Considering that knowledge is ostensibly the most valuable asset of an organization—hence the term “knowledge capital”—it is not only interesting but perhaps essential to consider if knowledge can be engineered. If we can engineer knowledge—which would equate to better Insight, as Insight is the ability to gain knowledge to take action—we would in effect increase the efficiency and effectiveness of operations in, say, engineering.
In engineering departments particularly, knowledge is king, and yet information is in multiple, siloed systems and engineers and others are often unable to leverage it. Many organizations tend to confuse knowledge with information. Whereas information is just the combination of the data residing in a vast array of systems and sources, knowledge is the human capacity to take action facing a complex situation; for example, building a better product.
In engineering, we have siloed information, which is not turned into knowledge through human interaction because in fact the engineers cannot access it in a way that makes sense—which requires consolidation, conversion and correlation. Moreover, with the growing wave of baby-boomer retirees, knowledge within SMEs cannot be tapped by others in the organization, creating the potential for it to be lost completely.
Now, consider even more departments within engineering, for complex products, say a health-related product or sophisticated electronics. The problem expands.
We have yet to consider the next level of information siloization—in departments outside of engineering, which house information key to the development process—customer service and sales (customer comments on existing products and marketplace demand).
The symptoms of “Insight Deficit” within engineering include:
- New employees are not aware of work conducted prior to their arrival, and often redo work that has been done before.
- Senior technicians and scientists are highly inefficient as they are unable to use even pieces of tests which had been previously conducted.
- Product quality may suffer due to the lack of root cause analysis—understanding every piece of every product and where it came from, what the materials are composed of, how it works with other materials and parts.
- Knowledge is “tribal” —in sub-departments, cliques of employees, etc.
- Highly paid employees create and re-create single-use documents.
Ultimately, these symptoms combine to make it difficult for the company as a whole to go to market quickly with innovative products that include input from customers as well as those who are not yet customers. Products lack differentiation, and the threat of commoditization becomes more real.
The opposite of Insight Deficit is Insightfull operations. Engineers can easily view information mashups from a Unified Indexing Platform, which securely pulls always-updated information from all of these siloed systems, including individual desktop information, enterprise systems, departmental systems, even social media where customers are commenting.
- Reduce time to market;
- Increase R&D productivity;
- Increase development of innovative and differentiated products;
- Leverage IP for competitive advantage; and
- Increase flexibility to support different/changing business needs.
In effect, the engineering department becomes able to capture, convert and deliver data and information for useful technical insight. They continually build and share knowledge to increase R&D competitive differentiation using innovation to combat commoditization and increasing profitability.
How does your company “engineer knowledge?”