Knowledge Networks: What You Need To Know

Anastasia Dyakovskaya

272642_l_srgb_s_glOne of the biggest pain points in corporate culture has long been the presence of silos; disparate departments working independently from one another with frustratingly limited contact and communication among themselves — despite the fact that, theoretically, they’re all trying to reach one common goal. It’s an unsustainable system, and one that we simply can no longer justify in the modern marketplace. So what’s a CEO to do?

Implement a little something called knowledge networks, which have the power to facilitate and enable scalable collaboration and innovation, for instance, as well as relationship management and maintenance – particularly among colleagues who work remotely. It’s the kind of system that gives business the ability to finally cross physical and virtual boundaries, something we’re all trying to achieve.

But how can we implement these new networks? And what will things look like when we do? A recent episode of SAP’s Game-Changers tackles the topic. Read on for highlights and insights into this truly game-changing way of thinking, doing, and knowing.

Care to share?

“All of us have knowledge within us that we have a responsibility to share,” says Michael Gretczko, panelist and principal of Deloitte’s U.S. Human Capital Consulting Practice. The question is, “How do we connect… and allow others to leverage what we all know and what we bring to the table as experts?”

Knowledge hoarding seems like a thing of the past, but old habits die hard. Even amidst an age of sharing and social, says host Bonnie D. Graham, traditional ideals revolving around job security means that some of us (maybe most) aren’t totally over the desire to be specialists — the only ones with a set of unique, exclusive knowledge.

According to Gretczko, “It’s a practice that needs to go away” – like anything that consistently fails to contribute value to an organization. Social media today shows us that “by doing lots of sharing, you’re rewarded. There’s this alignment of incentives between sharing and what comes back as a result of that sharing…. Protecting knowledge is frankly one of the fastest ways to make yourself irrelevant.”

Now if only we could translate what’s normal in our personal lives – think hitting share several times per day – to a bigger part of our professional day-to-day.

The bottom line? Unless it’s literally illegal to share information freely within your organization, as is still the case within certain industries, that’s the kind of thinking you’ll just have to shrug off in order to keep up and move ahead.

Making sense of it all

Cynthia Gee, another guest on the show and partner at the Global Business Services Consulting Practice at IBM, says the greatest challenge in implementing knowledge networks lies in answering this question: “How do you simply and elegantly enable individuals to find who they need and what they need at the time of need?”

It’s not an easy one to answer, especially given the enormous amounts of data we’re dealing with and generating on a weekly basis – more than we’ve seen in the last 50 years combined, Gee reminds us. The challenge again lies in avoiding silos and facilitating the exchange of information among colleagues near and far.

As we know, transformation starts from within, and it’ll take a serious cultural shake-up for many companies to change course. The motivation for such a major shift usually comes from cold, hard data; gather up the kind of evidence that makes the case and proves your point – knowledge is power, and the more people have of it, the better.

It’s not what you know…

It’s who you know. But really, it’s both. “Knowledge is about connections,” says Jennifer Engelhardt, another IBM team member, partner, and North American Leader for the Transformation Center for Excellence. And it’s something that goes beyond simply identifying certain people and creating networks among them. “There are many different ways that knowledge can improve not just our quality of life, but also our businesses.

“It can help workers connect to find better ways to run the supply chain, to run their back office, to get the best value out of analytics, and so on,” Engelhardt continues. “Knowledge networks are definitely an exciting new trend and the technology platforms are finally catching up.” The most exciting aspect for Engelhardt, however? Gamification.

The line between knowledge networks and serious gaming might seem blurry, but Engelhardt insists there’s something there. After all, gaming does often result in through-the-roof engagement levels as well as boosts in morale and motivation. And again, it’s just another way of generating data. “We’re looking at dashboards that can tell us with a very high level of precision where we have performance gaps by geography, transaction, functional area, [and] job role.”

The result? “A huge shift in the learning space from the traditional model that we had before to something that’s much more personalized, shorter-targeted.” And of course, informed by analytics.

It’s definitely an exciting time to be alive and in business, but – like anything worthwhile – reaching the zenith of knowledge networks will be no easy feat, but reach it we will. “Imagine what’s going to happen when learning truly reaches every corner of the world regardless of country, class, or background,” Engelhardt muses. “What a huge shift it will be when we can really… have everyone join in the huge knowledge networks that are forming.”

A transition we’d be smart to closely follow – and implement ourselves.

Check out the full episode of this edition of SAP’s Coffee Break with Game-Changers on Knowledge Networks: Productivity and Human Connections, and here the panelists’ predictions for the not-so-far-off future as well as other insights on this fascinating and highly relevant topic today.