UL start-up ASSK can unlock tacit knowledge in the workplace

9 Oct 2017

ASSK Knowledge Analytics founder Dr Fergal O’Brien. Image: Alan Place

Our Start-up of the Week, ASSK Knowledge Analytics, is focused on ensuring workplaces get better at sharing knowledge.

Future of Work Week

“Organisations face tacit knowledge issues all of the time, such as under-utilised and not-fit-for-purpose knowledge management systems, knowledge leakage through staff turnover and retirement, learning climate and absorptive capacity issues and organisational trust barriers to knowledge exchange,” explained ASSK Knowledge Analytics founder and CEO Dr Fergal O’Brien.

“ASSK Knowledge Analytics has developed the Knowledge Insights Inventory to assess organisation’s tacit knowledge readiness – such as, how well do employees and the organisation share, seek, access and capture knowledge. Tacit knowledge readiness consists of four dimensions: sharing, seeking, capture and access.

‘Tacit knowledge issues exist in all organisations to a greater or lesser extent’

“The ‘Knowledge Insights Inventory’ diagnoses tacit knowledge transfer issues in the organisation, for which ASSK Knowledge Analytics provides customised interventions and consultancy services.”

The market

According to O’Brien, many organisations plump for technology solutions in the knowledge management space.

“Their attitude is, ‘We have a knowledge system in place so that’s fine!’ We often meet companies whose employees are not even aware of the knowledge management system in their organisation or they find it less than user-friendly or of little value to their day-to-day work.

“Our research and experience shows that the key divers of tacit knowledge readiness are individual and organisational factors. The day-to-day interactions that employees experience drive the sharing, seeking, access and capture behaviours and the organisation can facilitate these behaviours through creating the right climate or culture.

“That’s where ASSK Knowledge Analytics adds value … we identify what individual and organisational factors are problematic and provide bespoke interventions,” O’Brien said.

He explained that, while knowledge management systems certainly have their place in organisations, “our research shows that that know-how, know-who and know-where can facilitate knowledge exchange more effectively than cumbersome, complex and often unpopular knowledge management technology solutions.”

The founders

O’Brien lectures in finance and research methods and is the assistant dean of postgraduate studies at the Kemmy Business School in University of Limerick (UL). He holds a PhD in finance from Lancaster University.

“My co-founders bring years of human resource development, training, project management and statistics and analytics experience to the table,” he said.

The technology

O’Brien said that we often ask the question, “Does your organisation know what it knows?”

It is estimated that more than 70pc of knowledge in organisations consists of tacit knowledge.

“It is a key source of competitiveness for organisations. However, it is also one of the most difficult types of knowledge to effectively manage. It is hard to explain, difficult to write down or articulate, and, as a result, is not as readily available to organisations to use for competitive advantage.

“The challenge for organisations is to leverage this knowledge to plan organisational improvements, optimise talent and enhance organisational effectiveness leading to competitive advantage. How employees view the organisation, their motivations and their attitudes are key to effective sharing, seeking, access and capture of tacit knowledge.

“The journey to tacit knowledge readiness is complex for any organisation, and the first step involves understanding your current position. Our Knowledge Insights Inventory will provide you with key insights and benchmarks in respect of that critical first step to tacit knowledge readiness.”

Know what you really know

O’Brien said that the Knowledge Insights Inventory is a global product.

“Tacit knowledge issues exist in all organisations to a greater or lesser extent. Cultural differences can impact on the individual and organisational factors that drive tacit knowledge readiness. We look forward to deploying the tool outside of Ireland even though we have already had several large multinational partners during the development phase of the product.”

The Knowledge Insights Inventory can be purchased by any organisation that is interested in assessing their tacit knowledge readiness – in other words, how well do employees and the organisation share, seek, access and capture knowledge.

“Many organisations will happily spend large amounts on employee engagement surveys. However, assessing their tacit knowledge readiness has potentially more value, especially in manufacturing, research and development, innovation, services and healthcare settings.

“At a minimum, organisations that deploy the Knowledge Insights Inventory will get a tacit knowledge readiness diagnostic report which can act as a catalyst for change within the organisation. ASSK Knowledge Analytics can facilitate this.”

Voyage of discovery

While there have been many iterations of the Knowledge Insights Inventory as part of the development phase of the project, O’Brien said ASSK Knowledge Analytics was officially launched in 2016.

“Many of our existing clients were partners with us during the development phase. Our aim is to grow through this partner network and the acquisition of new clients through HR networks in particular.”

He said the genesis of the Knowledge Insights Inventory was a funded tacit knowledge research project at the University of Limerick.

“Subsequently, with the support of Enterprise Ireland and the University of Limerick, ASSK Knowledge Analytics was created. This has allowed us to reach the stage we are at now but, as we scale up, we will certainly require investment.”

Getting organisations to understand that they have a problem with tacit knowledge is the biggest hurdle.

“The biggest challenge we face is that organisations are so busy that they are often incapable of thinking long-term in terms of how they can leverage their knowledge asset bank,” said O’Brien.

“Creating the space – especially in terms of time – for employees to seek, share, access and capture knowledge is challenging. Furthermore, there can sometimes be barriers to capturing knowledge through new technology because of intellectual property concerns, for example.”

A flourishing entrepreneurial scene

O’Brien describes the start-up scene in Ireland as vibrant at present.

“Even within the Kemmy Business School at UL we have academics and researchers moving towards commercialisation in weather risk management (agricultural sector) and emerging risks management (driverless and automated car technology).

“There is a large ‘start-up community’ out there and a great willingness within that to help.

“Good networking within that is a source of great support and advice. It also helps to cut through the noise … and focus on what your product or service offers and who will want to purchase it.

“We have also learned from companies about other knowledge-related problems that they face and are developing solutions for those.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years