For many organizations, the challenge of managing intellectual capital is exacerbated by retiring professionals and shifting workforce demographics. In light of these dynamics, organizations must capture and distribute employees’ intrinsic knowledge and experiences. To prevent further loss of valuable time and resources, it is important that organizations evolve to become a next-generation knowledge enterprise.

 

A process-driven approach to effectively manage and continually optimize knowledge retention and project management processes is key to building a next generation knowledge enterprise. By design, a process-driven approach and the solutions that enable it align organizational goals and objectives with daily work. As a result, organizational productivity increases through more effective work processes and a more agile knowledge-based workforce.

 

The Intellectual Capital Crisis Isn’t Going Away

 

Much has been written about the intellectual capital crisis. Shifting workforce demographics have become a fundamental issue. The Baby Boom generation is the largest generation in history to hit the workforce. As this generation begins to enter the 55-and-older age group, the impact on the private and public sectors has already proven to be considerable. Over the next 7 years, this segment of the workforce is projected to grow annually by a rate of 4.1 percent - four times the projected growth rate of the overall labor force, which has been in a steep decline since the 1970s.1

 

As Baby Boomers retire, they take years of experiential knowledge - best practices, lessons learned, short cuts and social networks - with them. Replacing this experiential knowledge void is difficult enough, but further exacerbated by a shrinking workforce; not all open positions will be filled with qualified personnel, due to sheer numbers alone. In part, this can be attributed to the smaller population of the succeeding Generation X and the need for advanced skill sets such as critical thinking, problem solving and leadership, which are usually accrued through time and experience.

 

A Strategic, Transformational Approach is Needed

 

The intellectual capital problem is not just an aging, retiring workforce but a more dynamic work environment. Individuals within organizations must learn at an ever-increasing rate just to keep pace. Thus, the solution is building and growing an institutional knowledge base that is not impacted by the departure of any one individual.

 

In a New York Times interview about the risks of the aging workforce, Accenture CEO William D. Green advised companies on preparing for the gap in skills and knowledge. He commented that “seventy-five percent of the solution is the ability to translate what's in people's minds into new processes which are enabled by things like decision-support technologies, information management and automated business analytics.”2

 

Clearly, the approach needs to be knowledge-based in its foundation. This next-generation enterprise must have the built-in capacity for knowing what it knows, and the ability to continually develop its knowledge base through fast learning and nonstop innovation. That means creating a knowledge-rich environment that will attract, retain and grow tomorrow’s knowledge workers.

 

The Transformation to a Knowledge-Sharing Enterprise

 

To transform into a knowledge-sharing enterprise, organizations need to initiate a culture and mindset of continuous learning. The knowledge lifecycle must become an integral part of every work process. To do this, organizations are turning to business process management (BPM) to better understand their work processes and capture the in-house knowledge associated with them. A BPM-based approach focuses on the most critical knowledge needed to produce the desired levels of sustained performance, identifies the specific work processes in which that knowledge is applied, and grows the knowledge, through a continuous, embedded learning process.

 

By leveraging a BPM approach, organizations ensure that expertise is shared by all employees and is embedded within the work processes and culture of the organization, rather than closely held by a few individuals.

 

Transformation Cornerstones: Knowledge Retention and Project Automation

 

Creating a knowledge retention and project automation solution helps organizations capture, share and apply knowledge every time a work process is performed. This approach:

  • Supports organizational vision and strategic objectives pertaining to business process performance and innovation.
  • Defines and sustains a strategic approach to organizing succession planning and knowledge retention activities.
  • Provides a business process management portfolio of methodologies, tools and applications for automating and optimizing knowledge retention processes.

Knowledge Retention

 

This BPM-based knowledge retention architecture consists of three primary components: knowledge capture, knowledge sharing and a knowledge retention infrastructure.

 

Knowledge capture is used when specific knowledge needs have been identified within an organization, such as know-how, know-who or best practices. The gathering of this information can be accomplished through a variety of knowledge capture processes, including interviews and surveys. The end products of these processes are usually codified information, such as lessons learned, process maps or an expertise locator, which can be accessed by anyone within the organization.

 

Knowledge sharing processes are used to transfer information and knowledge to organizational members as they execute tasks and perform activities. The architecture uses a variety of push and pull techniques to disseminate the knowledge in the most effective manner, taking into account whether it is codified or tacit knowledge and the intended audience. Programs such as communities of practice, forums and storytelling are excellent ways of sharing tacit knowledge and generating new knowledge for the organization to leverage.

 

Within the knowledge retention architecture, knowledge capture and sharing are supported and enhanced by the knowledge retention infrastructure. The infrastructure provides the foundation for ensuring that knowledge within the organization is systematically captured as it is developed, shared with the appropriate parties, and applied to further the organization’s mission. The first component of the infrastructure is training. Training uses the knowledge that has been captured and synthesized for instructing employees in how to apply the information to their particular roles and responsibilities. The second part of the knowledge retention infrastructure is the repository, the central place for the storage and retrieval of all the collected, codified information. It is constantly updated as new learning develops within the organization, thus updating the organization’s collective knowledge base.

 

As previously mentioned, knowledge retention strategies most effectively encourage continuous learning when embedded in business processes. Project automation plays a significant role in accomplishing this.

 

Project Automation

 

Project automation can play a crucial role in aligning organizational activities with the organization’s mission. Strategic alignment requires organizations to identify core processes, performance drivers and key enablers to achieve their overall vision and mission. BPM helps organizations achieve alignment through:

  • Roles. In projects and business processes, each participant plays a crucial role in achieving strategic alignment. Organizations must define these roles and make them transparent to all participants.
  • Activities. Business processes involve numerous activities or steps in a workflow. Achieving alignment and process efficiencies requires that activities seamlessly interact, enabling information, documents and approvals to easily flow among process participants.
  • Rules. Underlying each role and activity are rules determining what participants can and cannot do.
  • Responsibilities. With roles and rules in place, participants must complete the tasks and activities assigned to them.
  • Enforcement. Process and project delivery require participants to fulfill their roles and responsibilities. Ensuring efficient and effective delivery requires process visibility. Alignment as a concept is based on organizational trust and performance monitoring. Without visibility into key process areas such as human resources, finance, operations and training, achieving alignment becomes untenable.

In addition, as organizations begin to identify activities, roles and responsibilities, they add structure and meaning to their processes. Process automation requires the following components:

  • Electronic forms. Knowledge is stored in a variety of forms and documents, most of which are paper. Additionally, knowledge is stored in the heads of those retiring. By using an electronic form, process participants can facilitate and capture knowledge through a shared medium that all can see, edit, expand and store over time. Because the form is part of each activity, it effectively reduces paperwork while streamlining overall process workflows.
  • User interfaces. Rather than initiating a process with a paper-based form, organizations can start and complete activities electronically. Process automation, therefore, requires that process participants have a place to go to initiate and complete activities. Today, enterprises often use portals or intranets as sites where employees can do their work. From these sites, process participants can access user interfaces (e.g., work lists, reports, tasks) to initiate, complete and review work.
  • System integration. Processes involve people and technology. Knowledge retention in particular involves many people and systems (document management and records management, legacy systems, etc.). Integrating systems into process workflows helps to eliminate data entry, ensure data integrity and seamlessly archive results.
  • Dynamic tasking. Often, the structure achieved through earlier process analysis (rules, roles, responsibilities) needs to include disparate people and systems to complete an assigned task. In such cases, process automation requires ad hoc routing or completely dynamic tasking. People need both structure and flexibility to complete their work and share knowledge.
  • Activity monitoring. Executives and process participants often complain about not knowing the status of their projects. Without complete visibility into the process, executives cannot identify potential issues and resolve them before they become serious. Participants cannot share valuable experiences because they do not have visibility into the tasks others have been assigned. Having visibility into each activity enables process participants to know who is doing what and when. As a result, participants become more responsible for their actions, and organizations have reliable data to use for compliance and optimization purposes.

A knowledge retention and project automation solution helps organizations address the intellectual capital crisis by embedding continuous learning into an organization’s business processes. Organizations benefit from improved readiness in adapting to changing environments and new events as the organization becomes accustomed to making changes to meet new goals and performance targets on an ongoing basis. Furthermore, the solution supports a more agile workforce and an environment that will help to attract, retain and grow the next generation of knowledge workers. The entire organization experiences increased productivity as processes are constantly evaluated to minimize waste and optimize efficiency and effectiveness.

 

The solution to the intellectual capital crisis is creating the next-generation knowledge enterprise. The next-generation knowledge enterprise will have streamlined processes for capturing, sharing and applying knowledge. It will grow that knowledge by embedding continuous learning within every work process and creating a knowledge-sharing environment that will attract, retain and grow tomorrow’s knowledge.

 

References:

  1. Mitra Toost. “Labor Force Projections to 2014: Retiring Boomers.” Monthly Labor Review, November 2005.
  2. William J. Holstein. “A Gold Watch And a Vacuum.” New York Times, 28 August 2005.

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