About three years ago, QCSI, a Phoenix-based healthcare software development firm, had a problem.
The feature sets of its product offerings had quadrupled, which left only about 10 percent of the company's employees "knowledgeable" about those productsroughly 15 people out of 150.
These employees were constantly deluged with questions from their coworkers, business partners and customersand often had to answer the same questions over and over again, like a breed of human search engine.
"About 90 percent of the company's information resided in the heads of about 10 percent of our workforce," says Matt Denison, executive director of knowledge transfer at QCSI.
One employee, Denison says, had more than 2,000 form e-mails at the readyeach one responding to a different question that she was asked repeatedly.
So QCSI's executive team created what it calls the knowledge transfer program. First, Denison interviewed each employee and rated their knowledge based on 14 parameters.
At the same time, he asked the knowledge experts to devote a majority of their time to developing frequently asked questions, which were then reviewed and collated.
That information became part of a companywide training program that taught QCSI employees how to solve more than 200 product-related problems.
Once the data had been gathered and organized, Denison deployed an enterprise search portal, using software from Entopia Inc., that gives employees and clients access to nearly 100 gigabytes of corporate data.
Although he won't disclose actual figures, Denison says the payoff has been huge. For one thing, the new search capability allowed employees to find information more quickly, which helped QCSI deliver a new software application on time and with the fewest number of bugs of any previous product release.
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"That's something we all attribute in part to operating with this common knowledge," says Denison. What's more, he says, the search application saves each employee 20 minutes per day, which translates into roughly 150 hours of freed-up time per week companywide. "That's big bucks," he says.
Depending on your company's needs, you may not have to spend anything to improve search results.
"Never spend money first," says Gartner's Andrews. "Get the search log for the past three months and find out what people are looking for."
Then, he says, take the top 100 terms, assign business owners to the content and have them create 100 pages that address those issues. "You do that," he says, "and suddenly things start getting betterand you didn't even have to spend any money."