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How Do You Capture Tacit Knowledge?
Tacit knowledge is difficult to track and capture; it's been largely ignored in traditional knowledge management systems.
Posted Aug 25, 2003
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Capturing the tacit knowledge of individuals in a way that can be leveraged by the company is perhaps one of the biggest challenges in knowledge management (KM). For companies that successfully tap into this invaluable information source, there's tremendous payoff in improved customer results. Why isn't every organization using it if it's so valuable? Simply, tacit knowledge is difficult to track and capture. It's been largely ignored in traditional KM systems, which focus on creating knowledge bases for use in customer self-service. Such systems are predicated on the highly structured and lengthy workflow of content authoring, approval, and publishing. Explicit and Tacit Knowledge It's important to understand the two types of knowledge: explicit and tacit. Explicit knowledge is written down. In KM it takes the form of FAQ servers and traditional knowledge bases. Explicit knowledge suits call centers that handle a high volume of similar requests that have relatively simple answers. However, it falls woefully short in business critical situations that generate complicated discussions requiring a variety of expertise, with interactions that often extend across multiple organizations. That's where tacit knowledge comes in. Tacit knowledge is the relevant information that resides in an individual's head. It's not written down, but is simply the knowledge someone has gathered from experience. It's often untapped, because it is hidden. But it's a treasure trove of knowledge. Capturing Tacit Knowledge Tacit knowledge can only be captured when it is found. Therefore the key to successfully leveraging tacit knowledge within an organization is to accurately find the right people to solve that particular situation. Expertise management becomes a central tenet of tacit knowledge. Organizations that can identify and link experts who can share their tacit knowledge benefit by providing higher quality solutions that are delivered faster and at a lower overall cost. It's applicable in markets that are challenged with business-critical situations, including customer support, IT help desk, strategic account management, team selling, professional services, and R&D.
So just how is tacit knowledge captured? Channeling informal discussions into a collaborative workspace--behind the scenes--is a great way to begin. It replaces ad-hoc interactions like shouting over the cube and blasting email threads with a single, well-organized place where people can work together as teams that may extend to customers and partners. Here they can share information about a current issue, problem, or topic. Workspaces nowadays have become much more integrated into communication channels typically used throughout the day, such as email and instant messaging, so ease of adoption concerns have been dramatically reduced. Organizations can, by automatically capturing these interactions, expand the scope of reusable knowledge to include data like the following:
  • what content is helpful
  • what processes have worked best for which type of issues
  • what experts were involved
  • what pitfalls to avoid This tacit knowledge is automatically captured and immediately usable. So, the next time there is a similar critical business situation, knowledge workers can tap into time-saving, relevant information to increase the quality of resolution while reducing resolution time. When done properly, capturing and sharing knowledge becomes an effortless by-product of the normal issue resolution dialogue. Advances in KM are Critical for CRM Success Successful CRM deployments in the customer support arena have been measured by quick response time to initial calls. However, that is changing. Accuracy and quality-of-answer is as important as timeliness. And that's where capturing tacit knowledge becomes an essential element in the CRM strategy. According the recent Gartner study "Gartner Says KM Is a Key Factor in Long-Term Success of Customer Relationship Management," more than two-thirds of successful CRM programs will have integrated advanced KM practices in their CRM processes by 2005. It's clear that KM must go beyond what is traditionally available to make it valuable. By finding, capturing, and sharing tacit knowledge, companies can significantly improve customer results.
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