Collaboration and Knowledge Management: Working Well Together

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Nov 09, 2010


Engineering Information Sharing and Retention
Being able to capture and share knowledge in any industry is crucial. For the engineering field—in addition to the highly collaborative work you might expect—knowledge capture has become critical in a somewhat unpredictable way: A recent article fin The Boston Globe highlighted the fact that Raytheon Co., a military contractor, is struggling to find engineers to fill 4,500 open positions. The company’s CEO, William Swanson, expressed concern over the lack of students entering the field.

Thus, since the knowledge of today’s current engineers may not be replaced, it’s becoming even more important for engineering businesses to capture the current information for use now and in the future. To aid in this effort, an engineering firm, The Shaw Group, turned to Knovel, a web-based tool that provides access to more than 2,000 reference works from which engineers can search for relevant data. “One of the ways of dealing with the issue is having a tool set for the remaining workforce so they can work consistently and efficiently,” according to Knovel CEO Chris Forbes.

Using Knovel, engineers at The Shaw Group can easily search for and find information they need and share it and collaborate with employees who work in different geographic regions. “We’re spread out in various offices,” says John Preston, an engineer with The Shaw Group. “It’s not like I can just hand a book over to someone else.” The system also ensures that everyone has access to the same, current information. It’s much easier for them to collaborate when they—regardless of their location—are all looking at the same content.

While the Knovel system enables such collaboration, it also allows individual users to create their own personal knowledge management system in which to collect information they wish to save for future reference. The Shaw Group engineers can personalize their online research experience by saving content and search queries for future searches (their own archive of sorts) with the My Knovel offering.

Given the potential dearth of engineers in the future, facilitating this sort of ad hoc knowledge archiving can benefit not only individual engineers, but the company as a whole—since this enables engineers to save the content they feel is most valuable and makes it easily accessible for themselves and others in the future, when they may not have a vast number of colleagues to serve as resources.
Collaboration Yields a Competitive Edge
With so much data being produced externally from a variety of sources, it can be challenging for organizations to process all of that outside content for internal use.

As senior director of competitor insights for Pfizer Nutrition, D. Craig McHenry has a strong interest in data affecting Pfizer and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. Yet with so much data being generated from various people and sources, keeping track of industry trends and understanding how to react to them is a huge challenge.

“The big issue we found ourselves needing to address,” says McHenry, “was how do we really build over time a complete record of the different pieces of information gathered and analyzed and assessed and document it? How do we create a living history or a living document of that conversation?”

McHenry says email wasn’t an option to help maintain such a conversation since new employees wouldn’t be able to easily view all previous messages and email is “disjointed and confusing and not the best way to have a group collaborating and creating a shared knowledge of some issue or business process.” McHenry and his team turned to Traction Software, a provider of Enterprise 2.0 social software and its Traction TeamPage product to provide a system that could serve as the framework for collaboration and communication.

Jordan Frank, VP of sales and business development for Traction Software, explains how TeamPage provides a place for companies to review and take action on content: “It supports the flow of
the artifacts and tasking, so you can close the loop between tasking and follow through,” explains Frank. “It’s a system with an activity stream and an action stream so people can leverage communication to take action.”

Overall, the Traction solution has yielded many benefits, according to McHenry, including a reduction in the amount of information being pushed through the company’s email system. Users receive a daily digest detailing everything that has been added to the system within the last 24 hours, which “makes it a little less burdensome to stay engaged and on top of what happened with the discussion.” Thus, it creates a system that is not intrusive but promotes the engagement necessary to make it successful.

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