Updated: Oct 30, 2020
We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” — Albert Einstein
COVID-19 has taken the world by storm. As we come into the fourth quarter of a year defined by this global event, it is interesting to look back at how drastically the world has changed within a very short span of time. These changes have affected not just our personal and social spaces, but have also profoundly altered the workplace. From as early as March this year, we have been receiving numerous inbound enquiries on our cloud-based knowledge management system from all over the world — UK, the US, Ireland, BVI, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Czech Republic and even Kazakhstan. From these conversations, and from our own organizational experience of remote working, we have made some observations on how organizations can re-imagine work spaces in order to enable their employees to continue working effectively in the new normal.
1. Trustworthy and easy to find knowledge is critical
It is not surprising that the majority of the inbound enquiries we have received are centred on the problem of “enabling employees to find information easily”. This is a difficult organizational problem to solve, one that even us as a knowledge management company have struggled with in the past. Like many of you, our work requires a substantial amount of cross-team collaboration and tacit knowledge exchange. To ensure that we maintain seamless collaboration despite working remotely, we had to set new rules of over-communication and over-documentation of the knowledge exchanged in these communications.
Over-documentation did not imply a record of communications verbatim. Documentation of knowledge needs to be purposeful — it has to be done to facilitate retrieval thereafter. For example, we have found transcripts of meetings, though highly trustworthy, to be highly ineffective for knowledge reuse. This is because individuals’ memories of the verbatim fades with time and individuals not present at the meeting find it challenging to pin down associated information. In fact, researchers have found that “teams often experience difficulty locating the information they need in work ‘transcripts’”.
Instead, organizations should consider over-documentation using descriptive metadata tags — such as catchphrases, key concepts, types of document — to make knowledge easier to find (younger readers would identify this method as #hashtagging in social media). These tags could be generated manually or automatically using A.I. techniques, which is one of the capabilities we provide as an A.I. knowledge management company. This method of documentation came in especially handy for us during this period as one of our engineers had to spend an extended period of time in his home country, with a 7-hour time difference with Singapore. Without proper documentation of knowledge, such remote working arrangement would have been practically impossible; but with proper documentation that allows other team members to find knowledge or information easily, remote working has proven to be less daunting, allowing for high levels of productivity within the organisation.
2. Rethink workflows and re-assess information flow in your organization
At the start of the pandemic, we noticed a trend of firms putting off most discretionary, innovative projects to free up bandwidth for their technical support teams. Accordingly, firms re-allocated IT budgets to acquire ready-made software solutions that supported their transition to a remote workforce. Our channel partners in the US, UK, Australia and Singapore also reported a dearth of sale activity of all software that didn’t help with the aforementioned goal.
Things started to pick up sometime around June. Interestingly, there was a surge in interest from companies looking to re-design information flow within their organizations. The objective became to explore how we may better use technology to reduce the burden on staffers already challenged with the sudden shift to remote work. We partnered with a client to conducted a design thinking workshop for one of their practice groups to uncover user needs beyond ‘I want to be able to search and find my team’s past work’. We have been working with this client for over a year now, utilizing the INTELLLEX search engine to halve the amount of time for their lawyers to find internal precedents. The precedents were stored either in the firm’s shared drives, which was further segmented by the various practice groups across various geographies, or in the respective lawyers’ emails. In addition to the shared drives and emails, we realized through the workshop, that the lawyers are required to cross reference knowledge content from at least three other disparate sources before they could even begin drafting. The firm quickly recognized that this clunky information flow, from one silo-ed repository to another, was affecting their bottom-line as their lawyers often had to write-off a significant portion of their actual research time.
We are now working with this client to implement a customized version of our platform that would iron out these information flow inefficiencies. Through this experience, we have also learnt that organizations and people are exceptionally open to change and to new ways of doing things during a crisis. This makes change management, otherwise a demanding aspect of enterprise software implementation, much easier. That’s why the wise always say that “we should not let a good crisis go to waste”.
Clunky information flow (redacted) impacts bottom-line
3. Clients appreciate proactive knowledge outreach
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of legislative and regulatory responses have been proposed or implemented around the world. As companies continue to grapple with the evolving situation, they now have greater expectations on their lawyers to provide them with the latest regulatory updates and legal perspectives.
One of the challenges of keeping tab on regulatory changes is that these changes are usually communicated by the various agencies through different channels (and possibly in different mediums). This leaves lawyers with the unenviable task of manually assembling and synthesizing this information. Considering that we have at our disposal today modern technologies that can play this role of information assembly, it seems superfluous to not better enable our lawyers to focus on the higher-value tasks of lawyering.
To that end, we have been working with a group of lawyers to develop a tool that automatically tracks regulatory changes and also alerts lawyers whose past work would be affected by such changes. The tool further creates a lineage for every provision so lawyers may refer back anytime to when and which provisions have been amended, maintained, or replaced. While this tool is still in close beta development, the feedback we have received has been very positive. The users not only see it as a productivity tool that would reduce their burden of manually monitoring different regulatory sites, but also as a business development tool that enables them to proactively reach out to the right clients with the relevant updates. Many of the lawyers have expressed increased pressure from their clients to deliver ‘more for less’. In this uncertain time, clients expect their legal advisors to provide greater access to know-how, legal information and tailored updates at low (or no) cost. It is also in such uncertain time that firms which can deliver on providing the relevant knowledge in a cost-effective manner will be better placed to retain existing clients and attract new ones.
4. Digital transformation and the move to cloud
COVID-19 has proven to be an accidental but (very) effective Innovation Officer. One of the most prominent achievements of this “Innovation Officer” has been the acceleration of Cloud adoption by organizations. The adoption has been broad-based across different industries and different organization sizes. Even for organizations that were previously not open to even considering Cloud, such as SMEs and government-linked agencies, there has been a noticeable change in receptiveness.
Despite warming up to Cloud, organizations still tend to misunderstand the options available to them. Most business owners think that the decision is simply between Cloud or On-premise but there are actually a host of options in between. The different options trade off costs against organizations’ control over data flow; not against security, as it is now well-established that Cloud could be as safe as, if not safer than, On-premise servers (think Panama Papers incident). In this balance of costs and control, we noticed that the trend is for SMEs to opt for multi-tenancy Cloud, large international firms to purchase and maintain their own Private Cloud and grant software providers like us permission to run our software on their Cloud, and for government-linked agencies to explore a Cloud and On-premise hybrid.
(trends are instructive and not definitive; we want to share this point as a FYI only and not an advocate for these solutions for these types of organizations)
Finally, this too shall pass..
Even as we inch closer to an end of the pandemic, business leaders remain urgent in adapting their organizations to the new normal of work. Much has changed in this new normal but what remains is that knowledge and information are imperative to organizations’ competitiveness. Whether it is ensuring that such knowledge is easy to find, streamlining the information flow, or even using knowledge as a client outreach tool, knowledge management is noticeably returning as a priority for organizations. If you are considering your organization’s knowledge management needs and would like a no-obligation discussion with us, just leave us a comment here or reach us at email@example.com. We hope to be as helpful as we can be to your organization’s transition.
Written by Ellery Sutanto
Ellery heads up Business Development at INTELLLEX. Knowledge is a key asset to organizations, thus we want to build technological tools to help better manage it.