Jan 16

Five Benefits of Using Collective Knowledge

This is the first of a series of posts sponsored by my good friends at Stone Cobra where I get to investigate how Knowledge will be changing through the next few years.  In the opening remarks published three weeks ago I covered the core problems we are facing in KM today: source, storage, and use of knowledge.

Today, I want to investigate how those three issues are changing with Collective Knowledge as a solution.

Collective Knowledge, which some improperly call tribal knowledge, is as simple as using social networks to create, maintain, and provide access to knowledge heretofore unavailable.  It can, of course, become very complicated from there.

There are today few good, formal examples of this, although a large number of the online communities created in the past few years by organizations (and the very few freely created by users) are probably the closest example.  When we hear of KLM or McDonald’s creating a public forum or a facebook page to answer their customers’ questions, this is usually what we are referring to.

The promise of Collective Knowledge can be summarized in one concept: building a knowledge ecosystem.  This brings two great benefits for both organizations and customers: access to SME (Subject Matter Experts) that are not part of the organization’s support structure and generating knowledge that can be leveraged extensively throughout that ecosystem.

As with any other ecosystem, the use of platforms and open and free access is a must; “walled gardens” where the knowledge is not free to everyone and everything is then antithesis of what a Collective Knowledge model should be.

This has been, so far, the greatest challenge for organizations.  We spent untold number of years telling them to closely monitor how, by whom, and why knowledge is generated and managed and now we are telling the exact opposite – how is this reconcilable?

Therein lays the key success factor of Collective Knowledge: leverage.

We are not going to throw existing content management systems and methodologies nor are we going to let anyone or anything create corporate knowledge.  However, we are going to leverage the expertise of those outside of the organization by providing them three things: a repository to store and manage knowledge, access to kin-minded individuals willing to contribute that knowledge, and the ability to do it – partially – outside of the confines of the corporate systems we have in place for knowledge management.

In this exchange users benefit from access to structured storage and collaboration platforms and the organization benefits from leveraging the knowledge into systems and processes.  Indeed, it is this leverage that brings out the value of Collective Knowledge. Being able to use the knowledge generated in collective environments in different functions and units across the organization provides sufficient justification, without a single department being responsible for the weight of supporting the solution.

There are five ways an organization will benefit:

  1. Access To-The-Moment Expertise –the best source of knowledge for any organization remains outside of their walls.  The users are the ones who know better how to use (and how to fix) any product or service – even in cases where it remains the organization’s responsibility to assist them (cable providers needing to reset a modem, for example).  The users usually know first, before the organization, problems and likely solutions and workarounds.  Being able to access them faster than traditional methods means the organization can get a head-start in warding off calls from customers, acting proactively in certain instances, and deliver effective answers to those calls that do get through.
  2. Validation For Their Actions And Knowledge – in those cases where an organization does create a knowledge entry the access to the Collective Knowledge provides validation.  There is nothing faster to know if a fix or new feature works that releasing it to users.  The problem until know has been to find sufficient users to test and ensure the new or fixed feature works as expected (and does not break anything else).  Thanks to online communities and Collective Knowledge these issues can be quickly and efficiently solved, tested, and released to the entire population – with almost immediate validation.
  3. Feedback For Their Products And Services –leverage for the collective knowledge has to extend beyond the traditional customer service functions typically associated with KM.  Feedback, and the routing of the information to research and development departments as well as other places throughout the organization, is one of the hidden values of Collective Knowledge.  It has been proven that users are more “truthful” (or less biased in a better sense) in online communities where Collective Knowledge typically is collected.  The ability to parse the information they provide, distill insights, and use those to improve products and services (or even create new ones if necessary) is the underlying power of co-creation events associated with social networks.
  4. Reduced Costs Through Indirect Outsourcing – although much has been done about reducing the costs of knowledge generation and maintenance by letting users handle it in online communities, the reality is that it is not always true.  In some cases, the costs will likely increase as the need to accommodate unknown processes and elements associated with knowledge may result in extra personnel, licenses, or even lengthier processing time.  However, Marketing has proven that generating market knowledge, previously done by market research firms over far longer times and at a much greater expense, from consumers on collective environments is faster and cheaper than previously done.  Customer service has proven similar by offloading multi-channel transactions from man-powered ones to collective environments where other users provide answers.  It takes finding the right use cases, and making sure that the knowledge generated supports the needs.
  5. Source Of Knowledge To Augment And Improve Repositories – in addition to the up-to-the-moment access to latest-and-greatest information, organizations can leverage Collective Knowledge to power, improve, and maintain their existing knowledge repositories.  This source of knowledge, whether it is an original source creating the knowledge or a secondary force aiding in the maintenance and grooming of the same, is the ultimate leverage.  Organizations that understand how to use these setups enjoy better knowledge bases, more complete and more relevant.  The savings in resources and the benefits of delivering more effective solutions to their clients more than justified the time and patience to implement Collective Knowledge.

As you can see, there are potential benefits if you take the time to see how Collective Knowledge can work in your organization to your advantage.  There is no “silver bullet” that will let you succeed each time regardless, but you can see the areas where it may make a difference.

The next step is to align the information above with your needs and your organization’s solutions already in place, find the right contributors for your online communities and try.  AS you use it more, you will find more ways to leverage the setup to your advantage across the organization.

Do you see how Collective Knowledge can be leveraged?