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More Knowledge Loss Facts and Figures

Page history last edited by pamholloway 14 years, 7 months ago

The granddaddy of all lost knowledge nightmares came out of the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NSSA) recently when the agency revealed it had spent $69 million largely because it had failed to maintain its knowledge base for manufacturing critical components of nuclear weapons that are being refurbished. NSSA is responsible for programs that will extend the operational life of US nuclear weapons 20 to 30 years, since new weapons are not currently being developed. But efforts to rebuild the warheads used on Trident missiles were halted when it was discovered that NNSA had lost the knowledge of how to manufacture an essential component of the bomb. According to an audit by the Government Accountability Office, the agency failed to document the original manufacturing process and those with production expertise have retired or left the agency. For more details see GAO report at:www.gao.gov/highlights/d09385high.pdf


In early 2006, more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil spilled onto Alaska's North Slope forcing energy giant BP to shut down the largest U.S. oil field. Suddenly, 8% of U.S. domestic oil production was unavailable because of extensive corrosion in BP's oil pipeline. Follow up investigations revealed that BP had failed to retain its critical knowledge base on pipeline corrosion needed to monitor the state of its pipeline infrastructure. Before a series of leaks were discovered, the job of BP's senior corrosion engineer had gone unfilled for over a year, which meant the firm no longer had an adequate strategic overview of its corrosion prevention activities. Not only did the company sustain extensive losses in revenues, but it also faced embarrassing Congressional hearings where leaders had to admit that BP had failed to meet its obligations to customers and the public. In addition, the company has been forced to rebuild its corrosion prevention capabilities, hiring expensive outside experts to evaluate existing capabilities and to improve its corrosion prevention policies.


According to Bill Gates, when Microsoft went to expand its Redmond campus some years ago, management couldn't find the blueprints for its existing buildings. These drawings were essential for the new project. They called the company's recently retired head of real estate and facilities to try to locate the plans. This retiree referred them to an electrician who happened to still be working for one of Microsoft's outside vendors. It turned out this electrician was the only person in the world who had all of the blueprints for all of Microsoft's buildings. Describing this nearly-lost knowledge, Gates wrote in Business @ The Speed of Thought, “Here we were the largest developer of office space in the Seattle area ...and our entire knowledge base of crucial information was being carried around in the heads of just a few people and in a few stacks of blueprints we didn't even have on file.”


A Canadian metals refinery had to overhaul its processing tanks, which is a complex maintenance process only done every 15 years. But the company was unable to bring the tanks back online after the complicated procedure because plant operators had failed to retain critical knowledge of how to complete the refurbishing process when it was done the last time. According to the plant's general manager, problems in restoring operations cost the firm millions of dollars in lost sales revenues. And these costs will recur the next time, unless management finds ways to retain what operators have re-learned about carrying out the complex but infrequent maintenance process


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