Hurricanes are hell on knowledge
management. Take it from Giora Hadar, a knowledge architect at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
These powerful, swirling storms can wipe out navigational aids, air traffic control equipment and radar dishes that ensure
the safety of commercial and private aircraft in the U.S. They can also sever communications and keep critical information
from flowing between FAA workers on the ground and those based in D.C. and elsewhere. In 2005, hurricanes Katrina and Rita
did all this and one thing more: They spurred the FAA to start developing social
networking tools to address communication and knowledge management challenges even during extreme circumstances, such as
a Category 5 storm.
At the FAA, hurricanes and other disasters raise a fundamental and urgent knowledge management question: Who’s available to
get things up and running again? “We need to reach our people to find out, Are they OK?” says Hadar, who supports the FAA’s
disaster recovery efforts. “We also need to know where they are and if they are available to participate in the recovery.”
Once everyone is accounted for, the agency needs to figure out which disaster recovery specialists will do what, and who
their counterparts are at other federal, state and local agencies. The specialists themselves have to track their e-mails and
instant messages, voice mails, the documents to bring equipment back online and what they spend.
It’s a perfect situation for taking social computing tools—such
as online social networks and group communications tools like wikis and keyword tagging—and putting them to work as a
form of knowledge management.
The Challenge of Knowledge Management
Those dealing with knowledge management (KM) have always faced the challenge of getting information out of people’s heads and
into a database. Social computing tools seem like a good way to help, since they encourage people to share their knowledge
with others, and that expertise can be easily captured.
In fact, social computing represents a third wave for KM: the set of tools and processes companies use to create, track and
share intellectual assets, says Patti Anklam, an independent consultant who is focused on KM and social networking. Anklam
says the first wave involved digitizing and tracking documents using tools like content management systems. When it became
clear that it was too hard to share those documents, companies adopted collaboration tools. With social networks, companies
are extending knowledge management to make it easier to connect employees and information.
“A framework for knowledge management consists of understanding what you need to have in place so that people can connect and
share with each other, and then…connect to people outside of their own current, small personal networks,” Anklam says.
Social networking tools have been used mostly by consumers but are now emerging in corporate environments. A 2007 survey by
IDC (a sister company to CIO’s publisher) found that almost 40 percent of very large companies—those with more than
10,000 employees—were using business or social networking tools, more than 30 percent were using online communities and
just under 20 percent were using social bookmarking tools. Smaller companies were less aggressive in using the tools but were
also adopting them.
Not So Fast
CIOs need to strike a balance in adopting social networking
Social networks are so easy and intuitive to use that practically anyone can jump in and
get started. Just ask Cisco CIO Rebecca Jacoby. “My 80-year-old mother is on Facebook,”
This ease of use epitomizes social networking’s potential for companies that want to tap
the knowledge of their workers. It also highlights a challenge for CIOs: the perception
that IT isn’t moving fast enough to adopt these applications within the business.
Cisco is already moving down this path. It is developing a companywide social computing
platform aimed at greasing the idea process and capturing institutional knowledge by
strengthening existing networks and making it easier to adopt new ones. There’s Directory
3.0, its internal Facebook, with employee listings designed to identify an employee’s
area of expertise to enable collaboration. It has Ciscopedia, an internal document site,
and C-Vision, its version of YouTube. And it has the Idea Zone, a wiki for people to post
and discuss potential business ideas.
Despite these initiatives, Jacoby says IT is still perceived by business users as not
moving fast enough to leverage social networks because they already use them personally.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Can’t I just go to an ASP and create a community?'” She
says they cite both the speed and the low cost of doing so.?But Jacoby says that CIOs
need to consider issues of privacy, data security and the ability to scale across a
global organization. It’s no good, she says, if 15 different business units develop 15
different online communities “that can’t talk to each other.”
Still, Jacoby says social networking has led IT to change how it works with Cisco’s
business units to develop social computing tools and set usage rules.”That’s a real
cultural change for IT organizations, and that’s way more challenging long-term than the
technology,” says Jacoby.
What’s driving interest in the market? Social networking tools show clear potential for improving collaboration and sharing
different types of knowledge within organizations. And employees typically are familiar with them. In fact, 25 percent of
companies say that workers are already using social networking tools for work, though only 10 percent actually offer such
tools, according to CIO’s 2008 “Consumer Technology Survey.” But of those who do offer the tools, 30 percent do it to improve
Like the FAA, many of these companies are in the early stages of figuring out how best to use social networking tools for KM.
In part, that’s because “knowledge management is a business process, not a market,” says Mark Levitt, an analyst at IDC.
“There are a lot of processes that are tied up in knowledge management, and no single product can enable it.”
The FAA started thinking about how to use social networking tools in 2000, when Alan Stensland, its Eastern Service Area
emergency coordinator, saw Lotus QuickPlace, a team collaboration platform, and Lotus Sametime, an instant messaging tool, at
a trade show. After the 2005 hurricane season, Stensland’s desire for better ways to connect his disaster recovery
specialists only increased. So the FAA, a heavy IBM user, became a beta tester for what would become Lotus Connections, which
includes social computing tools like Profiles (a directory of people and their expertise), Communities, Blogs, the tagging
tool Dogear, and Activities (a dashboard). It also upgraded from QuickPlace to Quickr and moved to IBM’s Websphere Portal.
The FAA’s disaster recovery response leverages the use of these tools, which run through the Activities dashboard. Its 200 or
so disaster recovery specialists invite people to join their networks via Profiles, and use Activities as a kind of
electronic project bin: Voice mails, documents and their electronic receipts for a project will go into it, making it easy to
track and share with other agencies, easing the hassle of post-disaster spending audits.
That’s the hope. The last two hurricane seasons were mild, and no other major disasters have struck since the new tools were
tested and put in place. But this summer’s hurricane season is expected to be a bad one. If it is, the FAA believes it is
ready to respond faster and more effectively than ever before.
Social networking tools should bring faster response time to all facets of business, says Rebecca Jacoby, senior vice
president and CIO at Cisco Systems. Cisco is building a social computing platform (see “Not So Fast,” Page 44) because “this
is the first technology in 10 years that as a set, if utilized properly, lets you accelerate your business.”
Jacoby says that Cisco sees the types of knowledge sharing these tools permit as “overarching” for business in the global
era. “I can bring people from locations all over the world or different functions to participate in solving a problem or
creating an innovation that allows the company to have growth,” she says.
A case in point: the Idea Zone, an internal wiki where Cisco staff can post and comment on business ideas. Since it was
started in June 2006, more than 600 ideas have been posted and vetted, and four new business units have been started.
Knowledge from the Outside
The Web makes it possible to build markets around many things, including knowledge for
hire. In a sense, that’s what sites like Elance and Innocentive offer: expertise that
companies bid on to expand their own knowledge. Then there are expert networks like that
of Gerson Lehrman Group. GLG’s knowledge marketplace connects customers to subject matter
experts who can consult in person or over the phone, depending on the customer’s
preference. It’s a broader, more consulting-oriented tool than Innocentive, which
connects companies to scientific researchers with specific knowledge.
GLG says sales hit about $220 million in 2007. (Editor’s note: This story was updated on July 7, 2008, to correct information in the previous sentence. Read the correction.) It has a network of 175,000
consultants, and between 20,000 and 30,000 business leaders, all of whom have worked in
senior management for companies with more than $100 million in revenue. Users of the
service can tag the expert or documents, rate the person and add notes. The average call
lasts about 40 minutes and costs about $300. Companies can subscribe to the service.
“We’ve taken knowledge management outside our own four walls,”
says Jonathan Glick,
GLG’s director of research operations. “It makes knowledge management an asset.”
A Better Way to Collaborate
Also exploring social networking is Flowserve, an industrial manufacturer of pumps, valves and mechanical seals. Flowserve’s
CIO, Linda Jojo, felt the company needed a better way to capture institutional knowledge and communicate it to employees
across its far-flung offices: Flowserve does business in more than 55 countries, and IT has people in a dozen of them.
“We want to create more relationships within IT,” she says. “So if you’re in Brazil and you’re running into a problem with
Oracle databases, you can find the people within Flowserve who might help you.” Jojo felt that a social networking
application like Facebook could act as a virtual employee water cooler but she had reservations about its privacy and
So Flowserve built an internal version of Facebook and launched it in December 2007. The project was spearheaded by two
business analysts—recent college graduates who Jojo asked to design something to bring employees together. It took them
a few weeks, working part-time, to get the tool ready. Despite no formal announcement, interest in the tool has been
About 150 of the 250 IT staff members have signed up and are using the wiki, blogs and other tools built into it. Jojo says
it’s too soon to say what impact it’s had on the organization. But in a year or so, “I would hope to be telling you that this
is a tool that we as an IT organization can’t live without and it becomes an essential part of how we support the greater
Flowserve organization,” says Jojo.
While Flowserve built its own application, IDC’s Levitt says companies have plenty of social computing tools to use, many
designed to work with their current software. Vendors including IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Novell and Oracle are adding these
tools to their products. The trend began several years ago, but only now are companies starting to become comfortable with
“The average worker two years ago had never been in [an electronic workspace],” Levitt says. Now, thanks to instant messaging
and social networking sites like Facebook or LinkedIn, most businesspeople are familiar with online communities.
But while users may feel comfortable, businesses remain uneasy. Levitt notes that tools like Facebook lack the security and
privacy that corporations demand. He thinks products like Lotus Connections, which combine a number of social networking
tools into familiar software and make them easier to adopt, will become more common.
A Perfect Solution?
Social computing would seem to solve some of the challenges posed by KM. But these tools come with their own set of issues for the CIO.
Workers can set up their own social networks outside the company’s IT infrastructure, creating privacy and data security
issues. Companies will be less able to control communications enabled through social computing, both internally and
externally. And there will still be a learning curve for workers used to communicating in specific ways.
Wainhouse Research analyst David Dines says user issues will be the hardest challenge for CIOs in companies that are adopting
social networking tools. “What CIOs need to ask themselves is, How are people actually using the wiki?” he says. “What kind
of employee structures and policies do we have in place to encourage the proper use of these tools?”
Still, analysts are optimistic about the marriage of social computing and KM. Dines says that in 2007, enterprise sales of
tools like Liveworld, SocialText and Mzinga, which offer ways to build customer and internal communities, and wikis,
respectively, reached $200 million. IDC, meanwhile, projects that social networking will be a $1.3 billion market by 2012.
What seems clear is that social networking tools are poised to help businesses cut through the maelstrom of information and
improve how workers share knowledge. Dines says these tools will streamline how workers research projects, form teams and
share knowledge. His prediction: “Pretty soon you’ll see people say LinkedIn and Facebook are interesting, but look at what
we’ve got internally.”