Who Knows What?


A nice piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal on knowledge management: Who Knows What? Finding in-house experts isn’t easy. But most companies make it harder than it should be. The article, by  Dorit Nevo, Izak Benbasat and Yair Wand, explores the expertise location benefits of enterprise 2.0.

The authors describe the use of blogs, wikis, social networking and tagging as ways to collect and expose expertise with an enterprise”

“Every big company has in-house experts. So why don’t they use them more?

In-house experts, with their specialized knowledge and skills, could be invaluable to both colleagues and managers. But often workers who could use their help in other departments and locations don’t even know they exist.

Talk about a waste! Because of an inability to tap expertise, problems go unsolved, new ideas never get imagined, employees feel underutilized and underappreciated. These are things that no business can afford anytime—let alone in this tough economic climate. Which is why so-called expertise-locator systems have become a hot topic in corporate IT.

To date, most such systems are centrally managed efforts, and that’s a problem. The typical setup identifies and catalogs experts in a searchable directory or database that includes descriptions of the experts’ knowledge and experience, and sometimes links to samples of their work, such as research reports.

But there are gaping holes in this approach. For starters, big companies tend to be dynamic organizations, in a constant state of flux, and few commit the resources necessary to constantly review and update the credentials of often rapidly changing rolls of experts.

Second, users of these systems need more than a list of who knows what among employees. They also need to gauge the experts’ “softer” qualities, such as trustworthiness, communication skills and willingness to help. It isn’t easy for a centrally managed database to offer opinions in these areas without crossing delicate political and cultural boundaries.

The answer, we think, is to use social-computing tools.”

Missing from the online story link are some additional resources listed in the paper for further reading in the MIT Sloan Management Review (they sponsored the Business Insight section).

  • Six Myths About Informal Networks— and How to Overcome Them
    By Rob Cross, Nitin Nohria and Andrew Parker (Spring 2002)
    Informal groups of employees do much of the important work in companies today. To help those networks reach their potential, executives must understand how they function.
  • Improving Capabilities Through Industry Peer Networks
    By Stoyan V. Sgourev and Ezra W. Zuckerman (Winter 2006)
    By sharing insights and perspectives with a group of noncompeting peers from other regions, managers can stay abreast of industry trends and combat complacency.
  • Defining the Social Network of a Strategic Alliance
    By Michael D. Hutt, Edwin R. Stafford, Beth A. Walker and Peter H. Reingen (Winter 2000)
    Paying attention to personal relationships accelerates learning and increases the effectiveness of alliances.
  • Creating Sustainable Local Enterprise Networks
    By David Wheeler, Kevin McKague, Jane Thomson, Rachel Davies, Jacqueline Medalye and Marina Prada (Fall 2005)
    In developing countries, examples of successful sustainable enterprise often involve informal networks that include businesses, nonprofit organizations and communities.
  • Are You Networked for Successful Innovation?
    By Polly Rizova (Spring 2006)
    To manage research-and-development projects, companies need to ensure that informal social networks are reinforced—and not thwarted—by formal organizational structures.

(I’m not sure why they left out Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration by Andrew P. McAfee, Spring 2006)

Another resource is this video of Jennifer Merritt from the Wall street Journal interviewing Dorit Nevo from the Schulich School of Business at York University.

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2 Responses to Who Knows What?

  1. Dave Doolin | Website In A Weekend October 26, 2009 at 4:22 pm #

    In my experience, from “both sides of the counter,” is that the expert is the one with the suitcase.

    In the past as a consultant, I’ve tried to find what the actual in-house “do-ers” need to get done… then recommend that to management. For one notable example, I was on an extremely specialized stone working project. Now the stone mason on that project knows far more than I’ll ever know about working with stone, but the client needed reassuring from someone with a PhD. I spent 4-5 hours with the mason and his assistant, took a few measurements of the stone properties, and told the client what the stone mason needed to finish the job.

    From the in-house side, I’ve always had trouble understanding that doing a good job sometimes (often) takes back seat to local politics. Having an expert “in-house” could be risky. Suppose the expert is in a competing group? There’s no upside at all to bring such a person in. Zero.

    Good article. Great references.


  1. Friday’s Finds: November 9th Edition « connectivité - November 9, 2012

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