Expertise Location and Knowledge Sharing Drive Better Outcomes Through Social Business


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In the last article in my series about the role of social collaboration in knowledge and document management, I set the scene for positioning social as the glue which brings the tacit knowledge we humans have but which these systems don’t harness. I promised another article about the role of Expertise Location and Expertise Sharing Practices so thought, with the new year upon us, the time was right.

Expertise is an interesting concept. To me it is different from experience and different from knowledge. To my understanding, experience is what we gain as we go through life carrying out tasks and doing our work. We may not necessarily understand the task we’re doing but we know that if we do it one way or another we might get different results. As an example I worked in a lab in a production plant which made vitamin products, like vitamin c, vitamin e, etc. I was in the middle of working towards a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and so therefore found the opportunity to get some practical experience of what it’s like to apply my knowledge. In the lab were a number of very experienced lab workers who knew every aspect of loading samples into the analysis equipment, handling an error and reporting the results. They didn’t have any, or at least very much, chemistry knowledge. They didn’t know what the machine they were working was doing – they just knew what they had to do with the machine to get it to produce a number which one of the chemists would understand and be able to action. In my understanding, those lab workers had a great deal of experience but not a lot of knowledge in chemical analysis. I, on the other hand had knowledge but not much experience.

In a safety-critical situation or where the stakes are high you need to find people who have both knowledge and experience. You need to locate who can apply correct knowledge in the right way. Traditional Knowledge Management and Document Management solutions don’t go anywhere near this issue. Social Collaboration systems act as the building blocks to draw the inference between the knowledge and its application through experience.

Encouraging your staff to share their experience through blog posts, status updates, wiki articles, questions and answers, forum discussions and all the other collaborative solutions a system such as IBM Connections has gives you the foundation to build expertise location into your business processes and hence, perhaps, to improve a critical situation.

Expertise Location is much more than biographical information in a profile, however. I am sure virtually all of you reading this document have a profile on LinkedIn and probably on Facebook, Google+ and who knows what else. Each of these systems encourage you to say something about yourself. LinkedIn, in particular, structures that information to give you places to describe projects you’ve worked on, publications you’ve made, etc. In other words, LinkedIn is going some way towards giving you the facility to describe the knowledge and experience you have.

The reader of your LinkedIn profile has, to a large extent, only got your word for it that you have this knowledge and experience. That’s one of the reasons why we saw endorsements appear in LinkedIn. This is a kind of crowd-sourced experience index for your knowledge. If lots of other people endorse you as being an expert in social business, then the chance are you know something about it. It’s not fool-proof, of course. Neither was the recommendation engine they have. It’s easy to get all your friends to write glowing recommendations to give the impression that you are the best employee in the world. To a complete stranger these recommendations are useful, but not a decider, in my opinion.

So let’s say I work for an airline and that airline has a social collaboration solution which contains profiles of all the staff in the airline. I can find anyone by searching for their name, their job title, their department, etc. That’s great and solves a problem for lots of organizations. What is doesn’t tell me is who to call on if I have a plane grounded in Atlanta with faulty engine.

The company might compel everyone to create some form of biography in their profile – like LinkedIn. This helps to some extent with my problem, but is not a complete solution for the same reasons LinkedIn has a problem. I might search for a jet engine expert and might get a cast of hundreds of apparent experts. Who do I pick?

Next up I could perhaps filter my search to be jet engine experts in Atlanta. I might not get any results. I might get a few, but I might find that their biography doesn’t specifically mention the Rolls-Royce RB211 engine I have a problem with. Traditionally I might be left with asking around about specific people or calling them to see if they can help.

Social Collaboration helps me narrow in on the best person for my issue by blending the user’s contributions, referrals, comments, etc, with their biography. Let’s say my search in Connections produces three experts I might want to consider:

  1. Mike Doe – Biography says he services jet engines and he is based on the East Coast.
  2. Jane Smith – Biography says she’s experience in Rolls-Royce maintenance, and I can see see she is a regular contributor to the Rolls-Royce community on our system.
  3. Ian Jones – Biography doesn’t explicitly say anything about Rolls-Royce engines, but he has a regular blog on engine maintenance and he has a ton of recommended and liked contributions that other people have re-posted and fed-back on.

Who is the best expert? Ian Jones surely?

While this isn’t an exact science the inference here is that Ian would have more EXPERTISE, i.e. knowledge and experience, and hence might be the person to contact.

I am of course applying subjective judgement in this situation and to some extent I am using my own expertise to judge the most appropriate expert for my problem.

So, if Knowledge Management and Document Management don’t cut it when it comes to capturing the tacit knowledge – the experience – your staff have, surely the case for implementing a social collaboration system becomes clear. However, if you want to remove the last obstacle – your own experience and judgement – from the expert location scenario, you need to turn to some smart technology that can analyze the results.

IBM recently launched its Expertise Locator application which is an add-on product for IBM Connections. It sports both a web-browser interface and an extremely groovy mobile app for both Android and iOS. The Expertise Locator does deep analysis of the biographical and experiencial information your social collaboration system has and offers reasoned suggestions for experts you might be searching for.

Let me illustrate this with an example. In IBM’s own Expertise Locator I did a search for Knowledge Management Airlines to find people in IBM who might know how to apply knowledge management to the airline industry. The results were as follows:


From a constituency of 450,000 employees, the Expertise Locator has found 3395 who potentially match my requirements. OK, so that’s not a bad start, but its a very long list to have to wade through, especially if I am in a hurry. Over on the left hand side of the example above, however, I can quickly zoom-in on the search results by being a little more prescriptive:

In three clicks, I choose that I need a consultant, someone who works for the Collaboration Solutions area of IBM and is a specialist in Collaboration. The 3395 results get reduced to 3:

IBM_Expertise-5So I’ve got a much more honed list of people to speak to. Notice also, however, that Expertise Locator is indicating if I know the person or not. The top hit is a second degree connection (I know someone who knows them). The middle person I don’t know and is out of my network. The bottom person is one of my connections.

For me, though, one of the most important aspects about the results is the “Why Cook, James?” section:

IBM_Expertise-4I can see that James Cook has been highlighted not only because of his job title, and other information in his profile, but also for the Forum post he’s made.

I am still needing to apply some level of judgement about which of the three experts I could work with, but by providing the “Why” like this, Expertise Locator is making my life a whole lot easier simply by pulling together and analyzing the biographical information and the contributions of users in the system.

Put this into the hands of a turn-around manager at a busy airport when he has an aircraft that’s not going anywhere and you suddenly bring a huge level of corporate intelligence and improved decision making to everyone wherever they are:



Knowledge Management

We started this discussion identifying that social collaboration solutions are one of the key aspects of gluing together the information silos and encouraging the unlocking of the tacit experience people have and combining it with the explicit knowledge in knowledge and document management systems. In this article I’ve described how Expertise Sharing and Location can add important dimensions to your organization by applying the combination of tacit and explicit. The key for your organization is to embed social collaboration into the business processes you run and then applying those social interactions to help drive better business outcomes. Expertise Location is just one of many tools to help unlock that potential.

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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