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The challenges of SME-hood and “democratizing” knowledge across the enterprise

It’s not easy being a subject matter expert (SME for short).  And not only because it takes considerable time (likely many years) and effort to master a discipline, skill, or field to a degree that justifies the SME designation.

It’s also hard because, as a SME – defined as an authority in a particular area or topic – it can feel as if everybody wants a piece of you.  Colleagues throughout the enterprise, across various divisions and business functions, may at times benefit from your knowledge, perspective or insights about whatever it is you know more about than anyone else in your organization.  As Dr. Anthony Fauci is to the study of infectious diseases, SMEs throughout global business and industry are to their respective areas of expertise (minus all the media exposure).

As a result, a SME may feel they don’t have time to do their “day job” – the one they were actually hired to do, and that the organization pays them to perform – whether it’s designing the company’s next breakthrough product, or understanding the inner workings of a particular industry into which it wants to sell.

Of course, there’s likely frustration on the other side, as well.  As a limited resource, a SME cannot be in two places at once, or conferring with two different colleagues with two different questions about two different projects at once.  Individuals within the organization who stand to benefit from conferring with a SME – “pick their brain,” as the popular phrase goes – in order to glean insights on a topic in hopes of informing a better business decision may find that the SME is not immediately available, and therefore a pressing question goes unanswered.

One solution to these challenges is to “democratize” a SME’s unique knowledge.  Instead of storing vital information on each SME’s laptop computer hard drive, or just in their head, organizations can benefit greatly from an enterprise-wide, broadly accessible knowledge management system that puts SMEs’ vast and varied knowledge at all employees’ fingertips.

An approach that has been successful at many large organizations involves the pairing of a machine learning-enabled enterprise research portal – one virtual space, searchable in its entirety, that houses all of an organization’s research content, whether generated internally or licensed from third-party sources, plus industry news and specialized databases – with a robust information distribution ecosystem that allows for multiple means of exposing or pushing relevant information to those who may need it.  That way, people inclined to proactively look for information they’re interested in have a mechanism to do so; and those who prefer to have information about topics of interest fed to them (in a dashboard, or a newsletter, or an email alert) have a mechanism to passively receive it.

In either case, vital information gets to the people who need it in order to make business decisions, from the sources that possess it, in a timely manner with no road blocks.  Such “democratization” of knowledge is a key to more consistent and widespread use of an organization’s valuable information resources, including the intelligence resident in its SMEs’ heads and files.

To learn more about creating a custom research portal for your organization and alleviating the frustration your SMEs (and other employees) may be feeling, contact Northern Light.

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