Digitizing Operations: Transforming Documents Into Knowledge

Brian Carpizo

April 27, 2021
transforming documents into knowledge

The "Buried Value" in Your Organization

There is buried value in your organization, one that you can quickly mine to improve how you operate, reduce mistakes, and ramp up new staff. It is information, but not traditional data or even “Big Data.”

The buried value is the operational information contained in documents scattered around different places in your organization. PDFs, Office docs, videos, images, binders – these often form the fundamental knowledge backbone of how organizations operate on a day-to-day basis. But most of it is “buried” because it is inaccessible to the staff who need it most.

Despite advances in cloud storage (and the capabilities of companies like Box & DropBox) – we still haven’t figured out how to move past the document management paradigm of file folders (which ironically are not that much different from the physical cabinets and folders they replaced).

Document Management, Defined

Storing, tracking, and managing documents comprise the process called document management. In the past, documents were paper, stored in file cabinets for the short term, or archived for posterity. File clerks and other staff members designated a system for classification, storage, and retrieval.

Today documents are recorded, edited, sorted, stored in digital form, sometimes in addition to paper. Operations staff members use these documents for work instructions, QA checklists, training, standard procedures, and forms. And now that everyone has phones and tablets with cameras – lots of photos and videos.

The ad-hoc “filing system” is usually more convenient to the person filing it vs. the person retrieving it. The person retrieving the document requires instructions that often recalls Spinal Tap’s journey to find the stage in Cleveland.

transforming documents into knowledge

Knowledge Management, Defined

First off, documents and data are not knowledge. It only has value if it makes people knowledgeable. Knowledge management is the discipline to organize and distribute information to empower people to perform better, make wise, informed decisions, and reduce friction (in Econ 101 terms, “search costs”). If the information in documents becomes properly organized, frictionlessly available, and timely – it contributes to the cognitive ability of the organization. If not – consider it an underused asset.

Both disciplines store documents. But knowledge management focuses on distributing the information from stored documents containing organizational knowledge to staff members in a helpful form.

Another way of looking at the issue is Bloom’s Taxonomy of Knowledge. Suppose you aspire staff to operate at higher levels of the pyramid (Analyzing, Evaluating, Creating). In that case, they need to quickly progress through the lower levels (Remembering, Understanding, Applying).

Knowledge Management is the key to operating at those higher levels.

Transforming Documents Into Knowledge

Disaggregation

Many documents are too big to be useful. Think of long-form Standard Operating Procedures. Or a 100-page Operator Manual. The smaller and more specific you can make the document (and the title), the easier it is for someone to use it, and the easier it is a create proper context (see below).

Organization & Curation

Titles, categories, taxonomies, indices, hyperlinks, and tags – these “library science” techniques were super important to help people find information back in the day of physical libraries. Almost a lost art in today’s enterprises, they are as crucial today in the digital world.

Contextualization

Think of Contextualization as a way to dynamically “organize” documents based on the use case. For example, if I need to troubleshoot a warm walk-in cooler at a restaurant – I need information about:

  • How to determine if it is an equipment malfunction or operations issue
  • Some steps I can take to remediate the situation without calling a technician (perhaps the coils are dirty or iced-over)
  • What I should do regarding keeping or throwing out food exposed to warm temperatures
  • Whom I should call to get a service technician
  • The make & model number, year put in service

These pieces of information are usually scattered around the organization. What makes them related (and valuable) is the context – in this case, the context is “warm refrigerator detected.”

Distribution

As with the distribution of physical goods, digital “goods” are more valuable if bundled together, routed to the right place, and timely. Digital information also other dimensions: 1) do I have access to it? 2) can I get it only on a desktop or access it via mobile or tablet?

Example of Documents Attached to a Workflow, Providing Contextual Knowledge at the Right Time

Harvesting the Value in Frontline Operations

Knowledge Management essentially lets you harvest the value from existing documents. Properly done, knowledge management helps frontline workers access appropriate knowledge or instruction at the time it’s needed or required.

Knowledge management is a tool that can help close the frontline skills gap. Closing this gap helps companies train workers who may or may not be familiar with its policies and successfully perform their role in the frontline workforce. With the many workers displaced by the pandemic and now seeking jobs in new fields, digital knowledge management tools are critical for organizations ramping up new staff.

TrustPlace Technologies features a new digital operating system for frontline work, which utilizes knowledge management principles to empower workers to support the success of their employers.

Contact us to learn how knowledge management can boost the performance of your frontline staff at a reasonable cost.

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