How Social Knowledge Networks can Help Global Organizations Capture and Retain Knowledge
By Phil Green, Chief Technology Officer, Inmagic
Globalization is both a blessing and curse. On one hand, it's the cornerstone
to industrial development, financial growth, political expansion, and cultural
On the other, it's making it challenging for organizations to get a current,
accurate, and complete picture of any aspect of their business. Globalization
is integrating markets, customers, and partners who bring with them a variety
of enterprise content management (ECM) tools, processes, and procedures.
And they run the gamut from legacy to modern systems, some of which talk to
each one, some of which don't. Data is dispersed amongst shared network drives,
bottled in silos, and stored within individuals, making it difficult to share
and collaborate on information.
Helping companies get their arms around these mission-critical issues has long
been the bread and butter of knowledge management specialists. As the global
enterprise has changed, knowledge management has had to change with it.
Traditional content management systems are breaking down, driving vendors,
advisors, and internal experts alike to pioneer a new approach for capturing,
retaining, and sharing knowledge. It's a strategy that many verticals can learn
from and use to meet their global business objectives, and it starts by unlocking
Global Organizations Need Global Views
For several generations, organizations have been creating more information
silos and ultimately compounding the end-user access and productivity problem.
Billions of dollars have been invested in ECM and enterprise search, and we're
slowly coming to the realization that just because you have data, doesn't mean
you have knowledge and collaboration.
Much of an organization's knowledge is also stored within individuals. Capturing,
retaining, and transferring that knowledge is crucial to preserving intellectual
property and accelerating innovation.
This is a pain point particularly for companies that have reduced and continue
to reduce their workforces. And as we emerge from the recession, many hiring
managers need bodies, but can't afford full-time hires yet. They're using temp
workers, who take their knowledge with them when they leave the company.
Some companies have since adopted enterprise social networking (ESN) products,
such as LinkedIn and other social media services, to network, share ideas, and
get information. Employees are increasingly "going rogue," using services
such as Google Docs and Yammer to share information, completely outside the
bounds of corporate ECM systems.
These tools are capturing a lot of buzz, but beyond personal and professional
networking, is it helping the greater organization? ESN tools are primarily
focused on creating communities. Their value is limited, given their singular
focus of connecting people to people, rather than connecting people to the crucial
content buried in silos.
Perhaps this is why analysts at the 2009 Gilbane Boston Conference predict
a shakeout in the ESN market as the hype cycle wanes in favor of producing real
value to the enterprise.
The key to remember here is that from a knowledge management perspective, social
media is not a market. It's a descriptor for a technology. Organizations that
succeed the global economy will be the ones that leverage social media, taking
it inside the firewall to gain a clear view of their business processes and
assets, and add value to their content and applications.
Herein lies an approach to breaking enterprise information silos. It combines
ECM with social media into a system called "Social Knowledge Networks."
Using Social Media to Harness Social Knowledge
As with traditional ECM systems, Social Knowledge Networks (SKNs) also collect
and organize most data-documents, presentations, photos, videos, audio recordings,
etc. This information forms the basis of an organization's core knowledgebase.
But SKNs take it one step further by adding social tools-such as blogs, wikis,
online ratings, discussions, and social tags-to tap the collective wisdom of
the entire corporate community. This can include any individuals, locations,
partners, and customers around the globe.
SKNs provide a way to unleash this wisdom so employees can share knowledge
and update and enrich core content. This creates a dynamic, living knowledgebase,
where employees can gain access to reliable information and enhance the value
of the knowledgebase.
SKNs can also integrate with mainstream enterprise content repositories, including
Microsoft SharePoint. With SKNs, organizations can enhance their SharePoint
environment with an off-the-shelf solution suited to their knowledge management
and collaboration needs.
For instance, they can create internal, secure knowledge communities around
enterprise content, with sophisticated social, search, security, and other capabilities
not found in SharePoint without significant customization and expenditure of
time and resources.
SKNs use role-based security, so users can be granted access privileges based
on factors such as seniority, expertise, functional role, location, and more.
Credentials are typically verified using single sign-on. This enables control
over what, when, and how contributions are made, and avoids the information
veracity problems that are typical in traditional social media.
By bringing together content, people, and tools to support these objectives
within secure virtual environments, SKNs let organizations supersede the silo
problem to improve the transfer and retention of knowledge, foster collaboration,
and increase productivity. Let's look at an example in the environmental engineering
Reverse Engineer a Solution
Engineering firms are laden with data. They save large volumes of diverse content
describing all aspects of proposed, current, and past projects. They need centralized
access to this data to share and collaborate on it with departments, partners,
and customers around the globe.
Increasing engineers' productivity directly translates to a company's bottom
line. The most effective engineers are those that have immediate access to the
right information at the right time. It lets them focus on both their own core
competencies and the business objective at hand, rather than wasting time searching
for and validating information.
An SKN provides a central repository for this data. Say an engineer is gathering
research on the environmental consequences of building a new road. He can use
the SKN to quickly access a report completed by a fellow engineer describing
her assessment of the effects of the proposed road.
Incorporated into the document are comments from his colleagues who've also
studied the site, local environment, laws, etc. Ratings from the team are added,
which tell the engineer whether his team members agree with the comments.
This streamlines content review and updating, and improves the processes by
which engineers collaborate, make assessments, and ultimately, help officials
make decisions about their environmental infrastructures.
Not only does the engineer's research benefit from having all relevant information
accessible in a single repository, but comments and ratings from his colleagues
further inform his insight and understanding of the information.
Perhaps most importantly, it provides a 360-degree view of the organization's
knowledge about that particular project. All this content-both the core report
and social knowledge-are contained in the SKN and live on for the organization's
The larger an organization's global network, the more crucial the need to have
this holistic view of its collective knowledge. Unlocked information silos?
Improved collaboration? Faster knowledge transfer? Enhanced knowledge retention?
SKNs might be the nirvana driven by the hand of globalization.