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Finding experts--explicit and implicit

This article appears in the issue June 2006, [Vol 15, Issue 6]
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Several years ago, expertise location was a fast-growing branch of KM, helping to find the human repositories of specialized knowledge. Then it seemed to recede as an application of interest, perhaps because some of the solutions were narrowly focused, too hard to maintain or not well integrated with other enterprise applications.

But the requirement to locate experts has not gone away. In fact, Mark Gilbert, VP of high performance workplace practice at Gartner, recently pointed to expertise location management as a valuable technique for overcoming barriers to creating a high-performance workplace. "As organizations increasingly need to organize into ad hoc teams," says Gilbert, "being able to quickly identify the correct people to include on those teams is absolutely critical." In addition, social network analysis (SNA) is providing another way to spot experts in an enterprise.

BAE Systems, the largest aerospace and defense company in Europe, wanted to create a learning organization built on best practices gleaned by its 130,000 employees. To do so, it needed to manage terabytes of information in numerous repositories and provide ready access to experts who were dispersed throughout the world. Beginning with a portal from Autonomy, BAE began setting up an infrastructure to aggregate and make searchable the information on which its operations rely. As a first step, the system would eventually cut by 90 percent the time employees spent searching for information.

Next, the company targeted the intellectual assets represented by its engineers, scientists and other professionals. "Access to information is good," says Richard West, head of organization and e-learning at BAE, "but access to people can be phenomenal, and that takes more than users relying on search technology alone."

Using Autonomy's automated Collaboration and Expertise Network (CEN), West designed and built a profiling solution that is now branded Virtual University in a Box (UIB). UIB leverages unstructured information such as reports, e-mails, resumes and profiles to enable the rapid setup and easy maintenance of user-defined communities of practice. The BAE Virtual University is the overarching structure that ties together information, expertise location and communities of practice.

"Learning should be an everyday event," says West, "and with the Virtual University, we can learn from an article, a byte-sized chunk of e-learning, or by finding someone in the company that has the right experience."

Integrating all the functions has been an evolutionary process over the past five or six years, but with all the pieces in place, the investment has clearly paid off. In one case cited by West, BAE discovered that two aerospace groups were facing the same engineering problem. "We saved 7 million [U.K. pounds] by applying existing knowledge in just one situation," he recalls.

"An expertise location system needs two things," says Stouffer Egan, chief strategy officer at Autonomy. "First, an enterprise that wants to include it as an infrastructure proposition rather than as one more application, and second, the ability to deliver the information in a way that is not manual or labor-intensive." According to Egan, the best proxy for indicating areas of expertise is unstructured information such as reports and e-mails. "The user does not have the burden of filling out forms," he says, "but is being profiled in multiple ways, as determined by both the user and the enterprise."

Incorporating expertise location into a collaboration and information discovery infrastructure is also the approach taken by Entopia. Entopia Quantum allows workers to collect and organize information from any digital source and present it in a shared workspace. Entopia K-Bus applies a variety of discovery techniques to provide enterprise search, content visualization and expertise location. Its solutions are often used in sales force automation, research automation and customer support.

Expertise location is also valuable in smoothing the progress of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity. "As two companies are brought together, experts in different areas can be identified and their efforts better coordinated," says David Hickman, VP of product management at Entopia. More broadly, the same search techniques can be used to identify employees who are interacting with people outside the company, to generate new sales leads or develop partnerships.

Capturing expertise

With the retirement of baby boomers imminent, many organizations will face a crisis as their knowledge workers leave. XpertSHARE from XpertUniverse provides one way of capturing and reusing that vital expertise before it disappears. XpertSHARE identifies experts, structures collaborative interactions with them and records the knowledge exchange. The responses can be rated by quality, and the most useful ones archived for future reference by employees, for training or for customer support. They can also be mined for knowledge that can be distributed through traditional knowledge management systems such as support knowledgebases, self-help systems and contact center scripts.

XpertSHARE captures the voice call, images of any shared applications, text messaging, pushed URLs, whiteboard information and video of the expert. Recordings of such sessions can go a long way toward keeping institutional knowledge within the institution.

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