Saturday, April 29, 2006

Capturing Tacit Knowledge: Point The Camera

My company does business process outsourcing for large multinational companies. We take over standard processes and help our customers reduce their cost of transactions. In the process we have identified a vast library of processes that are common across multiple clients. We have many subject matter experts within the company who understand these processes. However when it comes to capturing this knowledge and turing it into training material for our distributed operations teams, we faced several hurdles. The subject matter experts were too busy and were not willing to write down what they know. In some cases they had trouble with the format of the document. Sometimes they did not know the tool they were supposed to use. In some cases the knowledge they possessed was so fluid that they could only explain it verbally and could not write it down.

However they were willing to present their knowledge to an audience using Visio Diagrams, PowerPoint Presentations or White boards. So we decided to capture their presentations instead of asking them to document their knowledge.

This turned out to be very inexpensive and effective. We use a SONY Hi-8 Video Camera with a Zoom Microphone. We convert the tapes into DVDs [we use a local vendor who charges about $50 per tape] and share the DVDs with our team members around the globe. One of my colleagues works with the vendor to point out the logical breaks in the tape and the vendor creates the DVDs with menus [like movie DVDs]

The knowledge captured is very rich, the DVDs can play in any laptop computer or regular DVD player and we just need limited amount of time from the subject matter experts.

The DVDs are so popular that the subject matter experts write to us months later asking for copies of their material.

If you plan to do this in your organization, I would recommend a SONY Digital Video Camera, A Tripod and a SONY Zoom Microphone to capture good quality audio.

One word of caution: This approach works for capturing tacit knowledge that cannot be captured in a document. Distribution of DVDs is for a large audience is not efficient. If there is a large audience for this material, consider converting the video into WMV file format and placing them on a webserver so that your users can view them on the Windows Media Player.

Some softer aspects

  • In some cases the experts were a bit reluctant to be taped. Once we spoke to them and assured them that this is for training purposes, they agreed.
  • Another belief is that the camera can only be operated by a technician and we need to hire someone to do this. In our case, the lead consultant and senior managers of the company take on this responsibility.

If you have a distributed technical writing team or an online course development team that converts subject matter expertise into training courses, capturing subject matter in video might be a good idea.

I believe that in the next few years video streaming will move from the entertainment industry to the business world. With cheap capturing devices, cheap storage and efficient streaming, sharing tacit knowledge via video is going to be very feasible. It is a matter to time before services like Google Video and iTunes move over to the business world.

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