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Professor Eamonn Murphy receives regognition gift

Helping us know what we know: ICMR’s tacit knowledge programme

We live in a global village era of exploding information and increased connectivity. Such conditions create both opportunity and threat for businesses and manufacturers.

On the one hand Big Data and accelerated learning can catalyse extraordinary research and development and product advances. On the other hand, data and knowledgeable people can be easily misplaced or moved; company directions can then be skewed off course, and whole projects lost as a consequence.

Small, medium and large sized business are all at risk from their assumptions and from their unsystematic company know-how: Undocumented custom and practice; key artisan workforces and personnel; ‘black art’ manufacturing – these all qualify as examples of Tacit Knowledge (TK).

Indeed, it has been found that most workers learn over 80% of their jobs throughout informal training. This understandably leads to a mish-mash of performance and performance measurement. And so without systematic analysis and objective documentation of its working practices a company stands vulnerable and with its key IP in jeopardy.

To tackle this problem the ICMR centre launched the Tacit Knowledge project. It is led by Professor Eamonn Murphy’s team at the University of Limerick and, for the ICMR, by John Delaney of Intel. A number of key methods and heuristics have now been developed, including a survey and analysis tool (enabling automated company surveys); an implementation framework and some frameworks for commercializing the project.

The ICMR Tacit Knowledge programme for 2013 consisted of two primary objectives:

1. To develop a method that would allow the ICMR member companies to measure and assess the current state of Tacit Knowledge usage within their enterprises, identify and help enhance enablers and mitigate the inhibitors.

2. To develop and deliver the technical framework to support the capture and sharing of Tacit Knowledge in the workplace.

In relation to Objective 1, and using the commonalties derived from the earlier research, University of Limerick researchers have designed a unique four dimensional model of Tacit Knowledge. The model consists of fourteen behaviours. Industry standard instruments were adopted to measure these behaviours. This design was then translated into a validation survey that supported the measurement of Tacit Knowledge.

This unique validation survey had then to be rigorously verified. This was achieved via its deployment across a total of eight ICMR member companies resulting in 1300 completed questionnaires. These questionnaires in turn were analysed and validated using statistical methodologies. The consequence of this validation allowed the refinement of the model with the identification and removal of the statistically irrelevant factors.

As a consequence ICMR now has a validated model and an associated survey tool – the first of its kind -  that may be used to measure the status of Tacit Knowledge usage on an on-going basis across and within the member companies. Barry Kennedy, ICMR Chief Executive, says that ‘although this subject may appear a little bit academic to the man in the street I can assure you that it is anything but. This is truly ground-breaking research and our member companies are reporting back a series of concrete and tangible benefits.’

Following the validation process of the new model earlier this year the ICMR member companies received a detailed  report – the Knowledge Insight Inventory – containing the analysis of their individual data sets which had been derived from the validation survey. Workshops are currently taking place in Q4.2013 where researchers are facilitating the analysis of the results and the development of TK strategies and action plans within individual member companies.

Objective 2: A development team was put in place within ICMR in Q4 2012 to create a technical framework as specified in the earlier requirements collected and agreed across the member companies. This framework is called the Workplace Knowledge System (WKS).

The WKS is on schedule for beta release to the member companies in December 2013. The WKS has a simple objective – to enable the delivery of knowledge to a person that will enable him/her to do a job, and to deliver that when and where he/she needs it.

The WKS is characterized by the following:

·         A platform neutral framework that supports the delivery of both formal and informal knowledge artifacts

·         It supports multiple document formats and MP3 video.

·         It encourages collaboration through the use of social media tools

·         It provides contextual linkage to artifacts – a user is prompted with related content based on peer usage patterns, content expert recommendations, etc.

·         It incorporates a very efficient search algorithm that supports advanced search capabilities for metadata and content search and collaboration input

·         It is user centric – in other words it allows the user to create his own personalised and logical view of the content. It also contains configurable options to support the ethnographic findings that originated from the original psychological research effort

·         Knowledge content is added through submission and approval workflows that ensures proper codification, relevance and quality.

Initial pilots of the WKS framework within manufacturing environments have demonstrated its effectiveness. For example, it is estimated that the time taken to carry out preventative maintenance tasks may be reduced by up to 50%. The WKS framework is also being used to reduce variability across shifts and to facilitate the technical transfer of new products and processes.   

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