An insight into creating a knowledge inventory
Firms that leverage the know-how within their organisation will win out
Fergal O’Brien, director of Limerick-based start-up ASSK Knowledge Analytics. Photograph: Alan Place
Tacit knowledge is difficult to explain but it is like a reservoir of known but untaught knowledge amassed by doing, sharing and observing. Managed properly, it can give companies a big competitive advantage. But there’s the rub. Organisations often struggle to leverage their tacit knowledge, according to Fergal O’Brien, director of Limerick-based start-up ASSK Knowledge Analytics.
“We often ask the question does your organisation know what it knows?” O’Brien says. “It is estimated that more than 70 per cent of knowledge in organisations is tacit. It is a key source of competitiveness but also one of the most difficult types of knowledge to manage effectively to drive improvement, optimise talent and enhance organisational effectiveness.”
Work on what has now become the company’s first commercial product, the Knowledge Insights Inventory (KII), started back in 2010 when Prof Eamonn Murphy of the University of Limerick (UL) began research into how to assess an organisation’s tacit knowledge readiness.
“The first step involves understanding an organisation’s current position and the KII measures how well employees and organisations share, seek, capture and access tacit knowledge,” says O’Brien. “How employees view their organisation, their motivations and their attitudes are key. By developing the KII we gained real insight into the issues companies faced such as under-utilised and not-fit-for-purpose knowledge management systems, knowledge leakage through staff turnover and retirement, a poor learning climate and trust barriers to knowledge exchange.”
O’Brien says that while many organisations opt for technology solutions to manage knowledge, they often fall short. “We are frequently told that ‘we have a knowledge system in place’ so that’s fine,” he says. “However, we have also come across many companies whose employees were not even aware that a knowledge management system existed or else they found it less than user friendly or of little value in their day-to-day work.
“The key drivers of tacit knowledge readiness are individual and organisational factors and the day-to-day interactions experienced by employees around sharing and capturing behaviours. An organisation can facilitate this by creating the right climate or culture,” O’Brien adds. “ASSK adds value by identifying what individual and organisational factors are problematic and then providing appropriate interventions. Knowledge management systems certainly have their place, but our research shows that that know-how, know-who and know-when can facilitate knowledge exchange more effectively than complex and often unpopular technology solutions.”
ASSK Knowledge Analytics was set up in 2016 and is run day to day by O’Brien who is also a lecturer in finance and assistant dean of postgraduate studies at the Kemmy Business School at UL. The company employs four people and has clients in the pharmaceutical, manufacturing, financial services, healthcare and not-for-profit sectors. It has cost roughly €250,000 to commercialise the research and the spinout has been supported by Enterprise Ireland and the University of Limerick.
The company, which is already revenue generating, will make its money in two ways. It will charge companies to use its KII, normally on a sliding scale depending on head count, and it will earn fees for follow-up consultancy to address the problems identified. The KII can be applied globally and O’Brien says the product will just get better and better as more companies are surveyed and the volume of benchmarking data collected multiplies. Many companies conduct employee engagement surveys every year. O’Brien would like organisations to start using the KII with the same regularity.
“A number of our clients were our partners during the product’s development and our aim now is to grow through these connections and also through HR networks. We believe there is no direct competitor to the Knowledge Insights Inventory and while you could argue that we are competing with technology providers in this space we see it very differently. We are about diagnosing individual behavioural and organisational issues that affect tacit knowledge exchange and not everything can be codified.”