. Other times it may be document design, which can be as simple as changing font colors or creating new image buttons for a page, and it can even involve some HTML coding.

Each month, the firm will do a deployment that involves major updates to the intranet. This could mean moving or deleting whole pages or libraries of content. Part of my job is to help facilitate this deployment by either designing these new pages or updating them in the intranet catalog, a database that lists all the different parts that make up the intranet.

The firm uses a combination of LotusNotes and SharePoint to manage their content database, and sometimes things don’t always work the way you want them to, so the position often involves some elements of problem solving. Luckily, we have a “staging” database that we can test things in before they go live on the main intranet.

Finally, there are opportunities to get involved in various knowledge management projects. Since starting my position in May, I have done some technical writing designing tutorial worksheets for an upcoming migration to new software as well as some research into intranet usability testing for one of my supervisors.

At the end of the day, however, I am just one member of a larger team, and there are knowledge managers for every line of service that PwC works in who are responsible for content on their own pages. We in KM Ops do a lot of the back-end work, while they do the front-end.

Are you finding your coursework helpful in this position? In what way?

Definitely a few of my courses have been very helpful. Knowledge management often involves working in databases, so even though my database management course didn’t cover LotusNotes and SharePoint, the concepts and theories behind organizing content in using Microsoft Access helped me to better understand the inner workings of the intranet once I got here. Additionally, coding HTML in the digital library program Greenstone helped to strengthen my coding skills, and I now apply them often on the job, even helping less experienced team members who usually work in rich text for designing documents. I realized very quickly that having the change to learn and apply these skills in coursework before taking it on in a professional environment helped make me more comfortable, and I was ready and willing to take on challenging projects that may have seemed intimidating before.

I believe the biggest benefit to this, however, is not in the courses I have already taken, but in the courses that I could take in the future. Working has made me more aware of what skills I want to learn, and I feel like I will be more knowledgeable and better equipped to pick classes more suited to my career path in my remaining two terms.

What would you say are the lessons you’ve taken away from this internship?

The most important thing I have learned here is the benefit of networking. PwC is a large company, and I am lucky that it has developed a corporate culture focused on teamwork and collaboration. As such, I often get to go for lunch works with my team members, including higher level management, and not a single person talks down to you as a co-op students – you are equal ground, and your ideas are just as important as someone who has been at the company for years.

Of the 8 members on my team, 3 graduated from the same university I am attending and completed the same co-op. That should be enough to prove that who you know and who you meet can have a huge bearing on where you end up working, and I will always remember that wherever I go. Don’t be afraid to talk to your supervisors or managers. They wouldn’t have hired you, whether it’s for a co-op, internship, or new job, if they didn’t want to hear what you have to say.

How do you think this will help your career?

I think that simply being able to have a solid four months of practical experience plus the networking and learning on the job will be a step ahead of someone coming out with just coursework, especially as someone with no previous relevant experience. I worked at a dog kennel and retail in the past, and while some basic skills from those positions can be applied across the board, being able to show that I put my coursework to use in a professional environment will hopefully make me stand out. This position has also solidified my interest in knowledge management, and I have never been surer of what direction I want to go in when I graduate.

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