Lessons from BT on joined up operation?

Information and knowledge management within the enterprise is something that Freeform Dynamics has looked at on numerous occasions. A good example of this is our recent report ‘Information Management in the Retail Sector’. So, when I was offered the opportunity to talk to BT about the challenges it has faced with managing information and knowledge internally, and how it has approached these challenges, I was more than a little intrigued.
Individuals are increasingly comfortable with using technologies for contacting people and finding information quickly in their personal lives, and these expectations are being carried through into the work space. Such expectations are often not met, however, as the stark reality is that large and small companies alike so often struggle with inefficient and ineffective management of knowledge. Within the majority of organisations, there is a colossal amount of information being created and stored on a continual basis, often in discrete locations around the company. The problem of finding information or expertise is exacerbated by the fact that it is very much a moving target – information is continually changing, with a not insignificant amount of it being in people’s heads.
A real-life example which illustrates this very nicely concerns a financial services (FS) organisation that was particularly impressed with reports produced by an analyst company about its activities. What it subsequently, and embarrassingly discovered was that the analyst company had obtained a lot of its information from Facebook postings placed by the FS organisation’s own employees. This highlights two important points. The first is that there is an increasing propensity for employees to use social networking tools for work related purposes – whether sanctioned or not. The second, and much more important point is that there was a whole tranche of information about the company that was simply not on the internal radar, and took a third party to locate it, harvest it, analyse it and give it back for it to become useful..
The inability to locate and access information and expertise can have a very real impact on a whole series of company success measures. For example, if employees do not have easy and real-time access to company knowledge, the likelihood is that they will spend extra time looking for it, or, worse, will re-create information. Similarly, when internal teams are created to support a particular project or customer initiative, they will often be pulled together based on personal knowledge of individuals rather than looking across the full skills base of the company and selecting the most appropriate people for the job.
It was with some interest, therefore, that I went to view a demo by BT for its ‘My BT’ tool. My BT, which was developed for internal use within BT, has a feature called SignPost, which intelligently ’joins the dots’ between enterprise data repositories and people within the company. It is also able to make connections that, unsurprising for a large company, are not always obviously apparent.
My BT brings the concept of social networking into the corporate environment, and allows people to find other people in the organisation and communicate and collaborate with them. Contact and skills information, as well as projects people have been involved in, and documents they have either written or reviewed is also transparent. And users can search for specific information, for example, on BT’s capability. There is a lot more, besides, but too much to cover in one article. The tool, rather than being a complete ‘build from scratch’ system, overlays and plugs into existing systems, databases and document repositories. It is also neatly designed to make unified communications (UC) more tangible, and, therefore, more accessible.
When I saw a demo of My BT with a colleague, I have to say, we were both impressed. According to BT, it has been shown to save a lot of time and money and the response from staff has been very positive. Although this is an internal development, some of BT’s customers have already expressed an interest in the tool, and are looking at how something similar can be implemented in their own organisation. My colleague, David Tebbutt, explored a similar theme in a recent blog on Knowledge Management. What we see in both cases is that managing such knowledge in a more intelligent, joined-up way can be hugely beneficial and is increasingly of interest to organisations. Of course, it will remain a challenge – but examples such as this show a convincing way forward.

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