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KM past and present: making the most of your resources

This article appears in the issue January 2017, [Volume 26, Issue 1]
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It would not be an exaggeration to say that knowledge management is experiencing a quantum leap. With the advent of big data, forays into AI and great volumes of sensor data from the Internet of Things (IoT), there is a new frontier that deserves exploring. Much of the valuable work of knowledge management, though, is not on the cutting edge; rather, it is in the well thought out solutions to ongoing business challenges. Those initiatives are pushing the frontier too, by making the most of resources that are already available and bringing sometimes unexpected value into the business environment.

Applications that work—finding the right information and the right people

Renowned chocolate maker Hershey’s, based in Pennsylvania, set out with an ambitious goal, enabling its employees to “find everything and everyone” in the company. To do that, they planned to move all their information to the cloud so that it could be accessed anywhere and anytime on any device and reduce the learning curve for use of the new system. To simplify the approach, they selected Office 365 as a single suite.

Hershey’s set up a four-year timeline to move out of its legacy Office 2003, move its email to the cloud, migrate from shared drives to One Drive, replace its existing content management system with SharePoint and set up a virtual desktop with enterprise search. “Our goal was to get all of our information unified and searchable,” says George Lenhart, senior manager, advanced productivity and collaboration at Hershey’s.

“To make the system work, we needed a sophisticated and intelligent search solution,” says Lenhart, “and Coveo was the best fit for us because of its ability to reach so much content and score high on relevance.” While the technology behind the scenes is complex, the new system is designed to be simple for users. Behavioral analytics and machine learning help determine the users’ context and what information they are most likely to need. “We indexed all our information first, which was a critical step,” Lenhart adds. The system does not use taxonomy, but extracts metadata and uses auto-classification to create searchable categories. Coveo serves as the intelligent unified portal through which Hershey’s intranet is accessed and relevance is managed.

Among the lessons learned was the importance of engaging stakeholders from the start and addressing cultural issues. The plan was well communicated, and issues were discussed as the program evolved. Hershey’s also took a creative approach to training that incorporated knowledge about its culture. Rather than training groups of employees, Hershey’s began with one-on-one training of key administrative staff. “These are the people whom users were going to turn to when they had a question anyway,” Lenhart explains, “so it made sense to make them the experts and then share their skills with others.”

Another lesson was the importance of doing extensive upfront work in the early stages. “We had the vendor come in and interview our departments,” Lenhart says. “The main goal was to find experts, those who had the knowledge that we might need.” That groundwork paid off when the system proved to be effective in finding even fairly obscure pockets of knowledge. At one point, for example the individual who was familiar with processing licorice in the machinery used to produce Twizzlers needed to be located. “With Coveo we were able to find the right person almost immediately by automatically extracting expertise from the content,” Lenhart explains.

The next phases of the roadmap call for predictive search and the ability for the portal to anticipate users’ needs. “Our new intranet is allowing us to be a part of the digital workplace and accomplish things easily that used to be difficult or impossible,” Lenhart says.

Machine learning is changing business processes, according to Louis Tetu, CEO and chairman of Coveo. “Especially in knowledge management, it is much more about relevance than it is about search now,” Tetu says. “Machine learning and behavioral analytics help eliminate rigid taxonomies and understand what people care about, which allows for greater innovation and flexibility, and which will infuse the work environment with new options for innovation.”

 “You have to ‘embrace the mess’ to leverage all your corporate knowledge and add intelligence on top. This upskills workers, enabling them to do more complex tasks on their own.”

In addition, accessing information throughout the ecosystem ensures that insights can be derived from all relevant content, not only delivering search results but also issuing recommendations in the context of work. “It’s not possible to get everything into a single repository on a continuous basis,” emphasizes Tetu. “You have to ‘embrace the mess’ to leverage all your corporate knowledge and add intelligence on top. This upskills workers, enabling them to do more complex tasks on their own.”

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