Collaboration and Knowledge Management: Working Well Together

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Nov 09, 2010


Interacting to Identify In-Demand Skill Sets
Collaboration encompasses more than content, research, and data, however; it also includes information about the people who possesses knowledge. Finding just the right members for a particular assignment became much easier when the U.S. Air Force launched its Air Force Knowledge Now site in 2002.

While the framework for the site has been in place for years, the Air Force has proven how well such systems can adapt and change with new technology over time. Air Force Knowledge Now’s offerings became even more robust when it added Web 2.0 features in 2009. “We really wanted to implement some Web 2.0 features with our search engine because we had already found the power of letting people identify and rate content, interact with that content and get the attention of other people,” says Randy Adkins, director (Ret.) of the U.S. Air Force’s Center of Excellence for Knowledge Management.

Air Force Knowledge Now has about 350,000 users—300,000 are Air Force personnel (military or civilian), and 50,000 are service providers and contractors. “We do work with them and you need to collaborate on projects. This gave them the ability to do that with all the security levels built in to make sure only the right people got to see that,” explains Adkins.

Before the Air Force put this system in place, conversations took place via email. But the absence of configuration control and the difficulty in managing conversations made the new system a necessity.

Adkins says a key feature remains the ability for users to identify themselves and their skill set within the system. For instance, he notes how, in the past, Air Force auditors would be assigned to a particular audit regardless of specific expertise. Today, Air Force Knowledge Now, which uses Vivisimo’s Velocity Search platform, allows ideal auditors to be identified based on expertise.

The system has become a project of sorts for users, as they continue to find new ways in which to use it to improve a variety of processes. The Web 2.0 functionality is a big part of that. “We eventually took all of our health files in the system and put them in a wiki so our users could update their health information in the system,” says Adkins. And Web 2.0 technology will likely be the impetus behind any other features site users will want to add.

Putting Customers and Companies on the Same Page
The most successful companies do a great job taking care of their customers throughout the life cycle of the relationship: when the customer is just a prospect through to when the service has been completed to the satisfaction of all involved. IT Consultancy CBE Technologies uses PBworks to manage its customer relationships every step of the way, enabling the company to effectively collaborate via the workspace both internally and externally.

Alison Rossi, an account executive with CBE Technologies, explains that the business is divided into two categories, a support model and an operations model, and the knowledge management system is configured to work effectively with both. For the support portion of the business, each customer is given a site that stores all of its support documentation (including serial numbers and support tickets) and the customer can enter the site to update the documentation if there is a change (such as new leadership). “Rather than have people call or have things lost in the shuffle, we’ve eliminated the middle man and they can update their own information and we’re all looking at real-time documentation that we need,” says Rossi.

For the operations part of the business, the knowledge management system consists of online workspaces for projects CBE Technologies is involved with. It serves as the primary source for project status updates, documentation, and an archive for all information related to each project. “We didn’t have enough project managers to communicate the way we wanted to for every project all the time,” explains Rossi. “By putting this in, we streamline the communication process because we just have to update this workspace.” The system practically takes the place of additional project managers. “We try to make it so the team can manage itself,” adds Chris Yeh, VP of marketing for PBworks, a collaboration solution provider.

Prior to implementing the workspaces powered by PBworks, document collaboration took place within email, says Rossi. But it was difficult to keep track of the latest version that way. Now, “if the customer takes that document down, it shows that the customer is updating it,” she says. “They can put it back in the workspace and everyone knows what the latest version is and can trace back to how it got there.”

Overall, the system has made transitioning customers through all processes, from sales to operations, easier, and support has been streamlined, making those relationships much more successful. “If we use this right at the beginning, everyone sees the same information throughout the life of that sale. Everybody gets a consistent message. Everyone understands what the updated documentation is,” says Rossi.

Making the Best Decisions—Faster
In a business environment that moves so quickly, there is really no margin for error. And knowledge management solutions enable organizations to gain access to the information required to make the most informed decisions, regardless of whether those decisions involve their customer relationships or their employee relationships.

“The visibility of making a bad decision is pretty evident,” says Rozwell. “Business is faster paced today than in previous times. So the need to act quickly is important, but it doesn’t mean you want to act quickly and do something wrong.”

Businesses today are also seeking ways to improve efficiencies across the board, and knowledge management tools are providing such a return on the investment. And “if I’m not spending an hour to find something and just spending 5 or 10 minutes, that’s a competitive advantage,” notes Stephen Powers, principal analyst with Forrester Research Inc. “You’re going to have more productive workers.”

And while organizations are making great strides in capturing valuable knowledge for immediate and later use, they still need to work on processes around searching for that content at a later date. “We’ve gotten a lot better at capturing. I’m not sure we’re quite as good at finding it,” notes Powers. “Are we really putting the necessary metadata around it to make it findable?”

Once that occurs, these knowledge management solutions will more effectively enable organizations to “close the loop” and capture and share the knowledge that will yield business success.


BP Logix
CBE Technologies
Forrester Research, Inc.
Gartner, Inc.
NEC Labs
The Shaw Group, Inc.
Traction Software

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