Concerns stemming from the loss of corporate knowledge is building, suggesting IT leaders must prioritize knowledge management strategies and look to intelligent technologies to fill critical gaps.
These were among the findings of a Sinequa survey of 1,000 IT managers at large organizations in the UK and U.S. According to the report, the loss of knowledge and expertise when people leave their company concern 67% of all respondents.
More than seven in 10 (71%) of respondents said they agree that the Great Resignation is contributing to organizational knowledge loss, and 64% feel that their organization has experienced loss of knowledge due to people leaving the company.
IT's Role in Preventing Knowledge Loss
Many IT leaders see preventing the loss of institutional knowledge as part of their charter, according to Scott Parker, director of product marketing at Sinequa.
"When organizational knowledge transfer is left to individual employees using manual means, no matter how hard they try, these employees face a complicated, time-consuming task," he said. "In these cases, they must comb through dissociated stores of content and data when they need to access information about past initiatives."
One particularly surprising finding from the survey, Parker said, is that only a quarter of the respondents said their organization has a knowledge management strategy.
Less than half of those respondents indicated that the strategy had been adjusted to address the risk of employees quitting or leaving.
"There's never been a more critical time for business leaders to prioritize knowledge management strategies and look to intelligent technology to help discover, cultivate, and protect the collective knowledge of an organization and seamlessly disseminate it to employees where and when they need it," he said.
Sharing by Default
Parker said a shift in thinking from a closed to an open model is an excellent way to start creating a culture of knowledge sharing. Instead of asking people to share their knowledge, adopt a "share by default" mentality.
"Tech and tools, particularly those with AI, can now glean the knowledge from content that exists in corporate systems and surface insights in the flow of work," he added.
Organizations should also ensure content management processes and tools facilitate information creation and sharing without burdening workers to classify, categorize, or tag content.
"Instead, automate curation with entity extraction and content analytics," Parker said. "Make collaboration frictionless — or at least as frictionless as possible — for those inside and outside the office."
AI and sophisticated natural language models in knowledge management systems, collaboration tools, and enterprise search platforms play a critical role in helping to preserve and foster invaluable organizational knowledge and dramatically improve employee productivity and innovation, he said.
Chris Plescia, chief technology evangelist at Aware, pointed out that when an employee leaves, you lose not only the documented knowledge of the ecosystem, but also the undocumented or tribal knowledge that has been handed down over the years.
"This is not something I can just rehire," he said. "There are years of learning, experience, and sweat that has to be rebuilt, and that takes time."
Succession Planning Is Lacking
Just the fact that many organizations are still behind on documentation and succession planning is concerning, he added.
"We all have talked about this for years and often have gone through the motions of succession planning," Plescia said. "As we all learned at the onset of the pandemic, these things can happen and are not just tabletop exercises. The Great Resignation has been going on for some time now, so if you have not taken mitigative steps, it's time to act."
From Parker's perspective, while organizational knowledge loss is one of the most severe crises facing businesses today, often it's under the radar of priorities.
"High employee turnover — whether from The Great Resignation and voluntary attrition, layoffs, M&A restructuring, or downsizing — has put immense strain on preserving and cultivating a company's collective knowledge and organizational intelligence," he said. "Exacerbating this is the shift to remote and hybrid work, dramatic changes in customer and employee perceptions, and an explosion of unstructured data and digital content."
To combat this, Plescia said leaders need to get serious about building bench strength, bringing documentation current, and shadowing critical positions and knowledge holders — even if it requires some interim bubble investment costs to get this done.
"For me, the accountability falls on the application or system owner. The architects, data and networking teams are also responsible," he said. "But, at the end of the day, the application owner is accountable for ensuring this is completed and maintained."
About the authorNathan Eddy is a freelance writer for ITPro Today. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.