Is There a Better Way To Capture It?
Several years ago, while working on a magazine article, I was given a tour of the former Eastman Kodak business park in Rochester, NY (Jorsek’s hometown!). At its peak Kodak employed over 65,000 people in Rochester and many more worldwide. Their business park, formerly Kodak Park, now Eastman Business Park, is an enormous campus comprising over 1700 acres with 17 miles of private railroad tracks and dozens of buildings, many once devoted to arcane single-purpose processes.
As we drove through this largely vacant and somewhat bewildering industrial landscape, I couldn’t help but wonder what these facilities were good for and who actually still understood their complexity. I asked my guide that question and he told me they were trying to capture that knowledge from the few workers and retirees who were still available to help, a dwindling resource.
Institutional Knowledge May Be One of Your Most Valuable Assets
This loss of institutional knowledge is a very real problem in any complex business environment. Knowledge often walks out the door with retirement, layoffs, career moves, and other forms of human capital attrition. The unfortunate reality is that even if this invaluable knowledge is documented, it may still be inaccessible or only accessible under conditions which may render it impractical to find. This includes being limited to individual computers, stored on outdated media like floppy disks, or stored on servers whose existence or accessibility may be hidden behind IT firewalls, on outdated databases, or lost in a host of of other closed legacy systems. Even with the enterprise information systems many companies implemented in the late 90s and early 2000s, much of this documented knowledge consists of individual files that are simply stored for check in/check out.
With access issues, proprietary or outdated file formats, and the nearly impossible task of searching for information within these documents, even institutional knowledge that has been saved may not be usable.
Knowledge Reuse is a Business Strategy
The challenge here is replacing and rebuilding this valuable intellectual and experiential knowledge can be extremely difficult. Many of those buildings I saw at the old Kodak facility may very well have high value for specialized use-cases, but without the knowledge of how to use them, they can’t be leveraged. For example, Kodak was the world leader in thin film deposition technologies, which now have many applications in areas like nanotechnology. Fortunately, in that case, much of their institutional knowledge of thin film remained current and viable for new users. As a result, those buildings and facilities dedicated to thin film are being used to advance new technologies. But much has been lost.
The Key To Capturing Institutional Knowledge
When we look at today’s complex businesses, this knowledge can be captured, but only with a change to the legacy retention processes which a surprisingly large number of companies still use. The key to this is an ongoing dedication to capturing knowledge in a centralized repository and structuring that knowledge so it can effectively be found and reused by others. This new model, made possible by content platform products like easyDITA, with its component content management system (CCMS), APIs, and portal publishing options, can capture current knowledge and make it accessible for years to come.
This requires the understanding that a majority of the work done by any company or organization is information-based. Documentation, policies, procedures, regulatory records, design documents, business processes, intellectual property, customer records…all of these things can be saved and managed with a structured content management system. This, in turn, gives you the ability to quickly access that information across an enterprise and your global markets, and reuse it, leveraging that knowledge for all kinds of purposes, from marketing to physical asset management. Understanding these options is the first step to implementing an institutional knowledge retention plan. The next step is inventorying and valuing the collective knowledge of your people and building an architecture that supports longer term access to it. These changes in information management are not minor. Strategically, they can mean an organization that is more resilient and forward-looking, without disregarding the value of what came before.
Coda: Could your business ‘forget’ about a $125 million asset?
Rumor has it that they found an unused $125 million dollar satellite in one of Kodak’s warehouses…which no one today knew was there (since donated to NASA). It was apparently a backup, built in case the first one failed. A $125 million asset that was effectively forgotten, because the knowledge had left the building.