Organic knowledge: Social networking technology just may solve impending worker shortage

Benjamin Friedman, a research manager for product life-cycle strategies with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC Manufacturing Insights, thinks manufacturers can use social networking and other Web 2.0 technologies to close the knowledge gap that already is forming as workers in the baby-boom generation begin retiring.

01/28/2009



Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter may be useful for more than just telling the world what’s on your iPod.

Benjamin Friedman, a research manager for product life-cycle strategies with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC Manufacturing Insights , thinks manufacturers can use social networking and other Web 2.0 technologies to close the knowledge gap that already is forming as workers in the baby-boom generation begin retiring.

"The knowledge deficit as a result of workforce attrition is consistent across manufacturing sectors such as aerospace, defense, automotive, high-tech, and energy/utilities sectors," notes Friedman, author of the report, Web 2.0: The Inflection Point for Knowledge Management .

In that report, Friedman argues that Web 2.0 technologies in some ways will prove superior to earlier knowledge management (KM) applications developed by traditional business software vendors.

For example, he says, while traditional KM solutions attempted to capture knowledge by corporate edict and with rigid tools, Web 2.0 technologies foster “organic” KM by giving workers the means to locate, organize, and syndicate knowledge themselves.

According to Friedman, a confluence of factors is creating an environment in which manufacturers must consider investing in new methods of capturing and sharing knowledge. For example:

• An aging domestic workforce creates a knowledge deficit, as does the fact that, even though emerging markets are graduating people in science and engineering and related disciplines, these people often lack practical experience.

• Traditional KM efforts have been largely unsuccessful. The investments in KM that took place in the 1980s did not deliver the desired results and ended up costing more than anticipated. The reasons? "Intentions were good, but the approaches didn't work very well," Friedman says. For one, the applications were rigid in nature. For another, companies tended to approach them as corporate fiats ("You have to contribute or else!"), and they were often viewed as patronizing.

• Third, as previously mentioned, Web 2.0 technologies—which were once solutions in search of a problem—are proving to be practical alternatives for this job.

But Friedman is quick to point out that Web 2.0 technologies will not completely eclipse previous approaches to KM.

"Certainly, there are some traditional KM tools that need to remain, and Web 2.0 is not designed to replace them," he cautions, adding that the ones that should remain are those that involve very prescribed processes that do not offer opportunities for deviation. "These are processes that need to be documented, and there should be no level of editorial commentary allowed," he says.

Timely benefits
The use of Web 2.0 technologies may be particularly relevant and useful in today's economic climate, where every penny counts.

"It can be a way to save money," explains Friedman. For example, if a field technician needs to repair a piece of equipment in the field, in the traditional model, he will drive his truck to the worksite, filled with various parts he has pulled from inventory that may or may not be necessary for the repair. He may even need to return to retrieve another part once he realizes that his on-hand inventory from the truck is insufficient.”

However, if the problem is entered in a Web 2.0 environment, another field technician may have logged his experiences with a similar problem. "As a result, the first technician will know specifically what he needs," says Friedman.

In some cases, he adds, it may even be possible to solve the problem remotely, not even requiring the technician to go into the field.

Implementation strategies

According to Friedman's report, organizations should focus on KM initiatives—including Web 2.0—that offer a mix of structure and prescriptive elements—such as Case Based Reasoning—combined with informal solutions that offer information flow at the speed of thought interactively, such as instant messaging. This approach to KM delivers agility in decision-making, as well opportunities for reusing knowledge over the long term.

"The goal should be a centralized KM solution, and Web 2.0 can provide this," Friedman says. .

The challenge remains in creating a governance model that achieves two things. "On the one hand, it should not fall into a pattern of corporate mandate," he states. "On the other hand, it still needs to provide some level of structure that discourages nefarious intent, and also creates rules on how these systems are to be used."

For example: What is considered useful information? What is considered to be "noise" that needs to be removed?

Once the balance has been achieved, actual rollout to the workforce should be easier than with traditional KM solutions. "People weren't very familiar with traditional KM interfaces," says Friedman. "However, people today are very familiar with typical Web applications, so there should be a need for only limited training."

For guidance, Friedman recommends researching what the U.S. Department of Defense is doing in this area.

"They are working on this challenge of balance," he states. "They are also putting rules into place that may be able to be used in the workspace."

To get started, go to: www.defenselink.mil/





No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Leaders Under 40 program features outstanding young people who are making a difference in manufacturing. View the 2013 Leaders here.
The new control room: It's got all the bells and whistles - and alarms, too; Remote maintenance; Specifying VFDs
2014 forecast issue: To serve and to manufacture - Veterans will bring skill and discipline to the plant floor if we can find a way to get them there.
2013 Top Plant: Lincoln Electric Company, Cleveland, Ohio
Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Plant Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.

Bring focus to PLC programming: 5 things to avoid in putting your system together; Managing the DCS upgrade; PLM upgrade: a step-by-step approach
Balancing the bagging triangle; PID tuning improves process efficiency; Standardizing control room HMIs
Commissioning electrical systems in mission critical facilities; Anticipating the Smart Grid; Mitigating arc flash hazards in medium-voltage switchgear; Comparing generator sizing software

Annual Salary Survey

Participate in the 2013 Salary Survey

In a year when manufacturing continued to lead the economic rebound, it makes sense that plant manager bonuses rebounded. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey shows both wages and bonuses rose in 2012 after a retreat the year before.

Average salary across all job titles for plant floor management rose 3.5% to $95,446, and bonus compensation jumped to $15,162, a 4.2% increase from the 2010 level and double the 2011 total, which showed a sharp drop in bonus.

2012 Salary Survey Analysis

2012 Salary Survey Results

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.