How Social Knowledge Networks can Help Global Organizations Capture and Retain Knowledge

Globalization is both a blessing and curse. On one hand, it's the cornerstone to industrial development, financial growth, political expansion, and cultural diffusion.

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 information silos.

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 industry.

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 future generations.

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.