Over the past few months I’ve been speaking with and meeting more companies than ever before in my life. I’ve been submerged in conversations around business change and the economic challenges facing businesses today. From knowledge retention to knowledge management, information discovery to information publishing, the range of emerging (and not so) technology needs have been highlighted by the challenges faced in today’s economic climate.
However there’s one reoccurring theme I keep coming across and that’s subject matter expert (SME) identification.
Organizations now more than ever before need a way to identify the people they have based upon the knowledge they retain. Of course, this requirement has always been there but now there’s more to gain by being able to find experts on a given subject/topic area. Knowledge networks exist inside all companies, either explicit or implied but more often that not these networks are not accurately documented or identifiable based upon the loose nature of knowledge. For example, when I worked in Pharma I was an IT project manager in the clinical space, yet I also had Enterprise 2.0 related passion and knowledge. The only way for me to identify myself as a potential SME in this field was by contacting people, blogging about it, creating wiki pages etc and branding myself into them. Otherwise when senior management were on the lookout for someone to manage an E2.0 project, the work would have naturally gone to someone in the content management team, regardless of their experience/interest in collaborative web technologies.
So in today’s environment there are more reasons than ever to have the ability to find internal (and external) SMEs. Here are a few examples:
- find people to work on new markets/products
- identify gaps in knowledge which should be core to your company
- identify what impact losing an employee in a given area would have – are there others with similar knowledge?
- find all people who have interacted with a certain product/project
- for regulated industries – identify everyone who’s worked on a certain drug/product
But how should SMEs be identified?
In my mind it should be a mix of self declaration, identification by others and by the real life information someone interacts with. As an example you might have Jason who identifies himself as and expert in ‘Karate’, others tag him with ‘Martial Arts’, yet he consistently works with information/content related to ‘Japanese Fighting Systems’. Jason should therefore be identified, by a greater or lessor extent, as an SME in all three fields. In other words you are not relying on just job titles and self declaration to find people.
What happens when you find an SME?
In the past it would have been fair to assume that if you used a tool to find an SME in your organization you would at most have access to their contact details. However new social tools will allow you to do more than just find an SME and see their phone number.
I’ll pick on Knowledge Plaza
(naturally) to demonstrate how SMEs are found and used in such a social tool:
- SMEs are identified with every search result in the system (full text, tag browsing or combination of both)
- Users can see the profile of an SME
- Users can see the recent activities on an SME in addition to their user defined network
- Users are able to interact with an SME, including adding them to their network
- The SME can be used as a filter
The most useful feature for me is the ability to use an SME in the system as a filter. Once you’ve found your SME(s) you should be able to use them as a means of finding information. i.e. if I find Jason in the system I would want to search through his eyes based upon the content he’s interacted with and the network he maintains. This means I’m using the SME, using his or her knowledge and accessing their intellectual capital directly in the system. I can then get a feel for Jason, his content, his interests and most importantly his real life interactions with information and people.
For knowledge retention this feature is so important. In the example above I didn’t say if Jason still works at the company or if he left 5 years ago. It shouldn’t matter! Even if he did leave, he still has a link to information, people, the company and his work still has value.
The ability to find and use a SMEs knowledge after they’ve left the company is coming up as a concern time and time again with the companies I have been speaking to. A new breed of systems such as Knowledge Plaza have some of the answers here and it’s now possible to do what some of the knowledge management systems of old promised but didn’t deliver.
Companies should be able to quickly find people inside their organization based on their content as well as their interests. Once found they should be able to do more than just see their contact details!