Collaboration and Knowledge Management: Working Well Together

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Nov 09, 2010

Regardless of where they work and who they are, all employees have valuable knowledge to give and receive. That knowledge is perhaps one of the most important assets an organization can possess. And during tough economic times, being able to get the most out of that particular asset is especially crucial.

Fortunately, companies are increasingly recognizing the value of that knowledge, and how leveraging collaborative tools integrated with knowledge capture can not only streamline complex business processes but also provide valuable insight organizations can use today and tomorrow.

“Rather than trying to capture everything and organize information, collaboration tools are enabling people to interact with each other, make connections among people and then find people who know things,” says Carol Rozwell, an analyst with Gartner, Inc.

“When you think about the real-world business application, this approach makes much more sense. In many of our business problems today, we’re trying to make decisions about things that are not very easily quantifiable,” adds Rozwell. “Creating these connections among people is a much more effective approach when organizations are dealing with dynamic business times and things that are changing constantly.”

Ultimately, the need to solve a wide range of business problems in the most effective and efficient manner is driving the demand for creative solutions. Those entrenched in the knowledge management sector see this as a main impetus of industry growth.

“We’re seeing a shift in optimizing information to solve business problems,” says Tracey Mustacchio, VP of marketing for Vivisimo, an enterprise search software company that helps organizations utilize search to enhance collaboration. This is echoed by Joby O’Brien, VP of development for BP Logix, a business process management solution provider. According to O’Brien, “Companies typically turn to knowledge management solutions because” there is a particular problem they’re trying to solve. However, he finds that “then, there is a realization of other benefits.”

Over the years, that creativity in the knowledge management space has flourished, and companies are continuously finding unique ways to benefit users across the enterprise and simplify a wide range of both internal and external operating processes. Here we will look at how a range of organizations are leveraging collaborative tools to capture knowledge as a way of working.

Managing for Today and Tomorrow
For NEC Labs, content is essential to its survival and the survival of its parent company, NEC Corp. of Japan. “The primary ‘product’ of our company is research data and intellectual property, something that can be used by our parent company to develop into future projects,” explains Sanjay Palnitkar, manager of information systems technology for NEC Labs. “Five or 10 years from now, you’ll see some of the technology we’re working on now.”

That data is produced by a wide range of contributors in two locations—Princeton, N.J., and Cupertino, Calif. The company has a staff of about 100 full-time researchers focused on areas such as computer science and wireless technologies. The staff also includes part-time researchers and interns. (NEC Labs is part of NEC Corp.’s U.S. arm, NEC America, which is the research and development wing for NEC, an IT product and service company.)

“With NEC Labs, and with a lot of companies, your content is your company,” says BP Logix’s O’Brien. “Their livelihood is their technical research,” and having tight control over how that research is organized and disseminated is crucial.

In the past, data generated by NEC’s researchers continued down one of two paths: researchers sought approval for publication in peer-reviewed journals or the data became the subject of a patent filing. The legacy system that handled the data was built on a UNIX platform, but it didn’t offer the automation necessary to streamline these processes and make them more transparent to the users (the researchers).

“We wanted a system that would handle the patent aspect and the approval process, making sure [a particular document] goes through the right channels and it is approved by the legal department, by management, before it is approved for either publication for outside disclosure or to be sent to the U.S. patent office,” says Palnitkar.

According to Palnitkar, the main problem with the original system was that it was not fully automated. “There were still a number of manual processes where we had to actually go to the individuals and get their signatures on separate sheets of paper and then move them along in the electronic system,” he explains. “What we were looking for was a fully automated system that would handle workflow, including electronic signatures, and would also be a repository for company employees who wanted information on what we had done in the past. They would get access to all the data stored in the repository.”

Today, using BP Logix’s Workflow Director, NEC Labs has several workflows that are identified by the type of data being handled and the final destination of that data (for publication or patent filing). Different people view the documents depending on that intended final destination of the data. Thus, employees are able to better manage their data throughout the workflow and share that transparency throughout the document life cycle.

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