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/





Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
July/Aug
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
June 2018
2018 Lubrication Guide, Motor and maintenance management, Control system migration
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
August 2018
Choosing an automation controller, Lean manufacturing
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
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 Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me