AI driven expertise & profiling: hype, hope or déjà vu?

May was a busy month. Apart from helping establish then launch a real estate and mortgage business (Bees Homes) I was in Lisboa for Social Now and London for KM Legal UK.

I attended both in the expectation of learning more about the onrush of Artificial Intelligence and its implications for the Knowledge Management profession.

Specifically, I wanted to see how the encouragingly styled Talent and Knowledge Matching / Profiling systems might tackle the challenges of knowledge loss when people depart, of onboarding when people arrive and identifying / ranking expertise that might otherwise be opaque when pulling together teams.

It’s not a new topic: back in the late 90’s I was Business & Strategy Advisor to Sopheon PLC when we acquired Organik (a technology for identifying expertise) and built systems for US Insurers looking to establish the best teams for clients based upon expertise. We never cracked it even though we knew what the issues were (usually motivation)!

Seeking answers at SocialNow Lisboa while Keynote speaker Ellen Trude watches.

Armed with a list of ‘use cases’ I’d worked on with Martin White I set off in search of answers to these questions from both vendors and KM practitioners?

  • Onboarding: A new employee with many years of highly relevant experience joins the firm. How long will it be before their experience is ranked at the same level as their predecessors?
  • Legal: Is the profiling process compatible with the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation? The thoughts of the Information Commissioner on this are worth a look. Profiling & Automated Decision Making
  • Functionality: Do they offer the ability to present a list of people ranked by expertise?
  • Language: In multinational companies where it is especially difficult to know all the experts, how does the vendor coppe with the fact that documents, meetings and social media traffic will be in local languages?
  • Chinese Walls: How does the application cope with expertise gained on projects that are secure, a common issue in law, finance and R&D where walls need to be erected to prevent commercial information being divulged>
  • Testing: What User Testing is undertaken with a client before signing a contract to verify that the profiling system works?

So, what did I discover? Thierry de Bailllon in his closing Keynote put it very succinctly but with a caveat:

Embrace or die? 88% of technologies already include AI.

Self reinforcing bias?

it’s not Enterprise Social Networks (ESN)!

This Twitter exchange between Ana Neves and Luis Suarez prompted by a question I posed of the Workplace (Facebook at Work) team following their presentation is revealing:

May 12 there’s been a few questions about expertise location 2017 I don’t remember that being the case in previous years #SocialNow

May 12 Well, I think people are starting to understand how critical it is to know who is who within the org beyond just content, right?

Replying to totally! It surprises me it took so long. It’s amazing the role #ESN can have in unveiling that expertise #SocialNow

On the surface the case for ESN is compelling. Yet the majority of vendors at SocialNow focus on information exchange and conversation rather than the capturing and cataloguing of it. One,@mangoappsinc, had a neat tool (they won the “coolest app” prize) with the ability to upgrade comments from threaded discussions and posts to create ranked knowledge resources from the mass of information and conversation.

So, ESN can show who has answered what question, conduct searches across conversations and in many cases act as a project management tool, the new Facebook at Work (Workplace) now allows the creation of documents for example.

Provided the application is linked to HR systems it is possible to retrieve profiles and see what expertise an individual might have. As one vendor (@OrangeTrail showcasing Facebook at Work)) who uses bots to generate responses put it:

‘Questions’ is the key to find experts as people don’t keep profiles updated.

I concur and they are great facilitation platforms though with advanced features that will suffice for many. Yet I left Lisboa though feeling organisations will need to rely on assisted search for some time if they want to take a deep dive into expertise

know what you don’t know

Peer Assist “Problems” for discussion

So onto London and KM Legal UK. An interesting Day One ended with a psuedo Peer Assist in which AI was raised a lot.

One observation (facilitation tip): the session failed to commit the ‘owner’ of the problem to action so as a result the feedback loop to plenary became a series of “we said this.”

Again, as in previous years I felt the focus was on operational tools and techniques which means that KIM Professionals in Legal are more at risk from the onrush of technology.

It reminded me of the issue Librarians faced with the arrival of end user search in the mid 90’s which finished their monopoly of being the people who found stuff in organisations.

Day Two took a deeper dive into technology and its potential impact.

AI in Legal today

This slide sets out where AI is making a difference in Legal.

I tweeted having heard Cliff Fluet’s excellent presentation:

Paralegals beware. AI is coming. Adapt or die?

And I questioned:

How wide is scope of AI? More than Doc Analysis / Creation. Opportunity to broaden knowledge base

As yet no one had focused on expertise and profiling so when one presenter cited the case where a newly arrived CEO asked the Head of HR / Talent Management to let him have profiles / competencies of the staff using their system it got my attention.

I asked whether the results the HR head gave the CEO inferred a level of expertise. It didn’t which got thinking that if the data set is incomplete and the issue of self reinforcing bias is not addressed then over reliance on one source for identifying ‘experts’ is dangerous. Imagine your career prospects if for whatever reason your name wasn’t on the ‘expert’ list given to the CEO?

and finally

So where do I see the state of expertise and profiling systems? Patchy!

Yes there are certainly companies who ‘get it’ but can they do it?

I am indebted here to Martin White who in an excellent report “People and expertise seeking – an overview” summarises the predicament thus:

The most important lesson learned is the need for an expertise location strategy that is linked into HR processes, knowledge management, training, job appraisals and social media development. Finding people with expertise is not a ‘search problem’.  Good search tools can certainly help but without attention being paid to profile quality (even if other types of content are being searched) and a commitment by employees to share their knowledge expertise discovery will not be as successful as anticipated or required.

My takeaways:

  • KIM professionals need a clear strategy (working in partnership with other stakeholders such as HR and IT) and be clear on the questions being solved by any system;
  • They need to be clear what they are getting, what’s missing and how it mitigates the potential for self reinforcing bias when they enter discussions with vendors around automating expertise seeking and profiling;
  • They need to recognise the importance of their role in facilitating the adoption of such systems and accept this is just a part of a portfolio of approaches of identifying, capturing and retaining expertise;
  • They need to be clear what critical knowledge actually is in their organisation and who is likely to have it in order to assess the veracity of the results of any pilot;
  • It doesn’t matter what solution you adopt, if your environment is not conducive to the sharing of expertise and people don’t see the value in it then save the money; and
  • In any event you cannot capture everything people know; we learn and share through stories (failures rather than successes) and those often remain hidden.

‘…there’s zero collaboration or institutional knowledge’: learning lessons from winning teams

So says Paul Azinger, the last US Captain to win the Ryder Cup, in the aftermath of the 2014 event and the accompanying soul searching. He implicitly acknowledges the importance of building on what ‘you’ know as an institution if you are to be successful.  This is what he said:

A big difference between us and them is that Europe always has a succession plan. McGinley was surrounded by past captains and future captains, and they all reap the benefits. We’re lone rangers as far as captains go. Nobody knows what we’ve done in the past. There’s zero collaboration or institutional knowledge.

 

why Team Europe’s victory is relevant to business

Why is the outcome of a biennial golf match of interest to lawyers and others who work in highly rewarded and individualistic roles? Because the players are all ‘Rock Stars’ in their own right who come together sporadically to play (and win) against their peer group.

What stands out about the European approach? Meticulous planning, attention to detail, clarity over roles before, during and after each Ryder Cup match and a willingness to acknowledge that no one player is bigger than the team.  Business is no different relying on a collaborative team approach and a set of shared values.

In October 2012 Apple CEO Tim Cook reshuffled his team, this is how it was reported in a Bloomberg Business Week interview:

“The key in the change that you’re referencing is my deep belief that collaboration in essential for innovation – and I didn’t just start believing that. I’ve always believed that,” said Cook. “It’s always been a core belief at Apple. Steve very deeply believed in this.”

Cook said that he wanted to ensure that Apple takes its already “enormous” level of collaboration even higher. “There are many things. But the one thing we do, which I think no one else does, is integrate hardware, software, and services in such a way that most consumers begin to not differentiate anymore.”

“You have to be an A-plus at collaboration,” Cook continued. “And so the changes that we made get us to a whole new level of collaboration.”

Here’s how commentator Kristine Kern (@kristinekern) of the Table Group saw this move:

Let’s be clear: Ousting a rock star from your team — or asking them to change their ways — is not always something you can do. But it’s something you should consider. “Like most things, it’s not black and white,” Kern concludes. “Organizational health requires rock stars do both stellar and healthy work. Which shouldn’t be a problem: Most true rock stars rise to a challenge. Just don’t be afraid to demand it.”

why shared values matter

Some time ago I was the Business & Strategy Advisor to an Anglo-Dutch company in the professional services / software business. It was around the dotcom boom period when investors were falling over themselves to back the next hot opportunity. Company valuations were bizarre: at one point on revenues of $20m we had a market cap that was 40 times bigger. Our AIM share price went from £1.25 to £16+. It was easy to be profligate, we weren’t and I take personal pride in having taken the lead on travel budgets and integrating the acquisitions we made.

As we grew (acquiring first a US firm, then a German one) and shifted our centre of operations (and development) from Europe to the USA the Executive Management team all recognized the importance of having a set of values and a structure that could transcend global operations while recognizing cultural nuances peculiar to the location of each office.

What might go down well as a motivational incentive in Denver would need tweaking to be embraced in Maastricht let alone in Guildford. We needed a framing device that everyone in the business could buy into and in the management’s case the cojones to ‘get with the programme’. So we organised a cross company group of all levels to work through what they wanted out of the business – how they wanted to be treated as employees and in most cases, shareholders.

To this day I can remember the constituent parts:

  • a clear vision understood by all
  • a meritocracy that rewarded success and took action on poor performance
  • inspiring and visible leadership
  • a place that was fun to work where you could pick up the phone to anyone.

We had 6 locations and office sizes ranged from 12-50.  We had a central sales/CRM system everyone used and we had quarterly conference calls with the management team where people could ask what they wanted. Board meetings rotated around the various offices, one was virtual the next in situ. When tough decisions were required we were clear about why they were being taken and communicated that.

Of course technology and process played a role, the corporate intranet was a good information source. We conducted Peer Assists, After Action Reviews; we fed our learnings back into the development process and we used what we learned to reengineer the business around the Stage-Gate New Product Development Process.

The going got tough, people got let go, yet Sopheon survived and today has an award winning software, Accolade, with embedded Knowledge deployed in the innovation and new product departments across hundreds of organisations globally.

so what

Whether business or sport, people respond to good leaders who provide guidance and clarity, hold people to account for poor performance and recognize/reward exceptional performance. They are also good at making the right decision and leading teams through implementation by inspiration, perspiration and collaboration. I’m sure those will feature prominently when Captain McGinley releases the inevitable ‘Building a winning Ryder Cup Team’, book.

Good decisions are informed by good knowledge: of clients, of markets and of resources. Knowledge Management when performed well becomes ingrained behaviour and Knowledge Sharing is a core element.

and finally

I am indebted to Euan Semple (who talks and writes common sense) for my summary. Taken from his excellent tome ‘Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do‘ Euan argues that in today’s interconnected world it is increasingly important to be seen to add value and to be seen to be knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge. He goes further:

In the old days ‘knowledge is power’ used to mean holding on to it and only giving it out judiciously to certain people. In an Internet world there is no point in having knowledge if people don’t know you have it, and if you are not prepared to share it. Web tools enable more knowledge to flow more readily around your organisation. Taking part in this process is going to be more obviously a part of being more productive than ever before. Being able and willing to share your knowledge will become a key business skill.

Collaboration is the mechanism by which Knowledge is often shared. It is something Apple and the US Ryder Cup designate (a forecast from me – Azinger to be the US Captain in 2016) recognise as being a core ingredient for a successful venture. So should you!