Remember knowledge management (KM)? In the 1990s, KM emerged as a way to collect and share expertise across a company. Employees would fill out profiles for a database about their skills and knowledge. Colleagues could query the system to find the best person to help with a project.
Pooling employee brainpower, KM proponents said, would speed up and refine how a company operates by facilitating collaboration. But KM never swept the corporate nation. People would forget to update their profiles, or find doing so too cumbersome, and the database would become less useful. For KM to work, people have to want to capture, catalog and share what they know.
Now advanced collaboration tools, combined with a fresh mind set about sharing inspired by social networking, are reviving KM, says Spencer Mains, CTO with Landor and B to D, two divisions of the branding and design firm WPP. The company recently deployed software from PBworks to let employees in 15 countries collaborate on client accounts. While they chat and share documents, the system archives the information and conversations. "When it's part of the everyday process, you solve the problem of KM," Mains says. "You capture knowledge as it happens."
Collaborating this way presents challenges, however, says John Poulin, director and principal solution architect at Huron Consulting Group. If the reason to collaborate is to improve decision making, CIOs will have to integrate collaboration tools with e-mail, business process management and analytics applications.
Share and share alike
You and half a billion other people know Facebook as a place to connect with friends online. But inside the company, its tools provide the linchpin for corporate growth, says Facebook's Director of IT, Tim Campos.
Social networking has made it easy for people to share information about themselves, and now that comfort is shifting to the workplace. Campos, who joined Facebook from semiconductor-maker KLA-Tencor last year, says company culture influences whether collaboration projects will succeed.
The key is social context, he says. Tools that facilitate social interaction-such as sharing weekend plans-while allowing users to get work done promote collaboration, Campos says.
A KM project he worked on at KLA-Tencor had mixed results, he says, partly because the engineers saw adding to the knowledge database as too much work. "It was like going to a meeting for no other purpose than to have people pick your brain. You get nothing out of it."
But at Facebook, employees live in the collaboration tools, Campos says, launching them when they boot up their computers every day.
Collaboration works best when employees can tap many information sources, Poulin says. That way, like-minded groups of people can gather online, exchange data, and disband when the work is done. However, Poulin adds, popular collaboration products such as Microsoft SharePoint and the Oracle Collaboration Suite aren't easy to integrate with other vendors' products.
Collaboration tools that can't incorporate information from, say, an analytics dashboard won't help a company make better decisions faster, agrees Campos. Enabling that scenario, he says, "will become what we dreamed of for KM."
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