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Knowledge Capitalization – the ongoing process of translating your captured knowledge assets into an actionable process that employees can pull from when needed. Today we speak to Jerry Marino, Chief Knowledge Engineer at Epsilon Systems Solutions, Inc about successful knowledge capitalization.
Jerry has over 30 years of experience in performance technology, publishing, and information architecture. He has extensive Task Analysis (TA) and Competency Development (CD) programs and assisted in the implementation of IT systems for integration of TA and CD requirements with training and performance support solutions. Over the last several years he has consulted on and managed Department of Defense training and performance support projects, directly supporting integration of performance systems for information technology (IT) networking and communications. He has been trained in Knowledge Engineering and Technologies by Nick Milton, Chief Knowledge Architect for Tacit Connexions and author of Knowledge Acquisition in Practice.
Host – Steven Maggi: You are aware of the importance of knowledge management, but today we’re going to go further. We’re going to dig deep into something called “knowledge capitalization”. So, let’s meet Jerry Marino. He is a knowledge engineer and Senior System Analyst with Epsilon Systems. Jerry, first of all as we get started, the concept “knowledge” just in general, we kind of know what that is, but in terms of what we’re going to talk about today, kind of define it for us?
Jerry Marino: We define knowledge maybe a little differently than others, but we use the concept that knowledge is either an ability, a skill or expertise that somebody uses to manipulate, transform, create data information ideas, in order to – and this is the key part – perform skillfully, make decisions, or solve problems. So, knowledge is really more than just having something in your head, it’s being able to do something, perform skillfully, make a decision, solve a problem. We summarize it as “Knowledge is the expertise to do all those things”.
Steven: And, of course every organization we know has people that have this knowledge, and they know that specifically and they have gone through their whole experience of making mistakes, correcting improper solutions, and we do not want to lose that. That’s where this term “knowledge management” that a lot of people are familiar with comes in. First of all, how do you gather all of that information from these people that are going to leave at some point? How do you keep it within the organization?
Jerry: Our technique is we create knowledge bases – that’s probably the fundamental aspect of knowledge capitalization – in that we create a knowledge base. It’s usually a web-based tool, and what we do with illicit knowledge from the experts in a focused way, so that we can capture that knowledge and then store it in the knowledge base. We can store it in a way that makes it accessible, it makes it actionable, it makes it usable for the organization. And some knowledge bases, for instance, might be concept-based, i.e. their fundamental information – and a lot of it comes from the expert’s head – but background information, expertise on different processes, expertise on aspects of the corporation that the expert knows. Other knowledge bases might be more task-based, i.e. how to do something, specifically something that the expert knows and has direct expertise at being able to do something that most other people in the organization don’t do. And we use that, and we store that into knowledge, and we call them a “knowledge web”. You can call them “knowledge documents”, but a knowledge web is usually a much easier way to access things.
Steven: And this can consist of not only things like manuals and databases, but even things, I guess like interviews, videos, and that kind of thing?
Jerry: Well, exactly. There’s a couple of kinds of knowledge that we differentiate: one is what you would call “explicit knowledge”, and the explicit knowledge is what is documented, and that is exactly what you mentioned. The manuals have videos of people doing things; things that have actually been recorded and stored. That’s explicit knowledge.
But, the tacit knowledge, that’s what’s in somebody’s head — that is the knowledge that an expert has that they find very hard to share, and because they know it so well, they find it very hard to talk about it. We have a process of eliciting that knowledge through a series of interviews, and a series of other techniques using interviews and certain processes that helps us illicit knowledge, capture it, categorize it, and make it actionable for others to use.
Steven: People heard about legacy recording, making legacies of people’s careers and so forth, and that’s all fine, but what is fascinating about this is that knowledge capitalization is taking that and also using it as a tool that’s going to increase the bottom line.
Jerry: Well, that’s the main aspect of this, yes. Making knowledge actionable, and we use the term “knowledge capitalization” because it’s the profit that you can make as you can increase the bottom line. You can make the organization more efficient by using that knowledge and applying it into the organization. It’s not just capturing it. It’s been able to do something with it, and then being able to get a return on that investment.
The other aspect of knowledge capitalization, which we will bring up, is that you can use that knowledge and use it as a foundation to make computer programs and applications smarter. So, you take that knowledge and we are able to put it into computer processes, using advanced technology, such as adaptive process management systems, so our artificial intelligence systems to maybe do automated document creation or maybe to do a task the expert might take days to do, but programming it into an application, you can then do that task in maybe 15 minutes. It’s surprising. It’s really amazing how you can use knowledge into knowledge capitalization and power what we would call “knowledge technologies”, the use of that knowledge into smarter applications that can be used in the organization.
Steven: How do you pull that expertise out of somebody’s head? I mean, is there a method towards pulling out all that information, because just asking somebody to offer up, they might be missing things.
Jerry: Well, there is a method, yes Steven. There are several methods, as a matter of fact. There are probably over 20 techniques. We start with interviews: one you would call “unstructured interview”, where we are really setting the foundation for the range of things that could be captured. Then, we focus more on “semi-structured interviews”, where we are narrowing down the topics to more focused topics for the specific application. And then “structured interviews”, and those structured interviews are very specific. There are many techniques that have been developed. Actually, they are research-based, which means they have actually been proven to capture knowledge, and they have been developed over the past 30 years or so to be able to develop expert systems and be able to take an expert’s knowledge and then apply that knowledge into smarter uses for the organization.
Steven: How soon in the process are you pulling out that information? In other words, if you have a CEO, are you waiting until that person is going to retire, or are you constantly pulling these things out? What’s the best way to maximize that information?
Jerry: Well Steve, I think the way to answer that is to say, “When do you need it?” I mean, if you had that knowledge now and you could share it with others, so now the CEO can do more – I won’t say important things – but can do additional things and let other people do the kinds of things that that CEO was doing; then, now is a good time. The key is really to think about how are you going to use that knowledge? What’s the use case for it? Rather than just grabbing everything you can and putting it somewhere. What is the specific use you are going to use that for? Are you going to use it to let other people do more sophisticated jobs — jobs that require expertise, share that knowledge? Are you going to use it now? Are you going to use it when the CEO is gone? It just depends on what the use case is for that knowledge, and that is probably when you want to start capturing it. I don’t know if you can start too early, but you can certainly start too late, and that is after somebody is gone, and now you have a big gap in their expertise versus what needs to be done in the organization.
Steven: So, this is a process then that I would think a smart organization might want to get in on early, and is something that they are always constantly looking at to make sure that — if you think of it as a car, somebody is always polishing the car, doing tune-ups, so it is always ready to go.
Jerry: Well, in that sense, yeah, you are right, but you also think about — you’ve got one expert mechanic for that car who can fix it, tune it up, and make it perform at a high level. Well, if you taught other people how to do that, then that expert mechanic can go off and do additional things, maybe create new cars, maybe create new processes. So, depending upon how you’re going to use it, you can spread that knowledge around now and let the more expert people do additional tasks, more creative tasks. Look at the organization and how their expertise might be used in other ways, rather than having to perform for them what might be routine tasks, because they know it so well.
Steven: Is there a way to quantify this, and when you go in and tell somebody “Hey, we’re going to make this work for you”, can you actually put hours and dollars towards what you’re gaining by doing this?
Jerry: Well, I think you then ask the questions of the organization. So, what are your knowledge blocks? Or what are the blocks from your growth? For instance, you could put up several kinds of metrics on. If you are doing processes now and you can reduce the errors in those processes, I think you can put a number to that. If you have a production process, and you can cut that production process by 25%, I think you can show a return on investment of that. If you are doing repetitive tasks that now you can automate and allow those people to create more solutions for the organization, you can put a metric on that. So, looking at a wide range of things within the organization, where are your biggest opportunities, then you can start to apply the expert knowledge to get those solutions in place to really show a return on investment for any of the efforts you are doing, in terms of knowledge capture, knowledge application, and knowledge use.
Steven: Finally, kind of give us an example where you have gone in and you’ve seen an organization and they’ve done this. What’s really made a change to how their organization moved on in the future?
Jerry: Well, there are a couple of classic cases, but you can look at the aviation industry, where there are some examples, for instance of design of aviation parts. Very sophisticated. Takes a long time, maybe several months, because some of it is trial and error — you are applying formulas, but you are also applying design ideas, you are testing them out in the lab. Well, by capturing the expert’s knowledge and then formalizing it into a formalized knowledge base or application that can be used, now you can apply that knowledge in the design, and you can reduce the design down from several months to maybe a few weeks or even less. So, that’s an actual case that has been shown that you had a return on investment, where now your engineers are doing something more important than just — I won’t say more important than designing an engine or a wing — but, now they can apply their knowledge to other aspects of the organization, let more junior members do it.
There are a couple of other cases where you might have a legal firm, for instance, that is creating documents and maybe an expert in the organization is the only one who can create certain kinds of documents by the questions they ask the clients and how they are creating a specific document for either their legal briefs or for special documentation, or for legal contracts. Well, now you can actually automate that and capture the expert’s knowledge, the kinds of questions they ask. You can categorize them, you can put it into an application, maybe driven by artificial intelligence that now can automate at least a draft of a document, but now either the expert or more junior members can go over, polish up, and let the expert finalize. So, you are saving a lot of time there, as well as able to produce a lot more documentation, be able to see a lot more clients, many more clients as a result of that. Those are just a couple of examples that have been shown to be very successful.
Steven: Well, this is exciting, Jerry. If somebody is listening to this and saying, “this might be something that would work for my organization”, kind of run us through the process. What would be the first place you would start, and how does this look going on?
Jerry: Well, the first place we would start is to look at what are the opportunities or what are the areas that you may find a core organization may have obstacles? Or what are the opportunities in your organization to automate to use an expert’s knowledge? Where are the knowledge silos, for instance? Many organizations have silos, where they are not sharing knowledge across the organizations. We take a look at the whole picture: How are your experts being used? How many experts? How replaceable are your experts? How could you improve productivity by sharing that expertise with more junior people, allowing your experts to go and do more creative tasks? So, we would take a look at the organization and find out where their opportunities would be.
Many times, we can see those opportunities because there is a specific need within an organization. For instance, maybe they have certain patents that they need to take advantage of, but they just don’t know how to do it. Maybe we can get in there and help them start to see and organize those patents, and see where they relate to each other, and see the products they have, where they might be able to use things, or look at opportunities for those patents. That’s just sort of an example, but we take a look at the organization and look at opportunities to be able to really apply that expertise that they have.
Sometimes, organizations sort of get a mandate from the top down, you are going to have to do such and such, you know, you are going to have to be able to develop — we saw this in the department of energy, for instance, where they needed to start developing processes to be able to store expert knowledge, but then start to relate knowledge across different aspects of the organization. And we could get in there and look at that and see, well, what are your mandates here? Who are the experts who have knowledge here? And let’s take a look at the organization. Let’s start to chart it out and put it into some tools that allows everybody in the organization to access that information.
Steven: Jerry, thank you so much. I enjoyed chatting with you today.
Jerry: Okay Steve, enjoyed chatting with you.