Enterprise Social Networks Are Key to Corporate Knowledge Bases

From Innovations, a website published by Ziff-Davis Enterprise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Reprinted by permission.

At the Central Intelligence Agency, Intellipedia is challenging long-held views about information propriety.  Intellipedia is an internal application of a wiki, which is one of the most popular enterprise social media tools.  The CIA is using the wiki to capture intelligence gathered from its global network of field agents and internal researchers.  It’s part of a broad effort by the notoriously secretive organization to break down silos of information and create an organizational knowledge base.

It’s also changing the culture of the agency.  In an address last week to the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, the CIA’s Sean Dennehy noted that the success of shared knowledge bases requires giving up control.  “We need to fight against locked down spaces,” he said. The comment drew murmurs of surprise and some applause from the audience, who couldn’t quite believe it came from a CIA executive.

If the CIA can learn to give up control, imagine what your company can do. Social media is all about sharing. It’s based on the principle that participants give a little to get a lot.  The more you contribute to the body of knowledge, the more everyone benefits.  This principle underlines the success of a wide range of collaborative Internet sites, ranging from del.icio.us to Wikipedia. If Web 2.0 has demonstrated anything, it is that most people are motivated to do the right thing.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has made the same discovery. Its Pfizerpedia wiki has more than 10,000 articles as well as numerous how-to videos. A nascent podcasting program is now spreading information by voice, and employees are trading Web discoveries through a giant internal social bookmarking platform. Pfizer is learning the power of sharing.

That’s a difficult concept for some managers to internalize. Traditional organizational structures are based on the idea that employees can’t be trusted to do the right thing.  They need to be constantly monitored and corrected to avoid going off the rails.

Social media is demonstrating that the opposite is true. It turns out that when you remove hierarchy, the community usually takes responsibility for policing its members and insuring quality work. This is especially true within groups of professionals and it couldn’t happen at a better time.

Large organizations need to start capturing their organizational knowledge. There are compelling to do this. Some 64 million baby boomers will retire in the next three years. Over the next 15 years, the size of the workforce between the ages of 30 and 49 will shrink by 3.5 million and by 2015, there will be 16 million more workers over the age of 50 then there are today.

These workers will each take with them years of accumulated knowledge. While some of that knowledge will be obviated by business evolutions, the skills needed to design an assembly line or calculate a cash flow statement won’t change. This makes it more critical than ever for organizations to capture institutional knowledge before it fades away.

Social media tools are an ideal way to do this because people populate the database themselves. In the same way that Facebook or MySpace members continually add personal information to their profiles, business professionals can develop rich descriptions of their skills and experiences by reaching out and helping each other. In the past, enterprises had only rudimentary ways to capture this information. With the arrival of internal social networks, they can now store everything in an enterprise knowledge base.

Over the next couple of entries, I’ll look at how this is playing out in US organizations today and how you can get your users – and managers – on board.

1 thought on “Enterprise Social Networks Are Key to Corporate Knowledge Bases

  1. Pingback: Giving Up Control Unleashes Wisdom of Crowds | paulgillin.com

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