E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Bringing Knowledge, Relationships, and Experts Together in the Enterprise

As you may have probably seen already Dennis McDonald has actually created a follow up weblog post about the recent post that I have shared over here a couple of days ago around the subject of expertise location: Bringing Knowledge, Relationships, and Experts Together. And this time around Dennis explores the same topic but from a different angle: expertise location in the enterprise. Thus if you are interested in the subject I can certainly recommend you take a look and read the article because he touches base on some of the different issues from expertise location in the corporation that would certainly make you think twice about its its potential business value.

And to get things started I just thought I would share some further insights from the different sections that he touches base on hoping to be able to add some more into the overall conversation. Feel free to chime in yourself as you may see fit if you think we are missing something important on the subject.

Enterprises operate according to their own rules

I certainly agree with Dennis in this particular topic. We have seen many cases where enterprises may be a bit reluctant towards adopting some of these social software applications to help boost knowledge sharing and collaboration because they may not see the immediate business benefits or, much more importantly, they may not want to leave behind that command and control attitude. However, I have always felt that this is all down to one key important aspect of running a business. It will all depend on how open you would want to be, not only with your own knowledge workers but also with your customers and clients. Corporations that may be more open than others would probably give a much better chance to trying out all these tools than other businesses that may not be that open after all and keep innovating along the way.

The good thing is that plenty of different companies are realising about the true power of social networks to help knowledge workers connect with one another in such an environment where they could share their knowledge and collaborate with one another. Thus the time where that command and control was paramount may be just starting to fade out while more and more businesses are adopting some of those social software tools in order to become much more productive in the long run.

All organizations manage knowledge and expertise

"Management may involve imposition of constraints related to corporate knowledge that would not be found necessary, acceptable, or relevant in the context of private or public activities outside the organization"

Certainly, this has always been the case. There are certain things that you get to share outside of the company with clients and business partners, for instance, and there are things that you just don’t. That is why different company policies and guidelines have been put in place all along for most of them. However, what most companies have been doing all along is put too much emphasis on one single aspect of knowledge sharing and collaboration: yes, the well known explicit knowledge exchange. And now we are seeing how, for the first time, social software is actually trying to shift that around and bring together a much needed balance between the traditional explicit knowledge exchange and the tacit knowledge exchange, which is why social media has been very good at all along. And that is a good thing. That is the way to go.

Individuals with specialized knowledge – "experts" – play key roles in the production, management and use of knowledge

I certainly agree with Dennis in this particular thought that sometimes it is not easy to go out there and find your experts, specially in complex organisations, but one of the things that I have been advocating for, specially with the emergence of those social networks, is to actually introduce the concept of people hubs that will actual act as connectors inside and between the different social networks in such a way that they would become the visual heads behind them, that would help identify those experts within and outside the different networks, whenever there would be difficulties to find / locate experts. That way that pool of experts, or people hubs, would be the ones that would help boost making different connections in order to improve their knowledge sharing and collaboration strategies.

Relationship management and social software technologies have great potential for making the most of the role of the expert within the enterprise

And here it is where it gets a bit more interesting because Dennis just gets to share a very good example of how the focus should be placed as well on what he calls expert knowledge (i.e. Tacit knowledge) and the knowledge workers themselves, i.e. those social networks. And what he has just described over at his weblog post is just perhaps what every single corporation should embark on when getting started into implementing such strategies based on those social networks. Indeed, a Social Network Analysis. Yes, an SNA that will help businesses find where their experts are located and start building up further on those relationships across the organisation.

From here onwards you will see how Dennis just starts wondering "who is actually an expert?" and he provides some further suggestions that for the sake of this weblog post flow I am going to reproduce over here as well:

  • "Experts" need to know this is a serious venture and that they will be evaluated according to their availability and their performance as measured by feedback they receive.
  • System feedback will provide data on areas that may be collapsed or deemphasized; usage data may also provide feedback on areas that need to be expanded due to sudden spikes in demand.
  • The system may incorporate limits on the availability of key individuals (e.g., to enable them to do other things they are responsible for doing).
  • Experts will nominate other experts, and this "network of recommendations" will be available for examination during the search for an expert to call.

Well, the way I see it all suggestions are very good, although I particularly like the second and fourth ones, more than anything else because those two are the ones that would help build stronger relationships within the different social networks in such a way all knowledge workers would feel part of the larger network around the different experts,  who will then be those hubs that would connect everything else. I am sure there are plenty of other suggestions out there and I would surely be very glad to hear some more about them.

In short, we are witnessing how corporations are starting to look more and more into the role that social networks could play in order to provide some further business value by allowing knowledge workers connect with one another and shift that focus from just focusing on the knowledge to focus on the people, and as a result, the knowledge behind those knowledge workers. But always with the people playing the important role. Not the knowledge. That will come later.

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  1. Luis, I want to comment about two specific topics.

    The first concerns the focus on knowledge workers.

    The second concerns the question of where to start.


    I don’t agree that in the development of a system to make it easier to locate and contact experts within an organization that the focus should be primarily on “knowledge workers.” Whatever the employee’s role, sooner or late a problem will arise that could be solved with the aid of an expert. This is going to happen whether the employee is a senior white collar manager, a shop floor shift supervisor, a service truck dispatcher, a lab assistant, or a call center rep. Nor is it safe to assume that the expert will be what we would consider to be a “knowledge worker.” (Given the pervasive nature of computer and information technology in all aspects of modern life, I am of the opinion that the term “knowledge worker” has a distinct “20th century” ring to it.


    You suggest that one possible place to start will be a “social network analysis.” While I must plead ignorance of the term and what it represents, I’m not sure I agree that that is a good place to start. I would start by idenfying the company’s business strategy and how it supports this business strategy via key functions and activities. It is expertise about these key functions and activities that needs to be identified and managed.

    I’m not saying that social relationships are unimportant. I’m just saying that an initial effort must be made to define as a baseline both a high level map of the knowledge needed to run the company — tied to the work that must be done to run the company — followed by a first cut at the identification of key experts in each of these knowledge areas.

    Social relationships and patterns of communications and influence will come into play later on as initial baseline experts identify additional expert through a nomination and ranking process.

  2. Thanks a lot, Dennis, for the feedback comments. Great input !

    RE: Knowledge Workers, I am not sure we are using the same definition of that term. I have actually always used it based on the traditional concept that has been made available as well over at Wikipedia. A knowledge worker to me is everyone who has got a need to process and deal with knowledge, regardless of the area they may well be. So that basically means that everyone who accumulates and works with knowledge is for me a knowledge worker. And their position does not really matter. That is why even experts, perhaps even more so, would be considered knowledge workers to me, too. I don’t think I would ever feel comfortable restricting the knowledge worker role to only those who are doing some work related to KM areas. That is, indeed, far too restricting.

    RE: Where to start,

    “I would start by identifying the company’s business strategy and how it supports this business strategy via key functions and activities. It is expertise about these key functions and activities that needs to be identified and managed.”

    Yes, certainly that is a good point but let’s discuss this further. At the point in time where we are now wouldn’t you think that by now most of the businesses out there would have their own strategies already piled up and ready to go? I mean, unless it is a newly formed company I can imagine that they would have their own strategy in place already and if they do not I bet they would be in big trouble. So I think that we could just let go by that part and focus on the expertise and about those key functions and activities. And this is the case where a SNA would be a good start because with it you would be able to identify where those experts are in the organisation and how things happen around them. So you would be able to find out what key functions they are executing, what activities they are involved with, what types of connections they have in place not only amongst themselves but also with other coworkers, etc. etc. Have a look at the Wikipedia entry on SNA for a more detailed description.

    “Social relationships and patterns of communications and influence will come into play later on as initial baseline experts identify additional expert through a nomination and ranking process.”

    Indeed, you are absolutely right on this, but again, if it is not for a newly formed business I would have serious doubts from whatever other business who would have to go through those steps at this point in time. That means that rather they are in trouble or that they are going through some major reorg. I think that pretty much every single company by now has got that strategy put in place and functioning quite happily. However, some of them may be lacking the second part: the study of those social relationships and patterns of communications to help enhance the way people share knowledge and collaborate with one another. What do you think ?

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