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American enterprises are experiencing a “brain drain.” Not because people are leaving the country—the traditional meaning of the term—but because of job turnover as employees retire or contracts end. And they’re taking their accumulated knowledge with them.
According to figures from Pew Research, every day for the next 13 years, 10,000 Baby Boomers will reach retirement age. These are people who may have decades of tacit knowledge that they’ve never bothered to record or share.
At the same time, the “gig economy” and the reliance on flexible workforces, with contractors brought in on a per-project basis, means workers stay long enough to learn valuable information but not long enough to pass it on. This is particularly relevant in IT: In a May 2016 article for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, economists Elka Torpey and Andrew Hogan identified computer and information technology work as one of the occupational categories in which “gig work may be increasingly relevant.”
Other changes in the workplace have also made knowledge retention more important. Forrester Research analyst Charles Betz points to the effect of digital transformation in business. “One of the problems we have as we automate is that the remaining work becomes more knowledge-driven,” he says. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can handle routine tasks, but “the work that the chatbots and agents can’t handle is the higher-variability work that requires more context.”
To address the issue, many companies have turned to knowledge management (KM) systems—software platforms that promote and enable the capturing, storage, and retrieval of what people know before it’s lost. “KM is there mainly as an enabler to help curate and retain key information against the possibility of people leaving and so that you’re not constantly rediscovering the same information over and over again,” says Betz. “It helps reduce variation in corporate processes and execution.”
Attempts to implement such systems are not new, but “technologies have matured to a place where they are more user-friendly, come with less administrative burden, and in most cases actually do what their sales teams promise,” says Zach Wahl, president and CEO of Enterprise Knowledge, a consultancy that specializes in knowledge management and related IT services. “‘Good KM’ is more achievable than it has ever been.”
Wahl points out that KM has two components: “It’s not just about capturing the knowledge, it’s also about organizing it, managing it and enhancing it so that it can be found by others.” Many organizations do “a pretty good job” at interviewing upcoming retirees or asking them to write down what they feel is important, he says, but fail to take the next step of making others able to leverage it. A good KM platform addresses both halves of the equation.
Once an enterprise has determined a need for a knowledge management system, how should it go about selecting a platform from among the many available? And what’s the best way to roll out a KM system companywide? Download our PDF to find out 11 key steps.
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