Most organizations have an incredibly large knowledge base that resides within their staff. The most common concern in most organizations is the loss of that knowledge when people leave. That is a big problem but not necessarily the biggest. Another less obvious gap is when staff have knowledge that is not utilized. This can manifest itself in many ways. For example, a major decision is being made and someone who has intimate knowledge of the issues is not consulted because their expertise is not widely known. Another common scenario is rework. People will repeat an analysis or research project that someone has either already performed or that someone could have done more easily because of knowledge they possessed.
A second and equally important part of the knowledge management problem the organizations face is the massive about of content including data and documents. A significant amount of that content is unstructured, as much as 80% in some cases. This means that content is within documents with no good way to easily find and reuse the information. The content in documents is either saved on someone’s computer hard drive or within a vast document management system (local or cloud-based platform), which makes it difficult for business users to find and use relevant information within these documents.
My interest in this area stems from reusability. This can be as simple as using one document as the basis for another. If a person needs to write a letter or create a report and they can find a similar document they can open and modify they will save time by reusing something they have previously created. The issue is frequently finding something similar. In other cases maybe someone the person knows had exactly what they needed. Not reusing content and not taking advantage of content that could be reused are huge losses to productivity. But this is really just the tip of the iceberg. Many times content is available on a network drive, a SharePoint site, or in a content management system. If people cannot find what they need or spend inordinate amounts of time searching, there a even further losses to productivity.
The same thing happens on the people side. Who in the organization might know the answer or where to find the answer. Even people who very "connected" often don't know who the experts are. I have seen company directory projects where people are asked to create and update their knowledge and skills profiles. These start with good intentions but seldom are totally effective for two reasons. First, people do not build good profiles with appropriate keywords. Second, those profiles get out of date quickly, especially with the pace of change we face.
In many ways I think solutions in this area will come from technology that makes the interface between people and content seamless and transparent. Two of the other topics I follow, Enterprise Social Networks, and Office Graph both help achieve that. The Office Graph automatically links you to other people through your interactions within Office 365. People you work with, e-mail, share groups with, etc. are all part of the ecosystem that links you together. The Office Graph can make content recommendations for you based on this transparent insight. Enterprise Social Networks provide more links to people with common interests and shared discussion topics. The ESN is in itself a rich repository of information. But more importantly it provides a platform to ask questions and tap into expertise within you organization. If you need develop an analysis or research a competitor the ESN is a perfect platform to find out who may have already done this or who in the organization may be able to help. As the Office Graph evolves with links to the Yammer (Microsoft's ESN) a further synergy will be created that can leverage people, expertise, and content.
A large part of being successful in managing knowledge and expertise is to not impose on the people doing the work. An ESN is more or less voluntary. It is not intrusive. But as people participate voluntarily they build and capture knowledge within the organization and they also build a list or topics associated with their posts. Simply searching a topic may show one or a few people who have actively posted answers on the topic that you can reach out to. Having a keyword rich profile is still important but it is not as much of a limiting factor within an ESN.
I think this is a huge area for organizations to increase productivity and leverage knowledge and expertise. Increased usage of Enterprise Social Networks and technologies such as the Office Graph will make it easier to do so. However, there will still be people, adoption, and usage challenges to be addressed to realize the full value.