How to Connect With Your In-House Experts

6 minute read
Steve Bynghall avatar

Finding subject matter experts in the enterprise is important for serving clients, resourcing teams and solving problems. It’s been a key use case for knowledge management and now for enterprise social networks, with information-rich employee profiles and channels to connect and communicate. 

But local expertise requires effort, particularly in persuading employees to declare their own areas of knowledge. Many years ago I was responsible for the employee directory at a UK professional services firm. Random memories include being sworn at by members of marketing, the most senior person in the firm flatly refusing to complete his profile, and (literally) chasing a manager around the office trying to get his photo. Driving adoption was a nightmare.

While enterprise social networks have made finding experts much easier than the static knowledge management systems of the past, the winners and commended entries of this year’s Intranet Innovation Awards are still developing new ways to categorize, find and report on experts. These approaches are influenced by external social media and the sharing economy.

The Intranet Innovation Awards, organized by Step Two Designs, are global awards that celebrate innovation and new thinking in the intranet and digital workplace space. Running for the past nine years, this year’s global judging panel includes recognized intranet experts consisting of both consultants and practitioners including James Robertson, Susan Hanley, Sam Marshall, Emily Staresina and Jonathan Phillips. Output each year includes a report, with many of the winners also being invited to speak at different conferences. 

Using Knowledge Endorsements

The practice of endorsing colleagues for their areas of knowledge is commonplace on LinkedIn but has seldom been applied as the primary approach to recording expertise within the enterprise. Now SPIE-ICS has tried this approach, with some success.

SPIE-ICS is an IT services companies based in Switzerland, which designs, builds, implements and manages IT infrastructures. Recording expertise accurately is critical to ensure that the right project teams are assigned to clients. Using a highly inefficient process (emailing CVs) meant that rival companies were sourcing project teams more quickly and winning more work.

A social business program within the firm sought to remedy this issue, producing a new intranet, which allowed individuals to anonymously endorse each other for areas of knowledge. The expertise of employees in different subjects is ranked from “inexperienced” to “expert,” all through anonymous endorsements.

A wizard is accessible through different entry points on the intranet such as a knowledge area page or a user profile. The wizard allows people to refer a colleague, declare their own levels of expertise and make further suggestions. 

The results have been significant, with 70 percent of staff endorsing others for areas of knowledge. It has also made assigning staff to client projects far more efficient, reducing the time by an average of four days and helping to support growth in the number of successful assignments by 7 percent. It will be interesting to see if this approach is taken up elsewhere.

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At SPIE-ICS a wizard helps employees endorse co-workers for areas of knowledge. Screenshot appears courtesy of SPIE-ICS and Step Two. 

Meeting Short-Term Resourcing Needs

In the sharing economy, service marketplaces like Freelancer and Upwork help match freelancers looking for work with those seeking help, often with relatively small projects or even single tasks. 

Canadian engineering firm BCG Engineering took inspiration from that approach to deliver a lightweight solution to short-term resourcing needs on projects. Often either a specialist skill or an extra pair of hands might be needed at the last moment on a particular client assignment. The firm also had a priority to improve staff utilization rates and ensure all employees had work assigned to them.

Similar to sites like Upwork, BCG Engineering’s “Hands Up” app matches staff who have availability with those who are seeking help. Each party declares their need or availability, which is then displayed on the system. To encourage adoption, the app is displayed prominently on the intranet, and the process for logging requests and availability is quick and straightforward. 

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Learning Opportunities

The Hands Up app displaying “Help Wanted.” Screenshot appears courtesy of BCG Engineering and Step Two.

Displaying Collective Expertise

Another challenge for organizations is how to display the collective expertise of teams, departments and even the entire organization. The reasons for doing this are numerous but can include aiding resource planning, identifying skill gaps and internal marketing for divisions.

In this year’s Intranet Innovation Awards, organizations with joined-up systems were able to present dynamic rolled-up dashboards of expertise and skills on their intranets. At Robin Partington & Partners, a small, innovative architectural practice with a custom-built digital workplace, a skills map shows which employees have particular expertise in different software used around the firm. This is used to help design learning interventions within the company.

At Mitre Corp., a not-for-profit organization that operates research and development centers sponsored by the US government, there is a long tradition of knowledge management. The organizational structure is also highly complex, with many internal divisions and departments. 

To help staff navigate through the complexity, Mitre developed new intranet pages for each internal structure, saying what each department or division does, linking to individual profiles and latest projects and also representing collective expertise and knowledge.

This view of knowledge data includes representations of the job levels within each department, specialities based on the collective knowledge of the department, tags to describe the department’s specialities and a list of the tags for individual areas of expertise. There is also a graph to show which staff have availability over 50 percent for each month, with an additional breakdown by speciality. Overall, Mitre’s dashboard approach gives a headline view of the spread of experts for those planning projects or wanting to know more about what a department does: 

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A section of Mitre’s organizational pages with a rolled-up view of expertise. Screenshot appears courtesy of Mitre and Step Two. 

Power of the Network

While the approaches described above have had some tangible benefits such as better client service or use rates, perhaps it is the act of connecting employees together that creates the most benefits. Connecting individuals creates stronger networks and helps build a knowledge-sharing culture. It also has the potential to create opportunities, enhance individual job satisfaction and build a broader sense of community. 

It is quite possible these less tangible benefits will be the most important in the long run. The act of finding is key — but the actual act of connecting delivers the real value.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Derek Bridges 

About the author

Steve Bynghall

Steve Bynghall is a freelance consultant and writer based in the UK. He focuses on intranets, collaboration, social business, KM and the digital workplace.

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