Here’s a true story of how barriers to sharing knowledge can either cripple an organization or allow it to grow and prosper. A petroleum company in the UK developed a new process for extracting oil that was more efficient and delivered more volume than before. However, they found that the extracted oil required special processing before it was usable for refining. They searched for a process to convert the oil to usable form — found it– and were willing to pay a substantial sum for the technology.
Still there were a lot of questions to be answered. Was the intellectual property owned by a competitor? Could they even purchase it? Amazingly, they found that they owned this enabling technology. This organization had invested heavily to develop this specialized process, but the information on their intellectual property was tucked away – hidden in their patent filings. It was only discovered by an astute staffer after considerable research. This is a clear example of a knowledge “silo” that was not transparent or easily accessible and that strangled this organization until they discovered it.
Buried knowledge, hard-to-find documentation, expertise that only a few know and don’t share, and information held possessively by departments or divisions can strangle an organization. These knowledge barriers and bottlenecks not only hamper an organization’s growth and profits; they also limit the success of managers and staff. Knowledge sharing is particularly important in supply chain management where organizations want to be more efficient, make faster decisions, and improve handoffs at every stage of the process.
How can your organization break the knowledge barriers that exist and hold you back?
Open bottlenecks & break down barriers
Smart organizations have broken through knowledge barriers by capturing the tacit knowledge of experts and the implicit and unwritten knowledge of corporate culture. These organizations combine this captured expertise with explicit, recorded knowledge available in documents, databases, and data repositories. They then represent their combined expertise in high-fidelity knowledge bases, expert systems, and performance-support tools implanted into daily workflow. Because of the progressive ways smart organizations elicit, store, and share knowledge they innovate, accelerate production, and deliver superior customer service and support.
As an example, consider how our key associate organization, Tacit Connexions in the UK, uncovered hidden knowledge for their customer. Their customer was a European Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of control systems used in power plants. The control systems were undergoing lifetime extensions and the customer was faced with knowledge barriers of three types:
- There were few experts knowledgeable on the systems (bottlenecks) and
- Many experts were retiring (knowledge loss).
- Documentation was dated, unorganized, and spread across multiple areas (knowledge silos).
Breaking the blockades was not only needed, it was required before crippling breakdowns would be impossible to repair! To mitigate these risks, the organization needed to perform a complete knowledge transfer from retiring experts to new staffers. How did they proceed?
Here’s how it was done…and how your organization could follow a similar process.
Capturing explicit, implicit, & tacit knowledge
First, the company catalogued, organized and created accessible repositories for explicit knowledge (documents, spreadsheets, databases, etc.). Knowledge engineers used this as a basis for acquiring the tacit and implicit knowledge of experts using several specialized interview and knowledge capture techniques. From this, they created knowledge models that represented the combined knowledge in representational formats. Software engineers then integrated the collected knowledge models into contextual search programs in a “smart” knowledge base to access information quickly and accurately.
In capturing expertise, knowledge engineers used several visualization techniques for representing and validating knowledge with the experts (Figure 1). These techniques included process flows, concept maps, tables, and matrices that show relationships and context of the acquired knowledge assets. Specialized visualization was done in trees (composition, process, attribute, cause, and mixed trees), maps (concept and process maps), timelines, frames, and knowledge pages – also in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Representing Knowledge Using Visualized Models (Image courtesy: Tacit Connexions)
Representing knowledge & sharing expertise across the organization
After representing and visualizing knowledge, the compnay developed a set of five inter-linked software models of the deep tacit and explicit knowledge. They represented the multiple processes and design concepts used in these power station control systems. The combined knowledge content was deployed in interactive, browser-driven webpages of a Knowledge Navigator (Figure 2). These procedural and design guides allowed Tacit Connexions’s customer’s staff to create a permanent record of their experience, understanding, and insight to guide the work of succeeding staff. In addition, the knowledge base could be updated and maintained by users to provide long-term documentation of decisions and events.
Figure 2: Knowledge Navigator Dashboard Screen (Image courtesy: Tacit Connexions)
Through the combined knowledge base, its ability for updates, and capability to maintain current lessons learned, the customer mitigated the risk to future operations. The solution was cost effective and eliminated the need for replacement, upgrade, or update of expensive systems and components. The knowledge base also provided support to third-party suppliers and end-user customers, all of whom had similar issues with knowledge silos and retiring staff.
Unblocking your knowledge bottlenecks & silos
Does your organization have knowledge bottlenecks that are strangling growth and profits? Do you have information and expertise buried in the heads of experts or hard-to-access silos? With a comprehensive program and state-of-the-art tools to capture and share expertise, you’ll see real gains that translate into increased profits and greater competitive advantage. You’ll use, and reuse, retained knowledge…and share it across your organization, customers, and suppliers.