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Survive the downturn through effective knowledge management

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Knowledge managementWith redundancies on the cards for many in the current climate, organisations must ensure its most important asset – knowledge – does not leave the business when the employees do. Jean Ferre looks at how enterprise search tools can help.


Many organisations are currently in a state of flux and face the possibility of redundancies. There’s no doubt this tactic is effective for cost cutting, but it could also engender a feeling of job insecurity in the remaining staff. This puts further pressure on HR departments to come up with longer-term solutions. With workforces reducing, the loss of knowledge and intellectual property unique to each departing employee leaves a gap that needs plugging with innovative ways of working together.

Knowledge is the only business asset not to have seen its stock fall recently, so it’s vital for companies to leverage it. The problem for most organisations, however, is that knowledge is locked away in people’s heads and can’t be easily accessed by other individuals.

All in the mind

Employee performance is being hampered by not being able to find the information they need to carry out their job role. This extends from a customer service representative who can’t answer a customer query effectively through to a project manager who reinvents the wheel every time they encounter a new challenge because they can’t easily find someone else in the organisation who has negotiated a similar issue.

These weak links impact operational performance. Human capital management policies will undoubtedly come under more scrutiny in the months to come and it’s vital that HR ups its game and ensures that its prized asset, knowledge, is being fully utilised. Business strategists know well that making information more accessible will optimise their resources, so the key challenge is in finding a practical way of using technology to make knowledge both better managed and more accessible.

“It’s vital that HR ups its game and ensures that its prized asset, knowledge, is being fully utilised.”

When every member of staff is armed with the correct tools and given access to the right information for their broader job remit, search tools can cause a marked shift in an entire working culture. This could allow businesses to do more than just ‘weather the storm’, but actually flourish in the face of an uncertain economic climate.

A word of caution, though; enterprise search tools become the secret weapon of successful companies only when they form part of a wider strategy for progressive working practices. Drive for change amongst senior management amounts to nothing without the buy-in of the wider workforce and that extends to every last person with access to the company server.

Misconceptions

Far from being indispensable, effective search deployments are still the exception and not the rule. Why? Simply put, the vast majority of vendors are still not listening to the end-user. In the current economic climate, the purchasing decisions made by IT managers are subject to even more scrutiny. Our recent research revealed some worrying misconceptions, which are impacting the take up of enterprise search.

Overwhelmingly, it was felt it wasn’t meeting the needs of businesses – 63% of those surveyed stated that they believed enterprise search tools should be as easy for staff to use as consumer search engines, yet two thirds said that wasn’t currently the case. The study also discovered widespread concern about lengthy set up times – 73% said they believed it would take more than six months for an enterprise search tool to be useable by employees, with a staggering 68% stating they thought it would take between 18 months to two years to generate any return on investment (ROI). A further 19% estimated it would take over two years to generate ROI.

Both from technical and end-user perspectives, the enterprise is a hostile environment for search, with information dispersed and stored in various data sources. For the value scales to add up, businesses need to be sure that cost and complexity don’t outweigh the business benefits.

“Drive for change amongst senior management amounts to nothing without the buy-in of the wider workforce and that extends to every last person with access to the company server.”

To date, this hasn’t been the case, ironically because traditional search engines haven’t been built specifically with enterprise search in mind – they’ve come from the web or other backgrounds. As a result, their approaches simply aren’t intuitive enough to cope with modern day enterprise demands.

Tangible benefits

It’s clear from the research that decision makers feel enterprise search has some way to go before it can add tangible business value, especially in terms of security, rapid deployment and seamless scalability.

Deals and transactions, not to mention mergers and acquisitions, all happen at lightning speed. Companies want, and need, their technology to be up and running in good time in order to accelerate business performance. Waiting six months to see any ROI does not make good business sense so it’s understandable that key IT decision makers would shun a solution on that timescale basis.

These misconceptions illustrate to what extent vendors are limiting the potential of their search tools by failing to take on feedback. However, in cases where research and development have been made top priority, the knowledge gathered from users can translate back into a more reactive and appropriate solution. In these cases, enterprise search can have almost endless uses and applications.

For businesses taking their first steps into managing their information more successfully, a holistic approach to working practices – one that places both staff and technology at its centre – must be top of the list.


Jean Ferre is CEO of Sinequa.

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