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Rethinking Knowledge Management for Technical Expertise

1 October 2011
Hagay Kalev
A person in a hard hat standing in front of solar panels

When discussing knowledge management, thoughts immediately arise about content, text, concise writing, proper phrasing, templates, information items, etc. The view of knowledge management is often directed toward the world of textual information management, documents, and written texts. But how do we manage information intelligently in organizations primarily engaged in technical/operational activities or using mechanical equipment?


For example, In several different organizations that have manufacturing plants operating large and complex mechanical machines, there is always a technician/expert who knows how to manage and repair the machine when it gets stuck:

  1. What do you do if the machine breaks down and that expert is not there that day, or maybe they leave the organization and take their professional knowledge? (This issue also relates to preserving the knowledge of retirees.)

  2. How can we demonstrate and illustrate situations where the machine may get stuck and what needs to be done so that any worker on the production line can check and fix it themselves?

  3. (Without constantly seeing "blacks" and all kinds of malfunctions...) How can we document the steps for operating the machine, training, and instructing new employees?


Starting to "warm up"?... Let's examine some more examples: How many times (in the "cellular years") did we call the cellular customer service center, asking about how to operate the "alarm clock" on the new cell phone we purchased? Is it logical for the service representative to sit with piles of operating manuals for all types of devices and be able to give us technical and professional explanations over the phone for every device? Most of us have encountered a situation where it was decided in the organization we work for to "upgrade" the professional systems we were used to working with for years. How do you now teach an entire organization to work with a new and different system professionally and efficiently? (Remember that it's not always possible to instruct everyone individually.)


These cases point out and teach us that knowledge management does not begin and end with just managing content, documents, templates, etc., but that we can identify additional (and unique) areas and domains in which knowledge management is as essential as "air to breathe" and requires different, creative and diverse thinking, for example in managing technical knowledge. So how can we still "eat" this "monster" called "technical knowledge management"?


Let's get to the root of the matter and examine what solutions we can use to manage technical knowledge (the solutions are presented from easiest to most difficult):


Pictures

Take pictures (of the machine or any physical product/part we want to operate and illustrate) and incorporate them into a document that consolidates the operating steps, accompanied by the pictures we took. We can add verbal explanations, use arrows and icons on the picture for emphasis, clarification, and unique tips and features for operation.


Videos

Shooting short instructional videos accompanied by voice guidance, where a professional presents the machine/system/technical product and how to use it. During the video, emphasis and tips can be given for the work process and the "gray areas" that may arise during operation (remember the "upgrade" of the professional system in the organization?)


Simulators

This solution is ideal, but it depends on the technological capabilities and systems in place in the organization. A simulator in the organizational knowledge management system simulates the operation and stages of the technical product, displaying a "live" image of the product that responds according to the action we want to perform and, at the same time, displays in the text the desired steps to perform, accompanied by particular emphasis and instructions for each stage of action.


An example from the cellular world

When we call customer service to ask for instructions on operating the alarm clock on our device (remember?), a device operation simulator will allow the representative to view the operating steps on one side of the screen and on the other side to receive an image of the device that responds according to each step to be performed, and thus guide us (the customers) over the phone on how to perform the action and even provide emphasis along the way.


Each of these solutions can provide an answer for managing technical knowledge in the organization. Still, it is essential to check the technological suitability of the systems and infrastructures existing in the organization before implementing them in practice. In conclusion, we have become aware that even in the technical world (machines, cell phones, etc.), there is a need for effective and proper knowledge management for wise use, even if it requires additional and unique tools to transfer it to the knowledge recipient. Remember: Technical knowledge is knowledge that needs to be managed as well.

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