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Feature: Sharing Knowledge


Silhouettes of men at a desk A customer facing and internal knowledge-sharing network can unlock information that employees, partners and customers possess, but don’t necessarily share. Peter Nicol, OutStart EMEA VP, explains how.

The way a company makes the most of existing knowledge within the business is a determining force to its overall financial and operational success. But the knowledge needed to successfully manage different aspects of a business can be hard to locate, contained within learning courses, hidden in documents and often in the heads of company wide experts.

The result is that employees spend a lot of time searching for information that they know exists in the organisation but is not easy to find or consume. Employees can spend 15-30% of work time just looking for specific information. In fact IDC estimates that fruitless information searches cost Fortune 500 companies as much as £49 billion per year in lost productivity.

Tacit knowledge residing in employees’ heads, especially in the minds of subject matter experts, is often not shared or is unknown to the company. This is not because experts are hoarding information; they just might not have been asked the question that requires articulation of that knowledge. Also, when an employee seeks out information from an expert, the response is often informal and not captured for reuse.

Training courses increase employee knowledge, but often the knowledge isn’t gleaned in a timely fashion, maybe forgotten and may prove to be too little, too late. And when a customer is on the telephone with a question, there is not time to schedule a course for the correct response. So how can organisations unlock the information employees, partners and customers possess but don’t necessarily share?

An Innovative Knowledge-Sharing Environment
Building customer facing and internal knowledge sharing networks, which enable employees, and if desired partners and customers to contribute and use knowledge from their desktop using familiar tools, can go a long way in giving people instant access to the information they need and raising business and people performance simultaneously. This requires several key elements.

Self-Help Platform
A well-designed self-help learning and knowledge network drives productivity through streamlined communications and enhanced collaboration. They allow businesses to use expertise and information across the organisation, so employees waste less time duplicating tasks.

For a knowledge network to work knowledge must be captured organically, with no special expertise or effort required. A knowledge ‘harvester’ captures and categorises structured and unstructured data from the tools that employees use in their daily work activities, including documents, emails, web links, discussion forums, expert events, as well as external data sources, including databases, the Internet, and file systems so that the system itself is continually "learning". This turns learning from a support function into an organic mainstream business process whereby the shared knowledge network grows based on actual staff transactions.

In terms of knowledge access, a self-help platform makes it easy for users to seek out knowledge. They can simply access the knowledge bank which draws upon previously asked questions and their answers, content from different courses, document libraries, database systems and the Web. All this occurs via the self-help platform, providing them with just in time, bite-sized knowledge as and when they need it. If the user still requires additional information or clarification, the network identifies and facilitates workflow driven interaction with experts and peers. And once again, it's all closed-loop as responses are captured and categorised for ongoing use, meaning that experts are relived of the need to respond repetitively to questions. This process supports peer to peer as well as peer to expert interactions

Community Building and Expertise Management
This fosters a community whereby employees, such as those in sales and marketing, can easily share experiences and best practices that can be searched and reused as related information whenever an initial search for information is made. For example, instead of sales people working remotely in a vacuum, they can share their biggest customer challenges and toughest questions with peers, helping equip the rest of the team to resolve similar issues in the sales cycle.

Capturing previous answers to questions enables faster knowledge access and reduced burden on subject matter experts. The system may include an "expert locator" to route questions to the most appropriate subject matter expert and ensure a closed-loop experience for the sales person. Subject matter experts are also asked to rate answers from people who don’t normally answer questions to ensure that the advice is valid and worthwhile.

Extending the Community
An internal knowledge-sharing network, which combines self-help, community building and expertise management, increases the effectiveness of staff by filling in knowledge gaps. It also enables staff to find and use expertise distributed throughout the company.
But how about taking this idea of knowledge-sharing one step further by providing customers and partners with a similar platform, so valuable insight into customer and partner thinking can be tapped into on a daily basis? A customer facing knowledge sharing network can go a long way in servicing customers effectively and gaining a deeper understanding of their needs and changing requirements. It is possible to turn customers well versed in a company’s technology into subject matter experts, rate their advice and in turn control, manage and safely distribute their output.

Knowledge sharing networks are an excellent platform for developing employee knowledge, servicing customers and developing partner loyalty.

Staff with regular access to self-help, community building, expert management system are armed with strong business information and have a better chance of responding to customer queries quickly and efficiently. They also help keep institutional knowledge and learning within the organisation, so if a subject matter expert leaves, their knowledge doesn’t necessarily leave with them.

A well-designed knowledge-sharing network creates an online community that continuously creates new dynamic content, giving people immediate access to the information they need at a click of a mouse.


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