Prior to social collaboration tools, knowledge-dependent firms, such as consulting firms and investment banks, encouraged group-wide emails when someone asked or answered a question related to their work. That’s because they found that the same questions were being asked over and over when the answer only went to one person. By copying the entire group on these emails, everyone could learn from the answer. While this was an improvement, the information didn’t necessarily arrive when anyone needed it, it wasn’t easy to search for at a later date, and it wasn’t available to employees who were hired after it was sent.
Furthermore, when experts left the company, all of their valuable knowledge left with them. One of the most important assets companies have is the knowhow and expertise that employees accumulate over years. Capturing this elusive “silent knowledge” has been a painful problem for many organizations who don’t want to lose critical insights and need to reinvent the wheel each time an employee leaves.
Fast-forward to today, and social collaboration tools achieve the same benefits of those group-wide emails. Only now, this question would get a response from a knowledgeable network of experts that would become instant and searchable content, available to all at any future date through a search function. That means you can find the answer when you need it, even if you didn’t work at the company when the question was originally asked. It also means the information will still be available if the person who answered the question leaves the company.
With social tools, capturing elusive human expertise becomes a lot easier – a far cry from having to constantly update a database for example. Instead of having to make knowledge capturing an extra task, it happens automatically because discussions are being recorded as they happen. From knowledge capturing and management perspective this process where knowledge almost effortlessly gets turned into content is a big step forward.
This can drastically reduce the time and costs it takes to train new, or promoted, employees. Rather than a lengthy onboarding process where the trainee would sit through classroom training and speak with multiple colleagues to get ramped up, they can simply learn the basics upfront and dig into the use-case specific information when they need it. The quicker ramp-up and on-demand access to important information allows employees to become productive quicker, thus reducing the cost of training.
Xerox implemented this type of training system in the 1980s. They initially trained their tech reps in classrooms and provided manuals for troubleshooting, but found that reps learned best by reaching out to their peers when they needed help. Xerox enabled this type of knowledge sharing with two-way radios, but realized the shortcomings because the conversations weren’t being recorded. Once they started using a social network to capture the knowledge reps were sharing with one another, they were able to save over $100 million per year on training costs.