Dossier: Managing Knowledge

Qatar Customs Knowledge Management Strategy

2nd March 2023
By Dr. Tariq Shbail, Customs Expert, Regional Training Centre, General Authority of Customs, Qatar

The General Authority of Customs (GAC) of Qatar considers that knowledge management is key to improving its performance in all areas, ranging from service quality and productivity to the decision-making process and communication. Knowledge management is not really about managing knowledge, but about developing a culture that values learning and the sharing of knowledge. It consists of a collection of processes that govern the creation, dissemination and utilization of knowledge in an organization.

Steering Committee

Knowledge management requires a multidisciplinary effort, and the implementation of a policy in this domain cannot be assigned to a particular department. Therefore, the GAC has established a Steering Committee to develop and monitor the implementation of a Knowledge Management Strategy. The Committee is headed by the Deputy Head of the Support Service and is composed of the Directors of most departments, including those in charge of regional training, planning and quality, human resources, information technology, financial and administrative affairs, and public relations and communications.

The duties of the Steering Committee are as follows:

  • develop the Knowledge Management Strategy and ensure its alignment with the overall strategic objectives of the GAC,
  • support knowledge management-related initiatives, programmes and methodologies,
  • monitor the implementation of the Strategy, review achievements and assess results,
  • develop and update relevant policies and procedures,
  • ensure the effective participation of staff in projects and activities, and
  • allocate the financial and human resources needed for the delivery of programmes and projects.

The Strategy developed by the Committee focuses on three key pillars:

  • a knowledge culture which involves people in the knowledge creation and sharing process,
  • tools and methodologies to manage, develop and maintain the Administration’s knowledge assets and sources, and
  • a knowledge-sharing system that supports decision-making processes and improves the quality of services.

Assessment

Before developing a strategy, the Administration needed to assess its existing processes and its maturity level in the area of knowledge management. To do so, it conducted a survey involving all staff. The questions posed covered the awareness, acquisition, sharing, evaluation, transfer and use of knowledge. The survey questions were drafted based on existing knowledge management literature, theories and questionnaires. The questions were customized to fit the Customs context, and were reviewed by academics and experts in knowledge management who ensured that questions were clearly formulated and could be easily understood, replacing words and clarifying certain terms where needed. They also worked on the sequencing of the questions, which had to follow logical reasoning, and agreed with the privacy policy describing the way data provided by staff was to be stored and used.

Raising awareness and ensuring staff engagement

The answers to the questionnaire were analysed by experts at the GAC. The results revealed that knowledge management practices and tools were known, but needed to be organized, explained and institutionalized.

Various initiatives were then launched with the aim of:

  • raising awareness of knowledge management, its importance, and related concepts;
  • developing an effective electronic system for disseminating and exchanging knowledge throughout the GAC;
  • organizing and categorizing knowledge assets and sources internally and externally;
  • converting tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge; and
  • mitigating knowledge threats.

The driving force of knowledge management is people, with their tacit and explicit knowledge. To raise awareness of the importance of knowledge management among staff, the Customs Training Centre organized a series of training and workshops for all employees. The benefits of knowledge management were examined and technical terms (such as knowledge maps, knowledge assets, intellectual capital, knowledge gap, tacit knowledge, explicit knowledge and sources of knowledge) were discussed. The workshops were delivered by experts in knowledge management working at the Customs Training Centre.

A communication campaign was also designed and various material was developed, with the use of brochures to explain concepts related to knowledge management, posters to communicate the objectives and importance of knowledge management in the GAC (see Figure 1), and emails to report achievements, progress and updates on knowledge management projects and programmes.

Staff were also encouraged to explain what knowledge management meant to them, through a competition. They had the opportunity to present their ideas on how to enable the exchange of knowledge and expertise at the national and international levels; one of those ideas became the “Sharing Success Stories Project”. This created space for open communication about the wins, losses and lessons that employees are collectively experiencing.

A survey, to be conducted periodically, has also been designed to assess the level of awareness of employees regarding key concepts and tools, as well as their evolution over time. The questions focus on the Knowledge Management Strategy and Vision, knowledge sharing and motivational methods, means of communication, knowledge sources and accessibility, as well as on the electronic information systems used by the GAC.

 

Knowledge platform

To enable officers to communicate, share knowledge and access relevant information via a single portal, the Administration has developed a platform on its intranet. This knowledge-based platform is designed to enable officers to share ideas, initiatives and suggestions to enhance their work environment and procedures. It is also used to publish studies and research carried out by the GAC’s officers. The portal is managed and supervised by the Public Relations and Communication Department.

The Administration also uses the platform to provide information about learning opportunities, such as upcoming national and regional training and details of how to enroll on them. There is also a link to the WCO CLiKC! Platform and its many e-learning courses.

To increase its training offer, the GAC has signed many Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with national and international bodies. Among the most prominent trainings, workshops and conferences organized in the last few months are:

  • a regional workshop on data analysis and artificial intelligence which was organized with the WCO via its Regional Training Centre in Qatar;
  • an International Conference on the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which was organized with Qatar Museums. This event brought together representatives of international organizations, governments, academia, NGOs and other relevant actors.

As employees may find it difficult to focus on their job duties and complete them efficiently while sharing knowledge or undertaking training, time is set aside for such activities as part of their normal working hours.

Knowledge assets

Moreover, the GAC has developed a methodology for organizing and maintaining knowledge assets throughout the various Customs departments. “Knowledge assets” means all the intellectual resources an organization has access to, such as cognitive skills, databases, documents, guides, and the workforce.

To supervise the implementation of the methodology, the Administration has established a specialized team that includes employees from all departments to:

  • identify and classify knowledge assets to establish what is already known;
  • determine knowledge gaps (i.e., the gap between the required level of competencies needed to perform a job, and the actual level of the employee’s knowledge, skills, capacity and attitudes). Many gaps were identified, particularly in areas such as valuation, tariff and data analytics;
  • discover relationships between knowledge assets, such as dependency and relevance;
  • exclude unused and expired cognitive assets, such as old and outdated legislation or procedure guidelines;
  • determine external and internal knowledge sources,
  • classify knowledge assets into explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge;
  • identify the most important knowledge assets and prioritize them based on their relevance to Customs operations and procedures. The most important and frequently used knowledge assets identified were regulations, guidelines, research and studies, training curricula, annual reports, databases and Customs experts.

To collect this information, the team had to fill in a set of forms; for example, the “knowledge identification form” included data on the owner of a process, the purpose of the process, the knowledge required to undertake the process, the sources of knowledge (explicit/tacit), and how the knowledge is transferred, disseminated, formatted, stored and classified. The team received specific training to ensure they could do the job properly and efficiently.

Tacit knowledge

The challenge for any organization is how to effectively exploit tacit knowledge to develop human capital. Tacit knowledge is knowledge that can only be transmitted via observation or gained through personal experience; it is, for example, the basis of apprenticeship programmes.

The GAC began by classifying knowledge assets into explicit and tacit knowledge. It then launched several projects and activities aimed at converting tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. First, a database of trainers and experts was established, with information about their working experience, training delivery experience, qualifications, areas of interest, evaluation scores and participation in regional and international events. Second, training curricula were updated by experts to include information on practices and know-how. Last but not least, it was decided to provide detailed, written reports on all workshops and conferences, and make them available to all staff on the knowledge platform.

Knowledge threats

The GAC also developed a risk management strategy with the aim of identifying and mitigating the potential risks faced for the implementation of its Knowledge Management Policy. Risks included resistance to change, lack of experience in knowledge management, and unwillingness of some employees to share their success stories.

For each identified risk, a set of proactive preventive measures was developed. These measures included communicating with employees to mitigate negative attitudes towards knowledge management, providing training, and rewarding employees who had shared experiences and success stories by sending out letters of thanks and giving them financial rewards.

Lessons learned

The GAC believes that one of the key success factors when developing methodologies and tools for capturing, storing, sharing and effectively managing knowledge is the commitment and support of top management. The individuals in charge of managing the organization must therefore understand the importance of knowledge management, and what the implementation of the concept entails in terms of tasks and resources.

Once the support of top management has been secured, the successful implementation of knowledge management projects depends mainly on the level of awareness among employees and their understanding of what knowledge management means. One of the main obstacles faced by organizations during the implementation of activities related to knowledge management is a lack of clarity regarding its objectives and relevance.

The GAC hopes that its experience will inspire other Customs administrations, and would welcome enquiries from any administrations that would like to find out more.

More information
www.Customs.gov.qa
Trainingcenter@Customs.gov.qa

About the GAC

The General Authority of Customs (GAC) is the government authority responsible for monitoring the importation and exportation of goods in and out of the State in accordance with the governing legislation in this regard. Emiri Decree No. (37) of 2014 was issued on 20 February 2014, establishing the General Authority of Customs with a legal personality and a budget attached to the budget of the Ministry of Finance.  The GAC is affiliated with the Minister of Finance and is based in Doha. The GAC is seen as having an important role to play in ensuring sustainable economic development and in achieving the Qatar National Vision 2030 and the Qatar National Development Strategy. This Strategy explores ways to improve the performance of public sector institutions, i.e., ways to be more efficient, innovative, relevant, transparent, accountable, results-orientated and customer-focused. It also underlines that Customs not only ensures traders’ compliance with regulatory requirements, but also plays an important part in supporting inward investment and fostering international trade and travel.