The Nexus of Knowledge: People + Information + Context

Article Featured Image

There's no denying that colleagues (and customers) share information and tacit knowledge when they get together. But in a world of virtual work teams and globally diverse organizations, how do you know who's doing what, and what that might mean to you?  If you're an engineer in Jacksonville, Florida, how do you know that a colleague working from home in The Netherlands could help to spark some ideas for the new product you're working on, because she has particular expertise in a related area?

Increases in virtual teams (according to SHRM, 46 percent of U.S. companies use virtual teams and 63 percent of employees are able to work from home, at least occasionally) and continuing increases in globalization (WTO) contribute to the growing challenges organizations face in connecting the right people to foster innovation, the key goal of knowledge management and the lifeblood of your company.  Emphasizing the trend and the challenge, if a company is global—it is 66 percent more likely to have virtual teams (SHRM).  A combined 85% of respondents to a SHRM survey said an increased use of virtual global teams would affect the U.S. workplace in the next five years.

Combine our increasingly, globally spread employees who work together virtually, often from home offices, with what is typically a static profiling or resume system, and you create barriers to making the kinds of connections that can ignite your company. Employees rarely update their profiles or resumes once they've joined a company and completed the form, or once they've joined a new, online corporate social network. How often do you update your LinkedIn profile?  And does it really contain everything you might know that could unlock someone else's business challenge? Obviously not.

More Expert Expertise Finding Required

In a 2013 survey, the APQC found that while a great deal of effort is being put into expertise finding within organizations, the results could be more effective. The study revealed that even after 10 years, only 36% of these programs were judged as "very effective," and that was the highest percentage rating of programs from years one through 10.  At the same time, 60 percent of respondents reported using SharePoint. Tools included searchable profiles, discussion forums, collaboration sites, social networking, micro blogging and centralized ask the expert services. Their challenge, I believe, is that people leave traces of their knowledge everywhere, not just in a system designed to locate expertise.

Knowledge traces

All of the tools listed above have roles to play, and form parts of the expert profile. However, people leave traces of what they know and are working on everywhere they work in your organization. In every document they author or edit, every system they work in, every IM and email they send or to which they reply, every piece of information with which they engage. Their mobile device is also a human sensor in itself, tracking what they do, where they are, what their interests are.

Together, this "cloud" of knowledge traces forms a dynamic, always up-to-date, real-time expertise profile of each and every employee. Combined with the original profile and/or resume, it becomes a well-rounded basis for employee connections.  The information itself becomes a candidate for re-use, without going through the KM "capture" phase.  "Capture," in this sense, becomes "Connect," as in connecting individuals with information, and through that information, with other individuals.

Understanding Context

People and systems define context, and context qualifies the value of information and knowledge, or its relevance to a particular situation or individual. This includes:

  • who they are (physical)
  • what they are working on (situational)
  • what they know (intent)

An individual's context may be derived through a combination of information, from their level of implicit knowledge and expertise in a given area to their own background, to the work they are doing at any point in time, within a given system, and even where they are in their work-journey.  Add to this personal motivations and aspirations, learning styles and goals, and you have well rounded context.

Content into Context

On the one hand, we have traces of implicit and explicit knowledge spread throughout all systems within an organization, from the desktop to the CRM and everywhere else in databases and the cloud. On the other hand, we have traces of the context of each individual.

What's left is to connect the dots—to recommend experts within the context of each employee, directly in the system or systems in which they work most.  This way, the engineer in Jacksonville will learn about the engineer in Amsterdam, who has been working on similar products and has some ideas, the combination of which will lead to a new innovation that can create immense value for your organization.  The connection may appear serendipitous, but it will be informed by the traces each employee leaves throughout their work and engagement with your organization.

KMWorld Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues