Where Do Your Company’s Best Ideas Go to Die? Knowledge sharing software will keep them alive

A whopping 80 percent of the information your company saves is useless. More than half is never looked at once it’s filed. But the really important stuff-”ideas, insights, lessons learned-”marches out your door at quitting time or lies dead and buried in a shared drive.

You can reclaim these assets with a collaboration tool. The wildfire spread of wikis, blogs and social networks alarmed corporate America at first, but if you’re one of those skeptics, it’s time to reconsider. Properly configured and secured, social computing is a powerful way to capture and re-use your employees’ best thinking in hundreds of profitable ways.

(By the way, concepts like “knowledge sharing”, “social computing”, “knowledge management (KM)” and “Enterprise 2.0” aren’t really interchangeable, but for this conversation I’ve lumped them under the same umbrella for simplicity.)

A 2009 McKinsey study concluded that collaboration produces measurable business benefits: quicker decisions, lower operating costs and faster time to market. The bad news? At the time this research was conducted, those benefits were pretty much limited to billion-dollar companies.

That’s so last year. Although the McKinsey study was published eight months ago, it’s outdated. With easy access to proven low-cost (and in some cases, free) social networking technologies, small and mid-sized firms are generating their own knowledge sharing paybacks. In our experience, successful companies of all sizes test the water first with a pilot project, and a wiki or microblog is a good place to start.

Think small
When a collaboration initiative fizzles, it’s usually because employees just won’t use the software. People resist for lots of reasons, but you can improve your odds by thinking small. Put the new tool into the hands of a few interested users, learn from experience and expand one step at a time. To be successful, pilots must be incorporated into the daily business routine. They simply don’t work as “extracurricular activities.”

If it’s too hard to use, it’s useless
Earlier this year we surveyed 1,500 product development managers, researchers and architects/engineers to learn how they handle on-the-job collaboration. So far we’ve received nearly 500 replies, and the biggest problem by a wide margin (72 percent of respondents) is “tapping the expertise locked in peoples’ heads”-”even when the firm has a knowledge management system in place.

“Our knowledge management system would probably be quite powerful if people actually used it,” one respondent said. “Unfortunately there’s nothing intuitive about it.” Traditional full-fledged KM systems are hard to learn, hard to use and not worth the hassle from an employee’s perspective. Collaboration rooted in social networking principles, on the other hand, is intuitive, responsive, and satisfying: you get stuff done the first time you log on.

A better way to capture the ‘messy stuff’
Tacit information-”experience, insights, observations-”is messy. It doesn’t plug neatly into a database. When employees leave, for example, they might upload a few project notes to the corporate Intranet and wave goodbye. Odds are better than 50/50 those notes will never see the light of day.

Collaboration software makes knowledge transfer immediate, ongoing and readily available. Depending on the system you deploy, you can retrieve anything-”calendar entries, blog posts, documents, colleagues’ profiles, messages-”even if you don’t remember what they’re called or where they’re located. Capture and re-use elements of successful proposals, notes from the sales guy’s lunch with an important prospect, project workflows-¦you get the idea.

Lacking a better alternative, your people will keep rummaging in shared drives, plowing through e-mail and playing endless rounds of phone tag, ultimately wasting about 650 hours a year hunting for the information they need to do their jobs.

There’s a better way. Asking colleagues for the answer to a question costs the company about $30. Getting the answer from a knowledge sharing system? About eight cents.

Scott Ryser is co-founder and CEO of Yakabod (www.yakabod.com) in Frederick, MD, just outside the Capitol Beltway. The firm’s flagship product is the Yakabox, the knowledge-sharing system that is so secure it’s used daily by the U.S. intelligence community, and so intuitive that you are productive from day one.

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.