Expertise Locators and Ask the Expert

Originally published on May 24, 2017

35th in a series of 50 Knowledge Management Components (Slide 46 in KM 102)

Expertise locators and ask the expert: systems for finding experts on particular subjects, allowing individuals to enter details about what they know and can do, and allowing others to search for all people having desired skills, experience, or knowledge; and systems for asking questions of experts and getting the answers

Expertise locators are also referred to as:

  1. Employee Profile
  2. Expert Finder
  3. Expertise Location
  4. Expertise Locator System (ELS)
  5. People Directory
  6. People Finder
  7. People Network
  8. Personal Profile
  9. Skills Database
  10. Skills Inventory
  11. Skills Profile
  12. Skills Tracking
  13. Social Profile
  14. Staff Directory
  15. Who’s Who
  16. Yellow Pages

Connecting people so that they can take advantage of the expertise of others is one of the desired modes of knowledge flow in a typical KM program. This can be accomplished in several ways. The organization may be structured by expertise, and if so, the manager of a group of specialists in a specific topic can be contacted with a request for help from that group. Communities of practice span organizational structures to bring together subject-matter experts, and can be tapped for expertise.

Another common method is to create a database of all experts in the organization which can be searched to find those with required expertise. Such tools are usually called skills inventories, expertise locators, or electronic yellow page systems. The challenge with such systems is to get employees to enter and maintain their personal data. Even with mandates from top management to do so, many people do not enjoy this task. As a result, they enter minimal information and don’t keep it updated as they develop new skills.

Information entered in a skills database can include technical knowledge, process expertise, work experience, languages spoken, roles performed, customer and industry experience, community membership, professional organizations, publications, certifications, and so forth. The more details collected, the more can be searched for, but at the cost of complexity and possibly annoying the users who must rate themselves on a multitude of categories.

Social software can help address the challenge of motivating employees to maintain their expertise in a tool. By allowing users to define their own tags for both interests and skills, a folksonomy of expertise can be developed which is less onerous than a massive list of standard skills. If a social networking tool offers other desirable features such as photos, personalized information, and friends, it may draw in users who will also enter and maintain their skills.

Expertise Location Approaches

1. Expertise Database

  • Self-populated — relies on everyone entering and maintaining their own data, which is difficult to achieve
  • Fed from internal HR systems — limited by what is available in HR systems and by European privacy laws
  • Fed from LinkedIn — benefits from the fact that most people maintain their LinkedIn profiles

2. Social Software Profile

  • Self tagging/rating — hard to keep maintained, and people may exaggerate their own expertise
  • Peer tagging/rating — may miss some areas of expertise
  • Authoritative designation — may miss some experts and may become bureaucratic

3. Automated Monitoring/Crawling

  • Email — raises concerns about privacy
  • Threaded discussions — this is better as discussions are generally open, but may not be preferable to just using the discussions directly for expertise location
  • Contributed content and personal files — contributed content is open, but personal files are private

4. Emergent

  • Communities — can work very well; see below for details
  • Enterprise Social Network (ESN) — similar to communities
  • Email distribution lists — not as efficient or effective as communities or ESN

5. Formal Resources

  • Center of Excellence or Expertise Center — offers good expertise, but limited by availability
  • Help Desk — offers good availability, but may not provide deep expertise
  • Tier 3 Support — offers in-depth expertise, but limited by availability

6. Search

  • Contributed content and personal files — see who contributed or created relevant content
  • Production systems and databases — may be limited by security and privacy restrictions
  • Social software — have enterprise search crawl personal profiles and other social tools

Automated detection of experts by scanning their email and files has been tried by several vendors, but it encounters major obstacles. People don’t like the idea of their email and other private documents being monitored by Big Brother, and this prevents such approaches from being accepted.

The best-known public expertise locator is LinkedIn. A good alternative to the burden of creating and maintaining an internal expertise locator is to rely on LinkedIn instead. Most people keep their LinkedIn profiles updated, they already know how to use LinkedIn, and when new people join the organization, there is no lag until their internal profile is populated. Here is an example from Step Two Designs of one case where this approach was used.

Intranet Innovations 2011: six key themes from this year’s awards

Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck used the LinkedIn API to develop a clever but very simple device to bring in LinkedIn profile data to act as its internal expertise directory. This not only provided instant rich content but also saved staff considerable time by not having to create and then maintain two overlapping professional profiles.

Lundbeck’s LinkedIn connector allowed users to voluntarily import their LinkedIn profile into the internal employee directory and regularly update with any changes. The result is improved expertise location and more up-to-date profiles at virtually zero cost.

Using Communities to Locate Expertise

Community threaded discussions are excellent for locating expertise. If there is already a forum or distribution list for the employees in a specific area of expertise, then it can be used. If not, you can recruit a thought leader, activist, or respected individual to create, launch, build, and maintain such a forum.

In order for such a forum to function as an expertise locator, it should have a critical mass of experts in the topic, an active moderator, and a community norm that questions and requests posted to the forum will receive timely replies. If these criteria are met, then you don’t need to know who the experts are — you just need to know that they belong to the forum, and how to post to it.

Even if you work with HR to create a skills inventory database, you will have a challenge in getting employees to enter their data and then to maintain it. Even in consulting firms where it is in the consultants’ interest in order to stay billable, they tend not to like updating their skills profiles.

If your company already has a training history database, you can use it to see which courses have already been taken and by whom. To develop training plans, you can ask the members of the community for their suggestions and requirements. A combination of collection (databases) and connection (communities) can yield the desired results.

Ask the Expert

A process to allow users to ask the expert can be implemented in several ways. It can be done by tapping into a skills inventory or expertise management tool. A standalone tool which allows users to enter questions, routes these to designated experts, and returns answers which are also captured in a database can be developed or obtained.

Another technique is to use existing threaded discussions to reach experts within communities who can reply to questions. This is a typical use of threaded discussions anyway, so adding this capability is simple. To do so, ask the moderator to designate at least two subscribers who are assigned as experts who monitor the threaded discussion. The moderator is usually one of these experts. At least one expert should be on duty every work day. Users can be told to expect an email response within 48 hours with one of the following: the answer to their question, the status of the expert’s search for the answer and when to expect it, or a statement that the answer is unlikely to be provided, but may come from other subscribers. If you use this method, you may not need to implement a separate expertise locator tool.

Ask the Expert is also referred to as Q&A or Questions and Answers. The best-known public version is Quora.

Examples

1. HP Social Profile: me@hp

2. HP Expertise Locator: Find Consultant

3. HP Ask the Expert

4. Deloitte People Network (DPN)

Tools

Some software vendors offer tools for expertise management which purport to automatically identify experts in the organization based on the content of their email messages, web pages visited, documents viewed, and other online activities. Such tools may raise concerns about personal privacy, and their effectiveness is subject to debate. When I wrote about this in 2006, the following expertise management tools existed, but all of them have since been absorbed into larger companies.

  • AskMe into Hivemine
  • Autonomy Collaboration and Expertise Network (CEN) into HP and then into Micro Focus
  • OutStart Participate into Kenexa and then into IBM
  • Tacit Software into Oracle

Products

  1. Hivemine AskMe
  2. BA Insight Expertise Locator
  3. IBM Expertise Locator and Product Details
  4. ThoughtFarmer Expertise Locator
  5. Handshake Software: Expertise Locator
  6. Innate Skills Database
  7. TrackStar Skills Tracker
  8. WhoKnows

Articles

1. Slack launches its first AI search feature (hat tip to Jeff Zwier)

The new functionality is essentially an artificial intelligence-powered search feature that helps users find the people who are most likely to know about a given topic, with the aim of getting input more efficiently and making decisions faster.

The AI search feature surfaces the channels most relevant to a topic, the people in a network who have subject matter expertise related to that topic and the channels where you can reach them.

According to Slack, the feature comes without teams or admins having to do any extra work; they just search Slack as they normally would, and a new “People & Channels” section will appear at the top of the search results when relevant to the question.

2. Microsoft Delve — from James Dellow in actKM:

In recent times I’ve worked with some organizations using Office 365 and some have started to use Delve instead of creating a specific employee directory. However, as one of many tools in the Office 365 toolset I find that people often are not aware of what it is or what it tries to do. Has anyone else tried to use Delve as their primary tool for expertise/skills/experience location?

3. Microsoft Teams: Is the Who-Bot the KM “Expertise Locator” We’ve Needed for Years?by Marc D. Anderson

It seems to address the age-old knowledge management question “Who knows about…”, which has for years been talked about as either “Find the Expert” or “Expertise Locator”. In some ways, it’s been one of the holy grails of knowledge management.

Every organization has people in with with expertise which is unknown. A classic example was one I ran across at a client back in the mid-1990s. Yes, we’ve been talking about this for over two decades!

Insights

1. Nick Milton

2. Shawn Callahan

3. Luis Suarez

4. Jack Vinson

5. SIKM Leaders Community

6. Dave Snowden

  • Kate Ehrlich: Small Blue — It’s not just about just finding an expert, but when you find someone you want to communicate with them, but what if they don’t want to talk to you? By definition any expert location system is about communication with strangers
  • … and nearer to the Dust — Companies were experimenting with expertise location based on tracking key phrases in emails and the like. Team formation became a matter of searching CVs in a database rather than building relationships over time. The value of experience was derided as a simple failure to capture and codify.
  • Complex Acts of Knowing: Paradox and Descriptive Self-Awareness — Expertise location systems replace the second-generation technique of yellow pages making connections between people and communities. One example, “Tacit” will trawl e-mail records to identify where expertise lies, but allow the individual knowledge holder to determine if his or her expertise is to be public, which has many advantages in building context and trust.

7. Reddit: How to construct an employee (skills) database?

I’ve seen so many firms try to do this. They get the database looking good, in terms of the shell of it. Then they make a big effort to get people to enter their skills to it. This is shaky, because not everyone has the same feel for the levels they enter — one person might think they are an expert in 10 skills, when they are just competent. Another person will under-egg their skills.

Then, in a year’s time when nobody has bothered updating their skills in the database you are back to square one and it’s all about who you know in the company, and who can tell you who knows what.

They fail, every single time.

8. Elizabeth Lupfer: Expertise Location: The Killer App for Enterprise Social Computing

To date, most such systems are centrally managed efforts, and that’s a problem. The typical setup identifies and catalogs experts in a searchable directory or database that includes descriptions of the experts’ knowledge and experience, and sometimes links to samples of their work, such as research reports.

But there are gaping holes in this approach. For starters, big companies tend to be dynamic organizations, in a constant state of flux, and few commit the resources necessary to constantly review and update the credentials of often rapidly changing rolls of experts.

Second, users of these systems need more than a list of who knows what among employees. They also need to gauge the experts’ “softer” qualities, such as trustworthiness, communication skills and willingness to help. It isn’t easy for a centrally managed database to offer opinions in these areas without crossing delicate political and cultural boundaries.

The answer, we think, is to use social-computing tools. Activities and interactions that occur in blogs, wikis and social networks naturally provide the cues that are missing from current expertise-search systems. A search engine that mines internal blogs, for example, where workers post updates and field queries about their work, will help searchers judge for themselves who is an expert in a given field. Wiki sites, because they involve collaborative work, will suggest not only how much each contributor knows, but also how eager they are to share that knowledge and how well they work with others.

9. APQC

a. Social Networking and Expertise Location at Leading Organizations

Below are brief descriptions of how three best-practice organizations are harnessing the power of social networking to facilitate expertise location.

Accenture

Accenture People, soft-launched in April 2007, is the primary application used to identify and locate people across the organization. This tool enables each employee manage his or her own “My Page,” which is a personal workspace editable only by that employee. My Page is intended to serve as the primary place to create role-based portal pages. Enterprise search indexes these pages, which allows for a full-text search on expertise.

Accenture People profiles provide contact information such as e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, and locations. Also included on the profiles are brief descriptions of individuals’ roles and responsibilities, educational background, prior work experience, and current projects. Reporting relationships are listed so that others can see who each individual reports to as well as who reports to him or her. This type of information enables people to identify working relationships they may have in common across the organization.

Each profile also includes a picture. Many find that this simple gesture helps facilitate more personalized connections, and employees often look up profiles in order to put faces to the people they talk to regularly. Individuals may choose to designate themselves as experts in industries or service areas and to indicate such expertise on their profiles.

Hewlett-Packard

HP uses an internally developed application called me@hp as its primary social networking tool. Representatives from HP’s KM team compare this application to external sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn. There are currently 1,000 users of this opt-in application, and that number continues to increase. The organization notes that allowing people to personalize pages with profile pictures and areas of interest has increased adoption, in part because the existing company directory does not include such capabilities.

To facilitate expertise location, the KM team relies primarily on specialty discussion forums, rather than other, more formal expertise location tools. HP does have an expertise location system on its intranet, but this is more often used by resource managers to staff engagements.

Royal Dutch Shell

For expertise location, Shell relies on its global networks (i.e., communities of practice). The organization’s CoP program encompasses more than 22,000 members across 13 global networks.

Web-based discussion groups, hosted on SiteScape, allow network members to ask questions in high-traffic areas and receive responses within 24 hours. Every time a question is posted, an e-mail notification is sent to the members of that community. If community members are logged into e-mail at that time, they can immediately enter the community — no additional sign-in is required.

Shell notes that, with Enterprise 2.0 tools such as the global networks, experts naturally rise to the surface and become visible through their contributions and postings in the various forums. The importance of social networking and expertise location is reinforced by the organization’s Ask-Learn-Share process, which encourages employees to seek guidance from coaches, peers, and experts before beginning new tasks.

b. When to Use Social Networking for Expertise Location

In many organizations, there is a significant convergence of social networking and expertise location. Expertise locator systems (ELS) are designed to:

  • connect people to people,
  • link people to information about people,
  • identify people with expertise and link them to those with questions or problems,
  • identify potential staff for projects requiring specific expertise,
  • assist in career development, and
  • provide support for teams and communities of practice.

Some organizations use the same internal social networking site, intranet, or portal for internal expertise location as they do for communication and general networking. Many consider expertise location to be an extension of knowledge management, in that the goal is to capture and reuse the skills and experience of internal staff members in order to increase competitive advantage.

Implementation Guidelines

According to Anil Kumar, general manager of service and support for AskMe, a knowledge management software vendor, expertise location systems require cross-functional team representation for effective implementation. Key personnel who can contribute to a successful expertise location rollout include business development staff, professional services staff, and IT staff.

To ensure that the system aligns with business needs, Kumar recommends that organizations spend a significant amount of time analyzing goals and objectives during the planning process. Kumar is also a proponent of phased deployment, in which the expertise location system is introduced to one department at a time.

Benefits

The principal reasons why organizations are attracted to social networking tools are because they are user-driven, easy to use, and can be implemented and maintained at a minimal cost.

From an employee perspective, social networking offers the ability to identify and consult with experts in order to solve problems and find answers to questions. Social networking tools are usually the fastest, easiest way to locate individuals with specific skills or expertise. Users may search generally or by certain topics to find experts; search criteria are often flexible and customized. Although many professionals maintain networks of external contacts, most organizations would like to encourage employees to seek help and expertise internally before reaching out to people outside the enterprise. Often, employees search their external networks only to learn later that there were internal experts in close proximity.

Consider this example of social networking in action: An employee uses his organization’s intranet to establish a social network by adding other employees he knows and has worked with on various projects. While working on a new project, this employee can send a question to his network via the social networking site. If a member of the network knows the answer, that individual can respond directly; if not, the individual may forward the query to another network. Whenever the answer is sent, it will be saved in the system for future retrieval.

Issues and Risks

Although social networking tools provide numerous benefits, there are some issues that impact effectiveness. For example, time is always a barrier to knowledge sharing and contribution, even with social networking. How do organizations convince employees to take the time to create and update profiles? What prevents employees from simply directing questions to colleagues they already know, rather than searching through profiles for someone with the requisite knowledge? Does the time investment outweigh the benefits of using internal expertise location systems? These questions must be addressed, and the value of social networking should be clearly articulated across the enterprise.

Another issue is consistency. Are all employees using the internal expertise location system, or are they turning to external sites such as LinkedIn for information? Some organizations indicate that employees prefer external sites to internal portals and intranets. Often, this is because external sites offer more freedom in terms of the type of information that can be posted, which makes them more flexible and attractive tools. For example, many organizations restrict employees from posting photographs, family information, and other personal data internally. External sites have no such restrictions and enable users to customize profiles using whatever methods they choose.

Security is always a concern when it comes to any type of social networking. Specifically, many organizations worry that employees will accidentally share proprietary information while using social networking tools. However, according to Gary Matuszak — global chair of KPMG’s information, communications, and entertainment practice — the significant risk in social networking is not that users will share too much information, but that they will share too little. In order to succeed, social networking systems require a large number of active participants who are willing to ask questions and share their knowledge with others.

c. Articles

10. Montague Institute: The truth about expertise databases

The concept of a central repository for employee expertise is certainly appealing. In today’s far-flung global organizations, where the right hand often doesn’t know what the left hand has accomplished, an expertise repository can eliminate duplicate effort, help the organization respond to opportunities, and reduce time delays. At least, that’s the theory. But the reality is often different.

In this article, we summarize a thread in the SIKM Leaders Community, a virtual community of Knowledge Management leaders from around the world. Our comments (in italics) about the responses follow most of them. Then we describe some other approaches and discuss our own experience.

The discussion started off with the following message:

I work in core estimating and we’re working on developing a database (using Microsoft Access) to track all IDS Estimating employees and their past work experiences. The purpose of this database is mainly twofold:

  1. to be able to assess where we need to develop training plans;
  2. as a reference database to locate individuals with necessary skills.

Do you think this fits in with knowledge management? Do you know of any resources, either people or applications, that might be able to assist in our development so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel? Do you have any other advice/comments on this?

The question generated five meaningful responses, summarized below.

1. Response #1 [Knowledge management consultant USA] Welcome to the world of “expertise location” and “corporate yellow pages” and probably several other names. This kind of topic has seen quite a lot of play in KM efforts over the years. Sadly, just as frequently, these kinds of efforts fall rather flat. When I worked at Searle / Monsanto, there were tons of “expertise” databases in the Lotus Notes system. As far as I could tell, very few of them were actively used / updated. I’ve heard similar stories from many others.

Sorry to be so negative. The spirit behind these services is good, I think. People recognize that everyone has different skill sets / competencies. And they want to find ways to match “what people know” to “what we need.” The concern is that it is difficult to record even baseline information on what people know and keep it up to date. Match that with the even harder work of prognosticating “what we need,” and you get the situation I saw at Monsanto.

I suppose the next question is how does one make something like this work? I think one path is to work with the HR organization to develop a competency map / plan, and move from there. I would also ask what are the underlying business issues that are driving the perceived need for such a system.

It’s not clear what is meant here by “competency map.” Maybe that’s why there is an effort underway to define the phrase so that it can be used in “apples-to-apples” comparisons across divisions, departments, or supply chain partners.

2. Response #2 [Knowledge management consultant Australia] I have seen these databases work well where people’s jobs depend on them — e.g., as resource management tools for staff in a consulting organization. Having up-to-date details helps you get work, and clients often ask for recent CVs. Even then, some consultants claimed never to have gotten work through standard resource management but always through their own contacts. I think these systems work well with clearly defined and easily assessed skill sets that are strongly aligned to the work that people actually do. The problems arise when they move outside those narrow parameters (as many of them do) into less-charted waters.

And let’s not even get into the difference between the ability to identify expertise, accessing it and utilizing it. Maybe the critical questions to ask are: “What existing business decisions will be impacted by this exercise? How will participants directly benefit in the short-term? What will happen to them if they don’t?” N.B., the investment in creating and maintaining these databases is not zero. If you are billion-dollar-a-year consulting business then they can be worth it.

3. Response #3 [Knowledge Management consultant USA] Yes, the more clearly defined skill sets, the simpler the jobs, the less contextual the jobs, the easier it is to use a reference database. The key, as mentioned earlier, is “the ability to identify expertise, access it and utilize it.” Context, availability, overlap, EQ [emotional intelligence], personality, and media available all come into play seeking knowledge/assistance/learning inside or outside the organization.

Rob Cross talks about several factors that are necessary to effectively transfer knowledge between people.

  1. I must be aware of what you know — here an updated database can help.
  2. I must have access to you. I must know you, or have the opportunity to be introduced to you. You must be available.
  3. I must feel comfortable with you, and you with me; there must be some level of trust.
  4. We must both have the time, energy and commitment to see this through.

Most knowledge transfer is not simply: “The answer is 42.”

Rob Cross is noted for social network analysis. A recent article in Fortune magazine,The hidden workplace, discusses the work of Cross and others. The article focuses on non-technical approaches like social networks and communities of practice.

4. Response #4 [this was from me] I want to add a suggestion based on my experience. Community discussion forums are excellent for locating expertise. If there is already a forum or distribution list for IDS Estimating employees, then it can be used. If not, you can recruit a thought leader, activist, or respected individual to create, launch, build, and maintain such a forum. In order for such a forum to function as an expertise locator, it should have a critical mass of experts in the topic, an active moderator, and a community norm that questions and requests posted to the forum will receive timely replies. If these criteria are met, then you don’t need to know who the IDS estimating employees are — you just need to know that they belong to the forum, and how to post to it.

Even if you work with HR to create a skills inventory database, you will have a challenge in getting employees to enter their data and then to maintain it. Even in consulting firms where it is in the consultants’ interest in order to stay billable, they don’t like updating their skills profiles. If your company already has a training history database, you can use it to see which courses have already been taken and by whom. To develop training plans, you can ask the members of the community forum for their suggestions and requirements. A combination of collection (databases) and connection (communities) can yield the desired results.

In one aircraft manufacturing company, the Human Resources function collects information about the available training courses and tracks their use by employees in a SAP database. Popular training sessions or modules are published in a catalog on the company’s intranet. Training materials are stored in a variety of independent repositories. A “competence and skill index” stores data about the competencies (the abilities needed to perform some activities) along with the knowledge and know-how that must be demonstrated for a given competence. For more about training databases and other skills repositories, see Training management system for Aircraft Engineering. This article describes a proposal to integrate disparate training resources using the Semantic Web, a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries.

5. Response #5 [KM consultant USA] Software vendors offering dedicated expertise location/social networking packages for business use include Tacit Knowledge Systems, AskMe, Participate Systems, Entopia, Autonomy, ePeople, Lotus, Sopheon, Recommind, and OutStart. The fact these exist might provide an insight regarding the merit of trying to “roll your own” using database software.

A CIO Insight article from which some the vendors listed above were taken was published in 2004. A companion article, Expertise Management: Who Knows About This? discusses expertise location projects at the Department of Commerce, Lockheed, and Caremark RX. For a more recent (2006) overview by a consulting firm, see Techniques for expertise location.

Integrated and hybrid approaches

Today, developers are experimenting with hybrid approaches that combine search engines, databases, and user-assigned keywords or tags. In one such application, MITRE corporation integrated its SharePoint collaboration and content management system with the Google Search Appliance, an employee file sharing system, email discussion groups, and an employee database. On the Google search page at MITRE, tabs let the user perform a general intranet search, a search for staff with certain kinds of expertise, or a search of discussion group messages. In another application, Honeywell uses a product called ConnectBeam to allow engineers to tag articles they find via searches conducted using the Google Search Appliance. The idea is that if someone else has tagged an article you’re interested in, they might have expertise you need (or can refer you to someone else).

Two other papers about experiments in using social networking technologies to identify experts are:

  1. Collaborative Tagging and Expertise in the Enterprise” Proposes a ranking mechanism for expertise based on the tagging activity of users for both unstructured (documents) and structured (databases) tag spaces. The paper also briefly describes a communication platform that will incorporate the ranking mechanism. Authored by two employees at Avaya Labs Research.
  2. Fringe Contacts: People-Tagging for the Enterprise a reference system designed to test whether people tagging is a viable and useful approach. It includes both user and programmatic interfaces to tagging functions. Authored by two employees at IBM Almaden Research Center.

Our experience

At the Montague Institute, we identify experts through a combination of publications, email discussion groups, search, and a knowledge base. Trade and professional publications provide two kinds of leads:

  1. Articles about specific technologies, such as the Semantic Web, often quote consultants or users. The trick then is to find background information for them.
  2. Articles written by experts often provide contact information and a brief bio. The hard part is to learn more about them. Are they really experts? Do they have an ax to grind? Can they discuss their specialty with the layman? What’s the knowledge transfer quid pro quo if there is one?

Email discussion groups provide similar kinds of leads, but postings are more cryptic than articles. Contact information is often provided, but it can take some time to research a potential expert’s background and motives as well as the context in which the message was composed. Both publications and discussion groups operate as alert services. They are delivered periodically and may or may not contain anything of current interest. Articles and messages that might be useful in the future must be captured in a knowledge base for later retrieval. We’ve learned the hard way that relying on bookmarks and search to re-find such items is risky.

We use search to find experts for current topics of interest. Unique and specialized query terms work best. For example, searching on “Semantic Web” gets too many responses, while searching for “excel to rdf” not only yields a more manageable set of results but also may point to people who are actually doing semantic web work (as opposed to vendors touting their products or consultants touting their services).

We find that a knowledge base is essential, not only for finding (and re-finding) experts but also for tracking our interactions with them. A key issue rarely mentioned in the literature is where to locate them (i.e., at the individual, team, department, or enterprise level). In our case, knowledge bases are locally created and maintained by the people who’s jobs depend on them — i.e., writers, researchers, and project managers. Localizing the knowledge repository in this way may solve the maintenance problem, it means that care must be given to provide access to other people outside the core group.

Conclusion

Expertise databases can be useful in helping employees locate people with necessary skills, contacts, and know-how, but their value depends on how they are maintained and used. They work best when they are updated as part of an ongoing business process — e.g., a record of what courses employees take or a database of contacts and articles used in everyday workflow. It also helps if expertise data is integrated into other systems, such as enterprise search and collaboration software.

Technology, though, is only one side of the coin. The other is people and the environment in which they work. Identification of individuals that act as “hubs” and “boundary spanners,” mapping their relationships, and then enhancing their activities through discussion groups, recognition, and policy is the key to success.

Resources

  1. How to Locate Expertise
  2. Finding experts — explicit and implicit by Judith Lamont
  3. Expertise location and the learning organization by Judith Lamont
  4. Expertise Management: New Myths and Old Realities interview with Yogesh Malhotra by Debra D’Agostino
  5. Expertise Location: Not Just A Tooling Issue by Mike Gotta
  6. Find the right person for the job with smart expertise location by Imran Aziz
  7. Case Study: POPS — NASA’s Expertise Location Service Powered by Semantic Web Technologies by Michael Grove and Andrew Schain
  8. Profiling an organization’s experts — Collaboration at work by Karthikeyan Palanisamy
  9. Yellow Pages/Expertise Locator Systems/Staff Directories in KS Toolkit
  10. Building an Enterprise Expertise Location System, Part 1, Expertise location paradigms and deriving a reference architecture by Murali Vridhachalam
  11. Building an Enterprise Expertise Location System, Part 2: The Expertise Locator Solution Architecture by Galina Grunin, Murali Vridhachalam, and Erich Walls
  12. Expertise Location by Jakkii Musgrave
  13. The “Who Does What?” Challenge by Neil Olonoff
  14. Who Knows What? by Doug Cornelius
  15. Bringing Knowledge, Relationships, and Experts Together in the Enterprise by Dennis McDonald
  16. The immense value of expertise location will help drive enterprise social media by Ross Dawson
  17. Expertise Location Systems: Pervasive or Invasive? by eWeek Editors
  18. Expertise Location by Arun Simha
  19. iConnect: Expertise Location at Deloitte by Stuart Rosenberg
  20. Iknow Services

Books

1. Expertise Location and Management: High-Impact Strategies — What You Need to Know: Definitions, Adoptions, Impact, Benefits, Maturity, Vendors by Kevin Roebuck

Expertise-location capability provides corporations with the ability to solve business problems that are difficult to articulate or communicate explicitly and that involve highly skilled people. Dynamic people-profiles and -searches are increasingly seen as integral components of a support environment that encourages unplanned collaboration and informal interactions as effective ways to solve business problems. Expertise location increases productivity and organizational success by identifying the status and location of human expertise in globally dispersed and increasingly virtual organizations.

Publishing of employee profiles and searches against those profiles are increasingly seen as integral components of a business process that encourages unplanned collaboration and informal interactions as effective ways to solve business problems. Social network tools help managers find the right person or group for the appropriate task.

2. Sharing Expertise: Beyond Knowledge Management by Mark Ackerman, Volkmar Pipek and Volker Wulf

II. Studies of Expertise Sharing in Organizations 77

  • Locating Expertise: Design Issues for an Expertise Locator System — Kate Ehrlich 137
  • Who’s There? The Knowledge-Mapping Approximation Project — Mark Ackerman, James S. Boster, Wayne G. Lutters and David W. McDonald 159

III. Exploring Technology for Sharing Expertise 199

  • Expert-Finding Systems for Organizations: Problem and Domain Analysis and the DEMOIR Approach — Dawit Yimam-Seid and Alfred Kobsa 327
  • Automated Discovery and Mapping of Expertise — Mark Maybury, Ray D’Amore and David House 359

3. Knowledge Management: Systems Implementation: Lessons from the Silicon Valley by Hind Benbya: Expertise Location and Yellow Pages — pages 40–50