I've got the next big idea for you in software. It capitalizes on all of the trends in the industry - building on years of transactional systems, smarter workers, human capital. It makes your workers more productive, able to solve problems faster and get more done with less overhead and less hassle. It won't cost much and will provide significant benefits to everyone in your organization. It's software that everyone will want to use, and everyone can benefit from.
Here's the idea.
I want a portal in my business where I can post a problem I have, and make that problem, challenge or issue public and ask for help. Too frequently when I have a problem I turn to just one or two people who work near me, and ask for their advice. Or I surf the net, looking for information or solutions. These approaches are not exhaustive, and probably not even very valuable.
Why not create a very simple application that provides the means for anyone in an organization to ask for help or assistance with a challenge or problem, and let the people with the knowledge or insight connect directly with the people who need help? How hard can that be?
There are several huge benefits to this application, if we can convince people to use it:
- We can end the Google monopoly. Instead of running to Google each time and searching for hours to find 50 links to stuff we don't care about, we can post a request on an internal portal and let people who know the answer get back to us. Thus, time that was used in surfing can be freed up for other work. (In a real world this will not happen as much as advertised, since surfing is so much fun.)
- We can get a real answer from someone who has a vested interest in our success. If someone in your company gives you an answer, you can go back and clobber them if they were wrong. They have little incentive to steer you astray. That's not to say that online resources are often wrong, but that they don't have the same incentives as your co-workers.
- Your firm can capitalize on all of its institutional knowledge. Too often we try to create these "knowledge resevoirs" where people write down what they know or their subject area expertise. These go out of date far too frequently, and people have expertise (say in stamp collecting) that they might not add to a corporate directory. What we should do is allow people to create requests and place them in categories, and allow others to search these requests and provide answers. Then we are tapping the full potential of our knowledge workers.
- This also creates methods for drawing the organization closer together and turning to your own people first. Too often we turn to outside sources of information when the answers are closer at hand than we might believe. Using a system like this I can meet people I might not have a chance to meet and interact with them.
- An approach like this defines and reinforces cultural values. You can literally build a culture around the reliance on others within your firm and the value of sharing information and helping each other.
Why don't more systems like this exist? Well, there are several reasons:
1. They don't process transactions. They don't pay the bills or order the goods, which is generally the first order of business for IT today.
2. Systems like the one I've described could provide significant savings and cost cutting, but as far as I'm aware few like it have been implemented. Since IT is relatively risk adverse, few people are going to implement systems without someone else going first.
3. There are cultural issues involved. Many people are afraid to ask for help, thinking it will be viewed as a sign of weakness or a lack of knowledge. Let's face it, however. Would you rather have some of your folks searching Google or simply making a best guess, or seeking and finding the best information available internally? Wouldn't you want to reward the people who provide the most and the best answers, since that indicates they are valuable employees sharing their knowledge? Too often we discourage sharing information and requesting help, when it should be something we encourage.
4. No system this simple could be all that powerful. If all the system has to do is collect and organize questions or requests, and allow those who know the answers to respond, that sounds simple. Do we need a system to do that? Will it really generate any benefits? In this case, thousands of small incremental answers add up to a lot of knowledge and benefits, especially if those questions and answers are logged for future use. I think firms could dramatically cut search times and increase the value of their research and work by tapping into what the employees within the firm know. There's little development cost, little transactional cost associated with such an application.
A simple web application, search capability and a database could create a vast problem solving solution in your organization with little investment and a lot of return.