Thursday, January 6, 2011

Re: Expertise Location by @mikegotta

Michael Gotta of Cisco wrote an interesting post some time ago about "Expertise Location: Don't Forget Process & Cultural Factors". He relates to the fact that Enterprise 2.0 is often sold by saying that social tools help find experts in the organization more easily. However what's the assumption underlying this?

The general assumption includes two primary ways of identifying "experts". The first method assumes that employee use of social tools (e.g., blogs, wikis, micro-blogging, communities) and social applications (e.g., ideation), enables their talent and business insight to be more visible and therefore more discoverable by co-workers. The second method revolves around the employee profile created as part of an enterprise social network site. It is assumed that employees will readily create and maintain rich profiles where they willingly share information about their job history, interests, hobbies, education, and areas of expertise. Rich employee profiles create another means for colleagues in need of assistance to search and connect to the right person - or access customized expertise location applications that leverag profile data to find the right resource anywhere in the organization. In both cases, the notion of "transparency" makes it easier for people in need of assistance to connect with the relevant expert.
I agree with these assumptions. I also agree with the fact that if employees use social tools they could be more easily found in the organization and/or seen as expert on a certain topic.
Gotta goes on to say expertise location has been around for some time and also points to Cisco's own solution for expertise location, Cisco Pulse. As far as I understand this tool automatically goes through company data and it's creators and builds an expertise map, giving users the opportunity to use the results to find experts in the organization.
Gotta closes his post with his main point by stressing expertise location is more than rolling out a tool in an organization. We have to pay attention to process and cultural factors as well. For instance, scarcity of information and resources. Or: accessibility of certain information due to security reasons. Privacy is also an issue. Is an employee's email box open for the whole company? And, to mention one more, culture. Is there an open culture in which employees want to share and post about their work?

Good points! But I want to go back to the assumption. It is assumed that employees use social tools. But do they? Yep, some, maybe lots will. But what happens if they don't? Are they then not an expert on one or more topic? The answer is simple: this can't be true. Of course, it does say a lot about employees who post about their work. Apparently they are open about what they know or need to know. And they're probably (more) willing to share.
Furthermore, is it possible to share all our knowledge. For instance, a programmer builds a new tool. In most companies he would have to write a report on the new tools. He'll probably also say in which language he wrote the code. But he'll never say: Hey, I'm an expert on that language. That's for others to decide.

So, we need to take a look how experts are really grown and found in organizations. How do you find the person you need in your organization? I've been writing quite a bit about this, so I'll keep it short here. Finding experts has to do with who you know. People refer to each other based on their experience with each other. Based on knowing each other you can say: this guy or girl is really good at ... This also has to do with how open or closed someone is. Someone can formally be an expert on a topic, but if he/she never has time to talk with you then he/she are not the one to go to. If you look at how people refer to each other in real-life you can also see they relate to expertise that can hardly be written down and captured by (social) tools. This all relates perfectly to Dave Snowden's KM principles, by the way.

Can this be supported by technology? I think so. At least for a larger part than the automated solutions I've seen so far. And Guruscan is the only company I know of that does this well.
To be clear: I'm not saying we shouldn't go for social tools or automated knowledge mapping in organizations. They are very helpful and can support more knowledge and communication process than ever before. But don't think you've solved the expertise location problem by using them...
I hope this helps. All feedback is welcome!
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