Knowledge Management Systems do not work anymore for large-scale knowledge sharing, here is why

About 4 years ago, I had an idea, or better say an intuition, on how to change the way people find and share knowledge and information in large organizations. It took me 4 years to execute this idea with a few key steps (find funding, build  a team, launch MVP, engage pilots & test at scale with relevant clients. It now seems right to explain the thinking process behind it.


1 – Knowledge sharing is still unsolved. (or why even think about this?)

While I was still working at a global FMCG company in Geneva, one friend of mine had to do a market research to prepare a strategic recommendation to a VP to enter a new market. It took her 6 months to gather all information, knowledge and data needed to write the recommendation. While she had almost finished, one day, the coffee machine at our floor stopped working (we were at the 4th floor of a building where 3500 people were working). She went to the 3rd floor and started talking with someone she did not know, when she realized that this person was working on a very similar project for several weeks, without knowing each other’s, just one floor below.

When she told me the story, I first laughed, but after some discussions I realized that this was happening in all large companies (we have met with 500 of them in Europe mostly, none of them told us it was not a serious topic for them), more often than not, and that it had an impact not only on productivity, but also on quality / / innovation.

2 – Why traditional Knowledge Management Systems (KMS) and Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) do not work anymore?

Traditional KMS are based on three assumptions: 1) knowledge is detained by official experts 2) it is part of their job to spread this knowledge across the organization and 3) they do so. In today’s world, knowledge is rarely detained by a small number of employees. If you have a question about AI in general, you may want to speak to an official AI expert but if you start a new project on AI applied to traffic lights in Santa Fe, you may prefer to talk to a young engineer who worked on a project last year on traffic optimization in Wellington.

If the first assumption does not work, the second is even worse. As knowledge is spread across all people, you have to get all employees to share it on a dedicated platform, which is practically impossible. Only 5 to 10% of employee actually share their knowledge on dedicated platforms.

ESN understood that the first assumption did not work anymore; they proposed an unstructured and open sharing platforms, but they did not find a solution to the collapse of assumptions 2 and 3.

3 – When do we take the time to share knowledge and help others?

Since only a small proportion of employees share their knowledge, the question is: how to get the rest of them to do so?

Generally speaking, if we think about when we help others, there are prerequisites:

People tend to help each other when they know the person they are helping, or at least when they know the person needs help and they can see it. One of our clients did an internal study and realized that 85% of their employees shared knowledge only once they knew that it could help someone in particular.

Most people tend to share knowledge when they feel legitimate on the topic. It is only when they have worked on the topic extensively that they will take the time to share what they feel as valuable.

4 – So how do we use these two insights to create a new way to share knowledge.

We reverse the process. Instead of asking people to share their knowledge in a dedicated platform in case someone will need it one day, in the coming months or years, we ask them to share only when someone is asked a very specific question on the topics, they are the most knowledgeable about. So they can see that it helps someone in particular right now. And they feel right to share what they know.

Coming back to elqano, how do we do that in practice:

1. Someone asks a question to elqano. For instance: an analyst from Dubai asks “did we ever do a project on NFT in the metaverse?”

2. Elqano analyses the question and finds the most knowledgeable person to answer (using AI and big data, more on that in a later post). Elqano discovers that a consultant worked on a metaverse NFT project 6 months ago

3. The consultant receives the question, with something like this: “hey, you, your colleague from Dubai needs your help, and your knowledge is critical to his/her mission, would you be so kind to connect and share what you know?”

The usual answer is: sure.

Mission accomplished? Almost

As any start-up, we are constantly improving our product, working with our clients every day to change the way people share knowledge in companies. One of the last biggest challenges we “face” with is the following: “people don’t know what they don’t know”.

Sometimes, we don’t even think possible that someone could help us (or sometimes even worse we are scared of others’ perception), and we don’t do something as simple as asking a question. To change that will require a bit of cultural change and some new tech features (more to come in a later post), but I am convinced that the change is coming and that we will soon transition to a society where everyone knowledge is interconnected to create more value and innovation.