How do you capture knowledge? Knowledge is the thing that we bring to work every day which lets the organization do what it does. Knowledge can be stored and can be retrieved and importantly can be passed on to those without it. For any organization, the churn of staﬀ – either due to them leaving voluntarily, involuntarily or through retirement – represents a potential source of knowledge. Every day the organization spends money to conduct its operations and every day the people involved in those operations gain or use knowledge to make it happen. By being able to capture some of that knowledge and not lose it when people leave ultimately makes the organization smarter and potentially more productive, more eﬃcient, a more rewarding place to work in, and can improve the quality of the output.
Given the length of time, a pyramid in Egypt must have taken to build; knowledge transfer must have been carried out over generations of Egyptians building these huge buildings. Without that knowledge transfer, they would probably never have been built, or at least there would be dramatically fewer, and they would have been smaller because each generation would have to make the same mistakes as their predecessors before they could be successful in their endeavor.
Consider for a moment how knowledge transfer happens in your organization. Do you do it by word-of-mouth, apprenticeships, manuals, speciﬁcations, documentation, or something else? How complete is that knowledge transfer? Do people still make the mistakes that others have made? If so then it suggests that your knowledge transfer is not 100% complete. If your company makes any mistakes or has any issues with the quality of production, then I am sure your knowledge transfer is not total. I doubt any organization can achieve complete transfer of knowledge between people.
However, we should consider how we can improve the capture of knowledge and the passing-on of that information to others who could beneﬁt from it. If we can be better as an organization at doing so, surely our pyramids will be bigger and better and stand the test of time longer?
Expecting individuals to write down everything they know about something is probably impossible. An engineer who is retiring can do her best to mentor those still there, pass on her wisdom and experience but it is always limited to the context of their ability to recall it. If I were to ask you to tell me everything you know you might start telling me about your family, your background, your work and so on, but I would only ever learn a small amount about everything you know. On the other hand, if you indulged me long enough, it would be possible for me to construct questions on every aspect of your work to a detailed level that I could ask you to make sure that the key parts of the knowledge about the organization you hold are passed on.
This is not a practical proposition of course, and thus we must consider how we can adjust our organizations to foster Knowledge Capture and Management. Doing so helps to one who learns and advances and does its best not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
So, what exactly is knowledge capture? How do we manage knowledge? IBM’s framework with products like IBM Connections and Watson Workspace make it very easy for individuals to respond to requests for help and to provide engaging commentary and feedback on business issues.
Consider a situation where a Watson Workspace is created to allow the police, ﬁre department, hospital, paramedics and so on to engage each other at a road accident immediately. Asking each participant to stop and answer questions is, of course, ridiculous as a strategy to collect knowledge. Having them engage in a dialog – vocal, typed, videoed – whatever, allows us to capture the exchange of facts, procedure, protocols and so on that allow us to deﬁne over time what the most eﬀective approach to a road accident might be. Over time this analysis allows us to bring cognitive capabilities such as IBM Watson in to play to augment that knowledge capture. Watson can learn from the experiences and act on the knowledge captured. It could suggest that the paramedic on site tries to identify one of the casualties at the roadside so that we can check the hospital database for the blood type of the individual so that it can be on hand in the emergency room if necessary.
The people on the scene at the time are focused on the recovery and health of the people involved. A System of Intelligence, which provides augmented intelligence by capturing the knowledge of earlier exchanges thus starts to accelerate processes, increase eﬃciency and makes the situation more productive.
At a practical level, employing techniques like Secure File Sharing and Corporate Communications are the building blocks for Knowledge Capture and Management. Encouraging people to share the ﬁles that they can and encouraging them to communicate openly allows the knowledge to be distilled into a digital form. This knowledge however inconsequential at the time can be used in the future.
Imagine being presented with a diﬃcult customer situation where you must resolve a situation where the customer refuses to pay for some service your organization has provided. Knowing the whole situation, down to call reports, meetings, schedules, emails, chat messages, site reports is of course extremely important and part of the knowledge capture process. However, experiential knowledge, the commentary around these artifacts can uncover the intent, the situation, and context for the decisions and circumstances that led up to the unhappy customer. Without some systematic knowledge capture and management regime, you may lose money to satisfy unfairly disgruntled customers, or end up with a large court bill one day.
So how do you do all this? You encourage sharing and engagement of all information in the organization. You foster having people involved in projects storing their information in a central place where their colleagues can see and respond to it. You develop a culture of communication, of learning and of handling information like spreadsheets and word processor documents in a central and shared place. Not by covert communication by email where only those who receive the email know the information exists.
The Platform provides any line of business with tools like wikis, blogs, activities, status updates, bookmarks, ﬁles, chat, surveys, and all sort of another context for you to embed knowledge capture into the daily work of your staﬀ.
Say your standard operating procedures for the chemical distillation plant are stored in a word processing document. Consider breaking this document down into wiki pages which reﬂect the key sections and chapters of that document. Consider inviting review and editing of these individual wiki pages instead of trying to have multiple (usually huge) versions moving around where everyone needs to review the document and supply changes. Over time this more atomic review of individual pages uncovers new insights through commenting and revision. The document now becomes a live living thing which people can consume in the parts that they need rather than be faced with a dauntingly huge document.
Document management does not need to be diﬃcult or a burden. In fact, in most situations, the key knowledge captured as part of a document revision process is switched oﬀ when the document is finished. The reader of the ﬁnal version doesn’t get to see the anecdotes, knowledge, experience and so on that are normally captured in the comments which are supplied in the revisions in a word processor document. That key experiential knowledge is lost when the document is published.
Considering a less document ﬁle focused approach enables the experience to be attached and retained against the knowledge to which it pertains.
Other techniques for knowledge capture and management abound throughout the Framework. Brainstorming through ideation blogs are a good example of how the normally fraught brainstorming process can be democratized. Instead of a few people in a room with post-it notes and ﬂip charts, using an ideation blog, you can greatly extend the idea capture and share net. You can have detailed discussion, comments and review of ideas across time zones and geography. You open your idea generation to the wisdom of the crowd and thus those ideas and ultimately the decisions which ﬂow from them are more likely to be tested, sanitized and peer-reviewed.
Importantly, the churn, the messy exchange of ideas, comments and concepts which happens during a strong ideation process very often causes the initial idea to be heavily revised and adapted. The input in that process is vital to experience and opinion which is not otherwise captured if more traditional approaches are used.