An ageing workforce in sectors such as field service, construction and manufacturing is posing a threat to the preservation of operational knowledge. It’s been estimated that by 2050, the UK will have a deficit of 36,800 engineers and 66,800 construction workers1.
Meanwhile, US manufacturing expects 2.7 million baby boomer retirements by 20252. This means that human knowledge and expertise in the field is rapidly decreasing while technological complexity is growing.
If companies don’t adopt a systematised approach to capturing, maintaining and communicating knowledge, they will have to re-invent the wheel, while trying to keep pace with technological advancements and employee churn – a difficult task to say the least.
So how can digitization help organisations – regardless of the industry vertical – to consolidate their knowledge and raise operational execution standards and compliance?
One source of truth
Many organisations have their operational knowledge – Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), best practice, corrective actions, regulations etc. - siloed in different departments and formats. Imagine having an Excel sheet of SOPs, an outdated paper-based back-up, and a compliance department aware of the latest regulatory updates that have not been recorded anywhere.
Who should frontline workers turn to when in doubt about the required actions in the field? Bringing everything in one place on a digital platform helps to ensure that there is one source of truth. Stored in the cloud, it can then be made accessible to all members of the organisation at the point of action.
Increased employee engagement and operational compliance
To ensure operational compliance, organisations need to continually improve, extend and clearly communicate operational rules. A digital platform which enables the sharing of business knowledge in real time and a range of formats can help to improve training, increase engagement with the extant knowledge and ensure the consistent implementation of best practices.
This is the difference between handing merchandisers a heavy ring-binder to sift through and sharing with them a quick step-by-step guidance video on how to ensure planogram compliance which they can watch and implement at the point of action.
With the benefits of knowledge preservation, improved operational compliance and employee engagement, the answer to whether organisations’ operational knowledge should be digitized should be a straightforward yes. However, the digitization of operational knowledge is still not the organisational norm. Why might that be the case and how can a new generation of platforms help to change that?
The setbacks of legacy platforms
Maintaining and communicating business knowledge on a digital platform tends to be associated with significant upfront investment and additional maintenance costs. Most platforms enabling the digitization of operational expertise tend to adapt them to the language of the platform rather than configure the platform to each organisation’s specific business language and knowledge. This way knowledge is trapped in software in the form of business rules embedded in code, which can only be updated by IT people at a high cost.
The initial encoding of the operational expertise in an unfamiliar computer language means that its subsequent maintenance would also need to be carried out by IT rather than the members of the organisation who have the best understanding of the business knowledge and the context of its implementation.
So even if the Head of Operations has the greatest insight into procedural compliance, it would be IT people encoding and maintaining it. What is more, such legacy platforms fail to capture the knowledge of workers in the field, therefore excluding the collective wisdom of its frontline workforce from the organisation's knowledge repository.
The operational improvement network
With this IT reliant approach, the drawbacks of digitizing operational knowledge – high set up and maintenance costs, lack of control over the digitization, non-IT people’s concerns about the misinterpretation of knowledge in the process of encoding it – stem from the functionalities of the platforms implementing the digitization rather than from digitization itself.
The drawbacks can be resolved by an operational improvement network which supports the self-serve, code-free capture and maintenance of operational knowledge from all members of the organisation, whether in the head office or in the field. This way, organisations remain in control of how they generate, maintain and organise repositories of knowledge and are not limited by IT.
For example, the manager of water operations for a utilities company can easily update water system operators in the field on the changes in SOPs. Instead of relying on IT and having no control over implementation time, the manager can implement the changes within the hour – as simple as updating her LinkedIn profile.
She simply logs into the platform, can drag and drop the components she needs to best communicate her knowledge in business rather than computer language and then pushes the update to field workers’ mobile devices. She can go back and edit the SOPs at any time, or clone and re-use them in another instance.
Similarly, the plumbers working for the same company, can use the platform to record and share the fixes to common issues, creating a repository of best practices which can be accessed at the point of action.
This way no knowledge is lost and when new members join the organisation, they can instantly use and add to the recorded knowledge rather than having to start from scratch. This helps to reduce onboarding time and training costs and ensures consistency in the execution standards of any task.
Explore the operational improvement network