Corporate memory: success in the ‘age of the customer’

Most organisational structures and principles were built and refined in the 1800’s and 1900’s during industrialisation. They reflect militaristic designs, such as top-down control and sharing only ‘need to know’ information because they were created around interchangeable employees with limited decision-making authority.

These approaches weren’t meant to handle the information age, where highly skilled and specialised knowledge workers are the cornerstone of a business’ success.

This is a problem in a world where customers constantly demand fresh, personalised products. They expect the brands they love to engage with them when and where they want.

As companies undergo digital transformation in order to compete, many boardrooms and just about every business manager are facing a “culture shock” of sorts while they adjust to this customer-first, always-on environment.

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Some think they can remedy this challenge by jumping on the digital bandwagon—asking IT to introduce new apps for their workers that look great on the surface.

But that’s not a true digital transformation, because employees become even more overwhelmed from working in a confusing and noisy environment. This results in misalignment between employees and executives, and productivity issues that cause disengagement and turnover.

Taken altogether, these issues lead to corporate amnesia — a loss of accumulated organisational knowledge which limits the company’s agility when it comes to keeping up with changes in the market and its customer base.

What most organisations really need today is a dramatic evolution in the nature of work itself. They require technologies that shift traditional command-and-control organisation charts into a network of work that is dynamic and ever-adapting to the most recent opportunities and customer needs.

A painful side effect of digital transformation: corporate amnesia

Too many organisations fail to put their most valuable asset — people — at the centre of their digital transformation, and are thus faced with major corporate memory loss.

This causes employees to repeat or redo work due to a lack of visibility into similar projects, and it keeps people from effectively leveraging other colleagues’ know-how or building on top of existing work—wasting valuable time that could instead be spent serving customers better.

There are many causes, including high employee turnover, data overload and a fragmented distribution of information.

At the same time that companies are struggling to manage the influx of data created by things like enterprise mobility and the Internet of Things, the work network itself is growing because of the need to engage with more organisational stakeholders (customers, partners, suppliers, vendors, freelancers, contractors, etc.) on a daily basis.

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Traditional IT restrictions and boundaries are too rigid and hard-coded to cater to the fluid, customer-centric organisational structures needed today. And to throw a wrench on top of this, as business units, individual users and freelancers bring in their own BYOx apps for work, the disconnected islands of information within a company grow exponentially.

All of this is making it harder for employees to benefit from network effects and access corporate memory that’s visible and re-usable across an organisation. There’s no doubt that employees will always find a way to do their best for the customer, but they know they could do better and are demanding new ways to disseminate, organise and share their knowledge.

On the organisational side, there simply is no perfect org chart or hierarchy that can dictate how work gets done best. When teams form based just on who works in what department, critical expertise and experiences are always left out. But inside larger enterprises, it is often impossible find the right individuals to get innovative work done, and done quickly.

Making corporate knowledge visible, searchable and memorable

Thankfully, there are several ways that collaboration solutions can help organisations overcome these hurdles in order to meet their customers’ rising expectations, such as:

1. Increasing organisational ‘meta-knowledge’

In a recent study conducted by professor Paul Leonardi from the University of California, Santa Barbara, researchers found that collaboration technologies increased what he calls ‘meta-knowledge.’

After just six months of using a collaboration hub, workers’ understanding of ‘who knows what’ improved 31 percent. Subjects also increased their knowledge of ‘who knows whom’ by 88%.

That’s because they gleaned ambient awareness from passively observing communications between other coworkers and teams in the digital workplace. As a result, they easily learned where to get certain information and how to access the appropriate colleagues, files, or databases where corporate memory could be activated.

2. Creating a ubiquitous vantage point

By tightly integrating with all of the systems and BYOx tools people use to get work done, collaboration hubs can become a central point of access where everyone shows up. This creates a top-of-the-hill vista where employees and corporate leaders can see all of the people in the organisation and their work.

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By building a bridge between silos of information within a company, corporate information flows better across the multiple ways people collaborate and has a greater impact on the ultimate business goal—customer success.

3. Changing the way teams are formed

In the future, teams should come together dynamically based on whatever mission is at hand, not based on a set hierarchy or org chart. An AI-powered work graph can recommend the team members who have the expertise needed to accomplish a project, while helping them get the work done along the way.

That graph knows where all of the interactions are between nodes in a work network (i.e. people, systems and tools), and captures valuable metadata regarding those connections in order to make useful recommendations in the context of people’s daily collaboration.

A whole new way of working fuels customer-focused innovation

Smart businesses are championing this new way of working that creates network translucency in even the biggest organisations.

For example, imagine the productivity challenge of responding to an unusual customer request in a large consultancy where an expert in one country is unknown to the team responding to that particular client.

Wouldn’t it be great if a central collaboration hub could find the right expert in another region and suggest them right when the conversation with the customer is started, in order to save the time and work of having to somehow come up with a solution from scratch?

>See also: 5 trends impacting enterprise mobility in 2017

Collaboration hubs can also help build valuable bridges between employees and customers. They provide a central place where customers can not only access top-notch service, but also share their innovative ideas and feedback with a business they are already invested in.

Collaborative external communities can easily connect customers with people from different parts of the company for ad-hoc discussions that drive rapid innovation and business agility.

In these situations, having access to valuable corporate memory and customer input helps workers combine disparate ideas from across the organisation (and beyond) into potential new ideas.

This is called ‘recombinant innovation,’ and it arises when knowledge that already exists is re-used in new combinations to reinvent products, processes or services.

There’s no doubt that the newest digital collaboration technologies do a whole lot more than just help people work together. Through access to a central workspace with Twitter-like streams of their organisation’s activity, people almost subconsciously start to build up intangible, yet very valuable, awareness about the organisation they’re in.

As they absorb corporate memory and mentally bookmark key information for later use, employees can proactively aggregate that knowledge and transform it into game-changing innovation that drives the best possible customer service.


Sourced by John Schneider, vice president of product marketing at Jive Software

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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