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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 company's 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 employee's PC is that it raises privacy concerns, as Lockheed's 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 Lockheed's 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 don't like this. It's peer-to-peer, so it's very threatening to the traditional organization, just like the Web was very threatening. But you've got to get over that. It's 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 won't 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 Group's 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 that's needed. "True experts don't really worry about holding on to their information because what they are expert in is a particular field of knowledge, and they're discovering new things all the time," says Gartner's Caldwell. Caremark's Ciamarra agrees, adding that the incentive at his company "is to not be bombarded by the same questions over and over again."

This article was originally published on 07-01-2004
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