Seeking the Forest of Experts Through the Trees

The problem of Information Overload has significantly exacerbated the problem of finding an expert.

Where are the experts?

Where are the experts?

Do a search and you’ll get 564,768 results.  Of course searches only address explicit information.  Most information is tacit knowledge that resides in the minds of experts.  When those experts leave the office in the evening, they take that knowledge with them.  Of course, some may never return and take their expertise to a new job and/or employer.

There are myriad ways knowledge workers use to locate an expert, but two stick out in my mind:  1.) asking a few close colleagues and getting a limited number of answers, and 2.) sending an “all-hands” e-mail to hundreds or thousands of colleagues in which one’s query is stated.  In thousands of companies across the land, e-mail messages that state “does anyone know anything about…” or “does anyone know anyone who knows the VP of marketing at…” are commonplace.

Of course, the all-hands method is very disruptive and adds to the problem of Information Overload.  An e-mail query that should only have gone to a handful of colleagues but went to 500 cost the company 1.7 days (ca. 40 hours) in lost man-hours when you calculate the impact of the interruption to 488 people who didn’t have to receive it.  Of course, that e-mail dance probably happens multiple times a week despite the results of this search technique being modest at best.

Expertise location tools, which have been around for well over a decade, have been unable to keep up with what people know (no surprise there) and who the experts are.  A Basex research report from 2002 profiled expertise location and management platforms from eight companies.  Five of them have disappeared, one was purchased by Oracle, and the other two (Lotus and Sopheon) were not focused solely on solving the problem.

Social software may give us more breadcrumbs in determining the answer to the “who knows what” question but much work is still needed to create a platform that integrates expertise location into commonly-used enterprise tools (both to locate as well to rate experts).

Before that, however, one should focus efforts on lowering the overall amount of Information Overload within an organization, as doing that will make it much easier to see the forest of experts through the trees.

A wealth of Information Overload resources including a three-minute movie on the topic featuring senior executives discussing how Information Overload impacts them may be found on our Information Overload microsite.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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