We can and should make tacit knowledge explicit with collaboration technologies

Cross posted from scriptogr.am

KM Australia

Today, I’m part of a panel debate at KM Australia. I have 3-4 minutes to present my argument that we can and should make tacit knowledge explicit with collaboration technologies.

I’ll be using two images to explain my argument, both created by Dave Gray as part of his Connected Company series.

The problem of scale

The problem of scale

Think at the level of the street

Think at the level of the street

So, what’s the story behind picking these diagrams to make my argument?

More later…

Image credit: Dave Gray CC-BY

Shifting from IT to situated technology in healthcare

Tomorrow, there will be roughly 1000 preventable healthcare deaths in the US and Europe combined. And it’ll happen in modern hospitals staffed by some of the best and equipped with the latest…

…We have to stop thinking IT as in “information technology”, it’s not enough just to handle the information – like the [Electronic Health Record]. It’s the combined and seamless flow of patients, information and work that offers the only solution – and for that we need “flow technology”, in short healthcare needs FT. Information is merely a natural ingredient in the flows and not vice versa.

This is a real problem, but simply moving from transactional IT systems to what Sig calls “Flow Technology” is only part of the solution in healthcare. How information systems are situated into healthcare is critical – after all healthcare is about dealing with people, not sitting in front of computers.

We’ve seen examples in community services, such as the LIFE Programme in the UK where social workers were spending most of their time on paperwork. Research into emergency department design has also highlighted the importance of communication to dealing with violent and disruptive patients.

I’m with Sig that the right flow-based information systems can help, but never in isolation to the whole service design.

Passive face time for remote and virtual employees

Employees who work remotely may end up getting lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions than their colleagues in the office — even if they work just as hard and just as long.

The difference is what we call passive face time. By that we are not referring to active interactions with coworkers or clients, but merely to being seen in the workplace. To be credited with passive face time you need only be observed at work; no information is required about what you are doing or how well you are doing it.

As you may know, I’m not entirely convinced by the techno-centric concept of the digital workplace. In this post by academic researchers, Kimberly Elsbach and Daniel Cable, they highlight the importance of “Passive face time” and the negative impact this has on remote and virtual employees. The comments on this article are well worth reading too.

This isn’t news to me. Over the years I’ve come to realise from looking at both the theory and reflecting on my own experience that the critical factor for remote working isn’t technology, but the attitude of both the remote worker AND the people they work with. Sure, you need some level of remote access to enterprise systems but it doesn’t need to be particularly sophisticated and the tools have been available for more than a decade.

In terms of technology, social media tools do provide a way to replace or at least augment the need for passive face time. Unless your business already works without the need for passive face time, all the transactional technology in the world won’t work unless you address this issue.

A digital workplace is a social workplace. Remove the ‘social’ and you place remote workers at a huge disadvantage and guess what, they know it!

Social Collaboration at Bayer with IBM Connections

Kurt De Ruwe is CIO of Bayer MaterialScience and he explains in this video how they are using IBM Connections to be more social internally. Earlier in June, he tweeted that:

Today I have 4 of our 9 board members writing 1 to 2 microblogs per week on our internal ‪#IBMConnections‬ platform. Just 5 more to onboard

You can read more about the Bayer story in this Forbes article by Mark Fidelman:

De Ruwe’s has been able to get 66% of Bayer Material Science employees using the whole platform on a regular basis. He’s quite pleased with that. “Sometimes if people ask me to quantify in Euros or dollars what the platform has delivered to us – I tell them to look at the change of mindset, the open information sharing, and how quickly information passes around Bayer. Things that otherwise may have taken two or three weeks to uncover, now take hours.”


John Stepper explains “Working out loud”


A great explanation from John Stepper about how we use social business platforms for “working out loud”, “observable work” and “narrating your work” in the workplace. These are simple but powerful ideas that underpin the value of social intranets and enterprise social networks.

He writes in his introduction (emphasis added):

Two of the most common objections I hear are “I don’t have enough time” and “I don’t know what to post.” That’s because people often think of using a collaboration platform as an extra thing to do. An additional way to communicate.

And people at work are already overloaded: email, phone, voice mail, mobile phone, mobile phone voice mail, instant messenger, group chat, desktop video, desktop video messages.

The last thing anyone wants is Yet Another Communications Channel.

So, instead of focusing on communicating in new ways, it’s important that collaboration and contribution is in line with the work people do every day.

And no, its not about describing what you are having for lunch, although certainly even social business tools should also be used to let people socialise. After all, that’s how people build social capital when they work face-to-face. Working out load and observable work can also be created from activity in systems, not just posting a statement about what you are working on.

Probably the only other concepts I’d highlight as part of this is the shift from open by exception to open by default or alternatively, from gather then share to share then gather.

Socialtext case study of a family-owned, industrial company pushing innovation like a dot com


I always like to see examples that show the application of mobile + social + cloud in situations beyond the normal office-based knowledgeworker scenarios. In this case, this Webinar from Socialtext provides a case study on Industrial Mold & Machine who are using mobile access to provide access to their social intranet on the shop floor. The Webinar also features Andrew McAfee, who provides context for the case study.

Terri Griffith provides an overview of the story, concluding:

it may be an example of the next big wave, the “next big thing,” that so many tech pundits are looking for.  This is a hardcore, family-owned, industrial company pushing innovation like the best of the dot coms.  I can’t wait to see what they, and other companies like them, do next.