Build your Collective Corporate Intelligence with Social Business #socbiz #ibmsocialbiz #e20


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There are two types of knowledge: explicit and implicit. Explicit knowledge is held in data in physical and electronic form. To access it you need systems which can sort, search and sift the data. More recently this process has been improved so that the data turns more into information. For example, turning raw “likes” of a Facebook page (which is data) into trends and habits of individuals gives you something you can work with, i.e. information. Explicit knowledge is the thing which business in general and IT in particular has focused on in the last thirty years.

Far more difficult to access, yet even more powerful is the implicit knowledge your organisation holds. This isn’t held in the data or information your company gathers. Instead it walks around all day in your office, goes home at night and is subject to the vagaries of the human condition – it’s what your employees know and how they apply it. This implicit information isn’t categorised in a way which can be downloaded. It’s not even connected well to other pieces of information. Instead we rely on the ability of our colleagues to connect what they know to the explicit information presented to them to build competitive advantage, to build a Smarter Workforce, or to just simply deliver a good experience for customers and staff alike.

Until the advent of social networking techniques this elusive implicit information has had a number of attempts at being sprung out of brain-jail. I remember in the late eighties working on “expert systems” which attempted to mimic the thought and decision making processes of the expert. The expert system attempts to follow a reasonably linear or binary decision making process and importantly, if it gets the end result wrong, learn a new answer which can be applied next time.

Expert systems have not yet hit the mainstream and certainly have not taken off in the way that social networking has. Social networking appeals to the altruistic aspects of the human condition. They provide instant and delayed gratification for the sharer: you can see your efforts shared to those you want to see it and your friends or colleagues can respond to it with comments, discussion, “likes” or many other social techniques to induce engagement in your content. This starts to form a virtuous cycle of sharing and feedback and before you know it you have an active social network freely contributing knowledge, experience, expertise, content and all manner of curated information. We have achieved this not by trying to map someone’s knowledge like an expert system but by making it rewarding to freely contribute what we know or experience.

Thus, the collective corporate intelligence of your organisation stands in two parts – that which you can see and touch (the explicit knowledge) and that which has to be coaxed into existence which you don’t know exists until it appears (the implicit knowledge).

Combining explicit and implicit knowledge in your organisation will have a huge effect on your business. It will make available information other people didn’t know existed or solve problems they couldn’t solve. It will highlight inventions, ideas, concepts and experiences which on their own might not appear to have much value but, when put together by the people in your organisation might well generate something greater than the sum of the parts.

Bring Explicit and Implicit Knowledge Together

What would you achieve if you brought your explicit information together with the implicit knowledge in your colleagues’ heads? In the short run providing a single way of accessing the corporate information you know of will be a big advantage for people. You need to provide this in a manner in which they can access it easily, of course, but getting it all up there is a good start.

Of course, simply giving access to everything you have doesn’t mean that suddenly all your problems would be solved. If that were the case all students would need to do is sit in a library long enough to become an expert in their subject. The reality is that guidance and provocation is needed in order to bring the implicit knowledge and explicit information together.

This sort of thing happens all the time every day of course. You’re running a meeting and someone says “in my experience, …”. They have brought something to the explicit knowledge which might not previously have been known. The result is a better outcome and validation of what we all know – collaborating or working in a team generally produces better results than each of us working independently.

Teasing out the Implicit and Capturing it

When “knowledge accidents” like “in my experience…” occur the key thing to raise your collective corporate intelligence is to CAPTURE it. The most common way this kind of thing happens is through things like meeting reports, discussion papers, meeting minutes, etc. It’s not enough, however, to simply capture the information. It needs to be shared, linked, exposed and discovered by others in order to build your corporate intelligence.

It’s at this point social collaboration solutions come back in to play. If you socialise business processes to enable the capture of the implicit knowledge you provide a spiders web for catching juicy morsels of information food for the corporate brain. A social collaboration solution presents this information to your fellow workers by allowing them to discover new people who can help them, highlighting new information which has appeared which they might be interested in and allowing others to rate and highlight information they find useful.

Categorising, discovering and highlighting information are key to building corporate intelligence. The more background information we sift, the number of times we are able to connect seemingly disconnected information to the situation in hand, the more we are able to make better more informed decisions. Making this a virtuous cycle and having the better decisions recorded and documented in the same solution truly builds a self-learning expert system. The system itself does not make the decisions for you (yet) but presents increasingly relevant and powerful information to help you.

Find your Experts

One of the key things that a social collaboration solution, like IBM Connections, does is to highlight the people behind the explicit and implicit knowledge. We (IBM) recently announced a series of business patterns which focus on how social is used to improve common business processes. One of the biggest of these is how you find people in your organisation who have the knowledge or expertise you need.

While the explicit or implicit knowledge you need may not exist in your system to solve your direct problem, the likelihood is that someone in your organisation can help. By drawing the knowledge together with the people you can see who the experts in particular subjects are. You can challenge them to help you and unlock more implicit knowledge to drive your business result and of course, raise your collective corporate intelligence more.

Being identified in your organisation as someone who really knows their subject is very rewarding for them. It encourages them to contribute more and spurs others on to the collaboration cycle too. It lets you, as an organisation, recognise and reward the contribution they make to your company. Remember, today your value is not what you know, but what you share.

Wrapping it up

I hope you have followed the basis of my argument in this post. I hope you can see that any organisation has two sources of information to help it do better and work smarter. The most difficult to access, yet the most powerful, is the knowledge your staff carries around with them. A social collaboration platform like IBM Connections provides the mechanisms and features to collect the explicit and implicit information as part of business-as-usual processes. They allow you to collect not only the knowledge you have but also to identify the people behind that knowledge. Identifying your experts helps you reward and recognise their efforts leading to a virtuous cycle of further and deeper contributions and encourages others to participate too.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Alan Hamilton
I believe social business is a new way for organizations of all sizes to form stronger working relationships within themselves and with their customers and partners. By demonstrating how any organization can become more open, responsible, compassionate and flexible I can show that staff and customer satisfaction increases, morale improves and better business results come.


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