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Knowledge: Context for a connected world

​For organizations that are struggling with knowledge management, new technology solutions can help. But beyond technology, organizations must also help workers understand that sharing their knowledge makes them more relevant, not less.

KNOWLEDGE has been and will continue to be a key competitive differentiator when it comes to driving organizational performance. The power of people and machines working together offers the greatest opportunity for creating knowledge in human history. However, advanced technologies, new ways of working, and shifts in workforce composition are rendering traditional views of knowledge management obsolete. To capitalize on these changes, many organizations need to redefine how they promote knowledge creation to help maximize human potential at work.

For organizations that are struggling, the good news is that technology is offering up solutions that can help. Emerging AI capabilities such as natural language processing and natural language generation can automatically index and combine content across disparate platforms. These same technologies can also tag and organize information, automatically generating contextual metadata without human intervention and eliminating a major barrier to actually using the knowledge that an organization’s people and networks create. And in the most advanced applications, AI technologies can take that contextualized information and push it to an organization’s different teams and systems, allowing the intelligence to flow through networks of people as they work to uncover insights and solve problems in real-time.

In this way, technology becomes embedded into the organization’s teams in ways that help advance their collective intelligence—an example of “putting computers in the group” to create what we call “superteams. As a key application of superteams, knowledge management is evolving far beyond an internal database that workers occasionally visit to look for information. Instead, it connects all of an organization’s different teams, systems, and networks, elevating and honing everything the organization does. It proactively pushes the right information to the right person at the right time, and it accelerates learning by automatically delivering the expertise that people need to be able to develop key skills and capabilities.

As one example, Philips has launched a new knowledge management platform as part of its effort to transform from a product-based company to a solution-based company, aiming to save workers’ time and break down silos across its nearly 80,000 workers, 17 markets, and more than 30 businesses. The platform’s tagging mechanisms easily connect workers with articles, white papers, tips and tricks, public communities, and experts based on their specific interests and needs. This delivers huge time savings: Account managers and sales engineers now spend fewer hours per week searching for information.

Honda took a similar approach in 2019 when it worked to better understand driver behavior in an effort to improve the driver experience. By using an AI tool called Watson Discovery from IBM Watson, Honda was able to create new knowledge by analyzing complaint patterns from drivers, enabling engineers to respond to quality challenges in vehicles more efficiently. This improved not only their own work experience but the experience of Honda’s customers as well.

Technical Challenges

Many organizations may need to solve technical challenges to seize the opportunity to put “computers in the group” for knowledge management. Thirty-six percent of our survey respondents said that the lack of an adequate technology infrastructure constrains knowledge management at their organization. And nearly seven in ten (67 percent) of our survey respondents have yet to incorporate AI into their knowledge management strategy beyond a limited extent.

Yet while the lack of technology infrastructure was noted as a common barrier, it was only one of the top barriers to effective knowledge management. The other barriers identified in the survey focused not on the technological, but instead on the human side of the knowledge management equation. Barriers such as organizational silos (55 percent), lack of incentives (37 percent), and lack of an organizational mandate (35 percent) point to the fact many organizations need to do more than provide the infrastructure to share and create knowledge; they need to redefine the value associated with it as well.

In a world where knowledge equals power, many workers feel that holding on to their specialized knowledge allows them to safeguard their worth. To combat this, organizations can cultivate an ethos that helps people recognize that sharing their knowledge makes them more relevant, not less. Sodexo, for instance, worked to build an organizational culture that recognizes the value of knowledge-sharing. They launched a digital campaign to encourage their nearly 500,000 employees to join active knowledge-sharing communities and encouraging participation by marketing the importance of the communities, measuring usage, and recognizing active users. To further embed the knowledge-sharing mindset in their organization, Sodexo integrated its knowledge communities into other organizational systems to make them easily accessible through daily workflows. Their efforts are already paying off. Neta Meir, Sodexo’s digital and innovation HUB director, reported that Sodexo is already seeing “more and more adoption of new behaviors, like sharing, collaborating, and consuming knowledge.” Meir said, “I do believe that we are in the right direction to break silos, work more collaboratively, and perform better as [our employees] understand that knowledge-sharing is power.”

Philips, for example, did not just use knowledge management to reduce the time it took account managers and sales engineers to search for information. It leveraged a knowledge management ecosystem to create new ways of engineering solutions for its customers. This shift in focus occurred when leaders realized that opportunities were lost by not sharing new services and solutions across markets. A service might be successful in the United States while account managers in Europe were not aware of its existence and success. Despite the fact that knowledge about Philips products was available on the company’s internal sites, the company did not have a way of embedding that knowledge at the right point in its engineering process. Now, at the start of any new project, engineers check the knowledge management site, which uses AI to immediately search for other projects that may be similar and connect the individuals running those projects. Instead of duplicating efforts, those teams can collaborate upfront, creating new knowledge and ultimately getting their innovations to market faster.

An effective knowledge management approach can give workers a larger platform to build on each other’s knowledge and expertise, helping to increase a worker’s value to the organization and ultimately offering them a greater sense of security at work. In a world where innovation and growth depend on synthesizing information and finding patterns that no single human eye can see, job security and organizational status come from one’s contributions to personal and organizational reinvention—not from keeping information siloed for individual use only. Some organizations are accelerating the process of breaking organizational silos by leveraging organizational network analysis to identify topics and experts in an effort to better understand how they interact with one another. Doing so allows organizations to generate conceptual knowledge networks that help them visualize the knowledge hubs within their organization.

Pivoting ahead

Rapid technological advances have poised knowledge management to evolve from a static, back-office activity focused on documenting and warehousing information to a dynamic, AI-powered platform that enables organizations to create, understand, and act on knowledge more effectively than ever before. To be able to take advantage of these emerging technologies, organizations need to marry two critical elements: the physical systems and infrastructures to support the technology, and the processes, incentives, and culture that encourage people to use it. Organizations that succeed on both fronts will be well-positioned to create and act on knowledge in ways that drive tangible results.

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