Tomorrow Never Knows

By eweek  |  Posted 2004-07-19 Print this article Print

Tomorrow Never Knows

One persistent challenge to knowledge management tools of all stripes has been how they "learn," or adapt over time. For example, Mary over in the records department might be focusing on Sarbanes-Oxley compliance this summer, but a year from now she might have moved on to another company issue—and department. Here again, expertise location systems present a potential solution—albeit with a catch. Some ELS software continually scans a companys data in real time and judges, by date, who is the most knowledgeable person on a particular topic at any given time. In this way, the system automatically updates itself.
To download a graphic on how ELS systems work, click here.
Of course, the problem with a program that crawls through every server and employees PC is that it raises privacy concerns, as Lockheeds Remy discovered when his legal department became concerned that employees would protest a perceived invasion of privacy before the TeamNet pilot was even completed.

"We hit that problem on day one, and it stopped this project in its tracks until we solved it," Remy says. To do so, his team created a splash screen where people can learn about how the system works, and opt out if they choose. Since the pilot concluded, he says, only one person has chosen to do so.

Meanwhile, instead of an automatic search engine, some companies revert to the old model of having employees keep their own expertise search phrases up to date—a risky move, say some analysts.

Says Lockheeds Remy, "[Sharing information] is counterculture in many ways. Frankly, the people who are more traditional in their view of the old command-and-control stuff dont like this. Its peer-to-peer, so its very threatening to the traditional organization, just like the Web was very threatening. But youve got to get over that. Its going to happen."

"Getting people to share information sounds a lot easier than it really is," agrees McCall of the DoC. "Some people are afraid to share what they know because they fear they wont be needed anymore."

To encourage participation, McCall created an incentive program. "We give a small cash award to our top users, those who answer questions as well as ask them. It takes two to tango," she says. The department also puts out a newsletter that highlights top participants.

META Groups Gotta advises against cash incentives. "Getting people to give that information up is tough, but I think direct monetary incentive taints it." Instead, he envisions linking the system with performance management. "For example," he says, "Twenty percent of your review might be how well you help others outside your department."

Others say a mandate from the top is all thats needed. "True experts dont really worry about holding on to their information because what they are expert in is a particular field of knowledge, and theyre discovering new things all the time," says Gartners Caldwell. Caremarks Ciamarra agrees, adding that the incentive at his company "is to not be bombarded by the same questions over and over again." Next Page: What you dont know.


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