The Evolution of Knowledge Management: From Document Capture to Digital Experience Management
I LOVE Knowledge Management! (I bet you don’t hear that often.) Like most who came to Knowledge Management through IT Service Management, I’ve spent much of my career trying to improve how organizations capture, process and deliver information. Done well, Knowledge Management empowers employees to better assist customers, and customers to better help themselves. It’s difficult to overstate the transformative power Knowledge Management can have over Customer Experience, User Experience and operational efficiency. (What can I say? That’s the kind of stuff that turns my wrenches.)
Over the past two years with Dell EMC Services, I’ve been working to push the perspective of Knowledge Management further and further backward. Yes, backward. We still work to improve knowledge capture and delivery, but that’s only one part of a comprehensive Knowledge Management practice. It’s also only half the story of the customer journey. What I’m hoping to share here is how we’re using Knowledge Management to improve Customer Service even before the knowledge exists.
What is Knowledge? (Don’t get me started…)
Is there a place you know how to get to so well that you could probably do it in your sleep – yet you’d struggle to provide someone with directions?
Think for a moment about what you might say if I asked you to describe a pencil to me… Would you talk about the various forms and styles they come in? Would you focus more on the function of a pencil? The things we use them for… The things we create with them… Maybe you’d compare and contrast pencils and pens. As a highly-experienced pencil user, you could probably tell me a lot about pencils.
Would you think to tell me about this use case?
How about a butter knife?
If you were to describe the uses of a butter knife, would you mention this screw?
You might next time.
There have been decades upon decades of debate and fierce arguments over how to classify different types of knowledge: what to name them, how people use them, how they’re acquired, and on and on…
Transient Knowledge… Nascent Knowledge… Explicit Knowledge… Prescient Knowledge… Intrinsic Knowledge… Tacit Knowledge… Tacit Knowing…
I am NOT opening that can of worms right now.
Regardless what you want to call it, I’m talking about the things you know, but you don’t know you know them, until you HAVE to know them.
I’m talking about the type of knowledge that’s usually only revealed when a situation calls for action to be taken. Like the butter knife.
Is Creating Knowledge Enough?
If you ask people in your Customer Advocacy or Engineering organization to create knowledge articles, you’ll likely get some pretty good information, but you will inevitably fail to capture all of the relevant knowledge and insight on whatever the topic is. To augment this explicitly-created content, you can capture knowledge directly from the customer engagement artifacts in your CRM software. KCS (Knowledge Centered Service) provides information management guidance for what it refers to as capturing knowledge “in the workflow” to create knowledge articles from the content of Incidents (Service Requests). Dell EMC is a sponsoring member of CSI (Consortium for Service Innovation – the publisher of KCS) and we practice the document capture guidance in KCS. We’re also always looking for ways to push beyond the horizon of the depth of insight that can be gleaned, by combining as much context as we can with that captured content.
This is what I like to call “Knowledge & Experience Indexing” – I think it’s catchy, anyway.
The goal of Knowledge & Experience Indexing is to capture:
- Details about how and when these situations occur
- Information about the actions that were taken
- As much insight as we can into the results of those actions
The better we can capture this elusive knowledge and context, the better we can help others navigate similar situations in the future.
As an added bonus, if we capture enough detail about how and when these situations occur, we can start programmatically recognizing their patterns and automatically deliver relevant knowledge – before the person even knows to ask for it!
Knowledge: The Intersection of Wisdom and Action
Let’s consider how knowledge is created…
There had to be a first time someone used a butter knife as a screwdriver. Some person, somewhere, found a loose screw in their kitchen, didn’t have a screwdriver handy, and said, “Hey… Wait a minute…” Until that happened: that knowledge simply did not exist yet.
That first person had some understanding of how screwdrivers work. They were also aware of the general shape and properties of a butter knife. They took the knowledge they did have, considered it against their past experiences, and applied their wisdom to navigate a brand new situation. Our brave trailblazer, in their kitchen with no screwdriver, actually created new knowledge by using their wisdom to take action. Through Knowledge & Experience Indexing, we strive to capture this knowledge as it’s being created – and continually evolve it through the wisdom of others. (Another KCS concept here: Reuse is Review)
In Knowledge Management, we tend to draw a distinction between “known incidents” (which are incidents or situations we’ve seen before and we’ve already captured knowledge about) and “new incidents” (ones we haven’t).
We’ve gotten pretty good at understanding how to manage known incidents. When it comes to new incidents, our main focus has historically been around capturing knowledge, so we can convert it into a known incident.
Frankly, that’s just not good enough. We need to focus on the challenge of how to best address and manage new situations – not just see them as opportunities for knowledge capture. What can we do BEFORE the knowledge is available?
Applied Wisdom: Wisdom Mapping
Wisdom is the judicious application of knowledge. Therefore wisdom, by its very nature, is impossible to capture. However, capturing the extended context along with the knowledge, gives us a powerful new perspective to leverage.
It’s not exactly realistic to have experts across every conceivable subject matter mulling about, just watching and waiting for a situation that could benefit from their insight. So we looked at our Knowledge & Experience Indexing practices and asked what we CAN do. While it’s impossible to capture wisdom, we are developing insight into the kinds of situations each individual thrives in. What if we used that insight to build wisdom profiles of our engineers? Then, using linguistic analysis to better understand each Service Request as it comes in, we could automatically assign it to the person who is best suited to manage the situation.
In the context of understanding people’s wisdom, each person can be defined by their experience, the knowledge they have, and – most importantly – the knowledge they’ve created. The act of creating knowledge indicates you’ve faced a situation like this before, without having previously-captured knowledge at your fingertips – and used your wisdom to figure out a solution. The more knowledge you create, the better we can understand what wisdom you have to offer.
I call it “Wisdom Mapping” – yes, I do like Wilkeyisms. Don’t judge.
I think of it as similar to Consumer Profiling – but we’re profiling Knowledge Consumers. Unlike Consumer Profiling, we have no ulterior motives. Our only motives are to help improve how we service our customers, help make our engineers’ jobs less tedious and more enjoyable, and help optimize our processes for improved customer experience.
In essence, we’re building a network of loosely-coupled databases, with each node being a representation of a person’s wisdom. Then we integrate that network with the data stream of unfolding situations requiring human wisdom.
Sure… Our Subject Matter Experts are not literally jacked into The Matrix as nodes on a massive wetware database network, continually monitoring this data stream of incoming demand. As cool as that may be, what we have is actually far more effective – plus it has the added benefit of actually being real. With a deep understanding of the valuable wisdom our team members bring to bear and the required wisdom for a given situation, all we need to do is connect the dots to find the best person to engage.
The Win/Win proposition of Knowledge Sharing
People sometimes worry that sharing their knowledge is a risky proposition. They half-jokingly talk about “job security”. They believe their knowledge is what makes them valuable, so by hoarding it they’re somehow making themselves more essential.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In a Wisdom Mapping model, if you don’t share your knowledge, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s not your knowledge, but your wisdom that truly defines your value to a support organization. When using a Wisdom Mapping model, creating and sharing knowledge becomes a marker of adaptability and value. People who can effectively manage NEW situations, and use their wisdom to create knowledge for others, are some of the greatest assets any support organization can have. Sharing knowledge educates and empowers others in the community, which is FAR more valuable than any one person’s ability to solve a given problem alone.
We’re engineers… Not cowboys.
We’re a community of intelligent, experienced professionals. The better each of us does, the better we all do. Furthermore: The better you are at capturing and sharing your knowledge, the more you reveal about your wisdom. And the more likely you are to be given opportunities to really shine – by doing what you’re best at.
When you create knowledge and share your wisdom, you help your whole community while increasing your own value.