Why E-mails make bad Idea Management Solutions

February 26, 2007

This article has been moved here…..

It is a widely known fact that a large number of organizations do very little towards implementing a comprehensive idea management solution. Though a lot of them do follow the “email your suggestions” approach, very few stop to consider the detrimental impact of an approach like this. Listed below are a few points on the benefits and disadvantages of using a email based Idea Management Solution.

Benefits:

Wide audience : Since everyone in the company is listed on a central mail server, getting the message across is the simplest thing in the world.

Ease of use: E-mail is used on a daily basis by everyone, so using it as a platform to send and recieve ideas would be a straightforward excercise requiring very little effort.

Low cost : Almost every organization has their email systems already set-up, so the added advantage of rolling out a “zero-cost” initiative to most is too juicy an opportunity to pass up.

Drawbacks:

Unstructured : Since most emails can be sent in any format, creating a template doesnt do very much good as a lot of people will just bypass it ( as there isn’t a system in place to enforce these rules ).

Disorganized : Most ideas end up becoming large chain mails in the organization and the actual idea gets lost in the jumble of text. Tracking and Feedback : Its is extremely difficult to implement a tracking system to check the progress of an idea if it is in the form of an email. With hundreds of ideas being submitted , its impossible to organize them efficiently and thereby provide feedback to the submitters.

Evaluating : The biggest challenge of using a email based system to evaluate ideas is that evaluators arent given a platform that can help them rate and comment on the ideas they recieve and retrieve them in an orderly or structured fashion.

Unfortunately, while the points made above do have merit, the overal negative impact of an email based system far outweight the benefits. A dedicated standalone system is required to manage ideas, provide feedback and rankings and most importantly allow collaboration amongst your employees. The fastest way to cripple an initiative like this would be establishing a system that could not provide feedback to an employee on the ideas he’s submitted, allow him to take a look at other ideas, and most importantly establishing a ranking methodology where he/she is rewarded for the ideas.

More on Idea Management Systems to follow…….


Capturing and Transferring Knowledge

February 23, 2007

This article has been moved here…..

In this day and age organizations are growing quickly, mergers, acquisitions and attrition are just some of the challenges to overcome when trying to maintain a knowledgeable workforce.

Companies battle everyday to maximize the capture of tacit and explicit knowledge from their employees and have come up with a number of ways to do so. Collaboration tools, knowledge maps , communities of practice, content management tools, after-action reviews and lessons learned sessions are just some of the methods organizations have devised to counter knowledge attrition.

No single approach however is enough to ensure that knowledge is retained, a mix and match of approaches is required. Though the bottom line is this, unless an organization’s culture is geared towards sharing knowledge, creating systems and processes to enable the sharing of knowledge is a moot point.

The After-Action review : This is a strategy that has been adopted from the military. Often after an engagement the team will sit down together and go over what occured, analyzing strengths and weakness. This is an excellent feedback mechanism to promote learning within the team. On a large scale, trends and patterns can be observed by comparing multiple groups, allowing best practices and lessons learned to be replicated across teams.

Communities of Practice: Is one of the simplest ways of connecting people who need knowledge with the groups that have it. Communities of practice are an excellent way to collect and disseminate information to a large audience. In order to maximize the use of a CoP a careful balance of leadership and freedom needs to be given to the community to promote sharing of ideas and knowledge, as a lack of leadership or direction could seriously damage the usefulness of the CoP in the long run.

Expert Directories : Another great way to tap into the tacit knowledge that exists in the organization – the expert directories is a method by which people can interact directly with people considered Subject Matter Experts ( SME’s ) . This however requires voluntary participation by the experts as it requires them to devote time from their busy schedules to address questions that do not benefit them directly.

Information Repositories : The simplest method of extracting and storing explicit information is the information repository. In its most basic form is a large folder with information stored in some sort of a structure. Advanced information repositories or content management systems use meta-tags and taxonomy structures to organize information for the end user in such a way as to provide the maximum value. By creating processes around the system, organization can ensure that all explicit information find’s a place somewhere in the application. It also acts as a medium for the transition of tacit knowledge to explicit.

These are just some of the methods that you could use to promote knowledge sharing and transfer in your organization. Keep in mind however that true knowledge retention is a daunting task and unless you have a clear approach mapped out it could lead to some serious complications.


Blogs and SharePoint 2007

February 23, 2007

This article has been moved here…..

In “Its all about the Blog” we discussed how the Blog has gone from being a simple medium of communication to a powerful media tool, and “Blogs and KM” addressed the issue of managing knowledge in an organization through Blogs. Since the last few posts have focused on certain aspects of the Sharepoint 2007 server ( MOSS 2007 ) i decided to do a small article on how Blogs were implemented in this environment.

Microsoft realized that in creating a content authoring platform they couldn’t afford to leave out the one aspect that has revolutionized the method by which content authoring is being tackled today, namely blogs. So in an effort to harness Blogs and promote their use in a corporate setting Microsoft introduced Blogs in their latest version of Sharepoint.

Being true to Blogs Microsoft hasnt tampered too much with the basic layout, which means there is a seamless transition to corporate blogging for people who are already familiar with the concept of personal blogs.

They’ve incorporated a complete gamut of features that we’ve come to expect from any Blog.

Some of these are :

  • Comments
  • Categories
  • Blogroll
  • Search
  • Permalink
  • RSS feeds
  • Calendar

Using the Sharepoint platform allows for certain additional features to be incorporated into the Blog. You can now publish information on your blog via e-mail’s, this includes sending documents as attachments ( something most blogs dont support ). API support for word 2007 actually allows you to directly interface with your blog and submit content through a word document on your desktop. Advanced features like Sharepoint permissions can be inherited and used throughout the Blog.

Multiple Authors can contribute to the same blog, and since the Blog ( like most of the features on Sharepoint ) is built on Webparts it really allows an amazing level of customization. Mobile View allows users to access blogs on Sharepoint via their mobile phones, a very useful feature as the percentage of people living on their Blackberry’s and Treo’s seem to be growing at an alarming pace.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of using the Sharepoint Platform to host your Blog is the fact that you can get details like user contact info and such as the application interfaces directly with the organizations exchange server. A feature that most corporate would definitely find very useful.


Wiki’s in SharePoint 2007 – Part 2

February 22, 2007

This article has been moved here…..

My last post introduced you to Wiki’s in Sharepoint 2007 ( MOSS 2007 ). I have since had the time to explore this feature in greater detail, and to be honest was very impressed by what i discovered. I was a little apprehensive about the wiki feature for the simple reason that being part of the Sharepoint platform might have encouraged over-engineering. However aside for the rich text editor ( which makes the process of adding content that much easier ) the basic layout and functionality of the wiki hasnt changed. So if you are a contributor on Wikipedia you needn’t worry.

The major benefit for corporates of having Wiki as a part of the new Sharepoint Portal is two-fold. The first obviously is that now corporates have the ability to tap into and facilitate the creation of information using tacit knowledge. The second is making use of Sharepoint features like security controls allows them to impose a greater level of control that doesn’t exist in wiki’s like Wikipedia ( a thought that scares them half to death i’m sure ).

So what does Sharepoint allow you to do with the wiki?

  • Wiki pages can be created under any group or library , if for example you have a particularly interesting post on your Blog ( Another new feature of MOSS 2007 ) you could spin this off into a Wiki and have other people collaborate on it.
  • Permissions can be set at a page level, which means you can restrict which pages other users have acces to within the wiki structure ( something i havent heard off in most other wiki’s )
  • You can also add Meta-data to your wiki pages, as with any other document library. So you can showcase pictures ( for eg ).
  • You can also set e-mail alerts on your Wiki pages.

It also offers other features than we’ve come to expect from all Wiki’s :

  • Interlinking / Creating new pages using double brackets ( [[ ]] ).
  • History tracking of the document. The added advantage here is that being incorporated on the Sharepoint platform you can actually pull the persons contact information of the exchange server.
  • Lastly, versioning and reverts of wiki pages.

If you are interested in the product i’d suggest downloading a free version and experimenting with it.


Expertise Management

February 22, 2007

This article has been moved here…..

One of the biggest challenges corporates face is locating experts within their company. It is estimated that companies waste 1000’s of man hours just hunting for the right people. Deals have fallen through, mistake made all because the right people couldnt be located in time.

In this day and age where almost all the information we work on is digitized and since most of us are accessible via e-mail, messenger service or through video one would think locating a person ( in your own company ) shouldnt be that much of a problem. Unfortunately the issue is more with locating the right person than just anyone, and Expertise Management Systems seem to be the best way to manage this.

Expertise Management addresses one of the biggest concerns of Knowledge Management, harnessing tacit knowledge. An average organization converts about 5-10% of their employees tacit knowledge into explicit information. Attempting to do so with the rest is a foolhardy proposition, the best way to maximize the use of tacit knowledge is to open up as many channels for that knowledge to flow through your organization. An Expertise Management system does just that. It helps users get in touch with the right people at the right time.

Now we’ve figured out that we need an expertise management system, next comes the question of how to implement a solution like this. Creating a template is the first step, this helps you list out all the information you’d expect to capture from an experts profile in order to help other people locate him/her.

A basic Expertise Management system has the following processes :

  • Identify the experts
  • Describe the expertise of the expert
  • Provide an expert matching mechanism
  • Enable users to communicate with the experts
  • Provide a feedback mechanism
  • Manage the process

Tackling each of the above steps in a systematic manner and creating a framework around it will give you the first glimpse of your expert management system.

Creating a “living” expertise managment system involves a little more work as the system need to “mine” information areas associated with the expert ( email , articles ) and update their profile constantly. The Microsoft Knowledge Network discussed here looks very promising. Will keep you updated with more information on this technology.


Wiki’s in SharePoint 2007

February 21, 2007

This article has been moved here…..

We’ve known for a while now that Microsoft was slow in catching up with the rest of the world when it came to online collaboration and social networking. SharePoint 2003 is still being used to this day by a large number of corporations, and is widely renowned as the product that failed as a Knowledge Management tool.

SharePoint 2007 has made huge leaps ahead with incorporating social networking features like RSS, Wiki’s and Blogs as part of its basic setup. Sticking to the simplicity that we’ve come to expect from Microsoft products a person with zero technical knowledge can make use of these features. Though there will be a slight learning curve for new comers as most corporate users arent aware of what a wiki is and how it can be leveraged to generate information.

Creating a wiki is a pretty simple process, its like creating a document library , and once you’ve set it up the process of building on it is pretty straighforward. It even incorporates a full set of rich text tools and buttons that we have gotten used to on Word. They’ve even provided a provision to track the history of every wiki page!!

I’m still in the process of experimenting with the wiki’s on Sharepoint but from what i can see the future looks very promising. Sharepoint as a Knowledge Management platform? never thought i’d say those words, but looks like Microsoft have finally gotten their act together. A blessing for the organizations running 2003, if you still indend on sticking to the same platform i’d suggest upgrading, and upgrading fast.


Knowledge Management in the BPO space

February 21, 2007

This article has been moved here…..

BPO is one of the fastest growing markets in the industry right now, and with the increasing number of companies trying to capitalize on this area existing players are finding that they’re margins are being squeezed. Boosting margins and not loosing business as a result of high costs are right at the top of any corporates “To-do list “, one way of accomplishing this is to use low skilled individuals at a low cost to boost margins. The biggest disadvantage of this as every knows is the that the quality of the work suffers a great deal which could very easily lead to loosing clients.

So how do you increase your profit margins and still keep quality high? The most logical way would be to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of your agents on the floor and Knowledge Management provides a method of doing just that.

The focus areas would be :

Efficiency

  • Decreasing average handle time
  • Minimizing talk time

Effectiveness

  • Increasing first call resolution
  • Decreasing call escalation percentages
  • Reducing repeat calls
  • Reducing agent training time
  • Provide consistent, accurate answers

Innovation

  • Creating oppurtunities to cross-sell
  • Increasing customer satisfaction
  • Decrease employee turnover

Knowing which areas to improve performance is the first step to establish a KM framework that could tackle these issues.

The biggest disadvantage BPO’s face is that a large number of them deal with highly confidential client information that is so safely guarded that most processes work as separate entities within the BPO. There isnt any information sharing outside this area, however capturing ideas like best practices and replicating them across the organization and in every client process would display an immediate improvement, an approach most BPO’s do not follow in a structured manner.

Other ideas on how to increase Effectiveness, Efficiency and Innovation will be discussed in further posts.