When knowledge is your main currency, you’ve got to have a way to share what your employees know.
The Institut National D’Optique (INO) is a Quebec-based technological research and development firm specializing in optics and photonic solutions and, for us, knowledge is indeed our specialty. In business for more than 25 years, we are home to the largest concentration of skills in our field and serve a global client base of companies of all sizes. Eighty per cent of INO’s workforce is highly educated, highly skilled scientists, technicians and engineers. From 2010-2011, we were awarded 12 new patents, for a total of 134 patents held on a variety of technological innovations.
Because our business centers on expertise, knowledge and information, our competitive edge is found within our people and their intellectual property (IP). It’s what drives innovation within INO. Our work is all about information contained in people, projects, processes and systems, and it continues to grow exponentially every day. In fact, we have three times the amount of computers compared to the number of employees, so you can get a sense of the sheer volumes of information that need to be shared among our teams of scientists and technicians. After 25 years of doing business, it became impossible to do this effectively.
Getting rid of the “water cooler”
Our knowledge used to be shared mainly via a “people network”—that is, around the proverbial water cooler. INO employees would slowly learn “who knew what” during their tenure, creating a culture of “tribal knowledge.” A long-term employee would inherently “know” more than a new employee because he or she had learned where to go to for information. New employees were at a disadvantage; ramp up times were extended and their ability to contribute to the business was hindered by the time it took to learn “who knows what” and become part of the inner tribe. The inability to share important knowledge across teams and the business was hindering INO’s ability to more quickly innovate, serve customers and, ultimately, sell more.
Beyond our informal way of sharing information, we also realized that the existing way our users searched for digital content was cumbersome and didn’t present an accurate view of all the knowledge of our employees. For example, I heard stories of employees accessing only 200,000 documents when searching for information on a customer project, when in fact we have more than 4 million documents that contain valuable knowledge that our scientists and technicians need to do their jobs.
Looking back, our employees were only getting a fraction of the view of all knowledge, and were lacking the insight they needed to be more effective at their jobs. We came to the realization that INO needed a better way to share critical knowledge and information across teams, ensure an accurate, consolidated view of all information in near real time, and get new employees up to speed quickly.
Solving the knowledge problem
To help solve our knowledge problem, we formed a steering committee comprised of a representative from each department that would ultimately help us select a new technology. The committee outlined its stringent requirements, with a specialized focus on security and permissioning, so that users could access various documents based on their level of access.
Since we deal with vast amounts of private information under non-disclosure agreements with our customers, security was a big concern for us in the selection process. We needed to respect the security permissions we had set up in our systems, but also needed the flexibility to set up permissions to information based on project teams and roles within INO. This level of security is paramount to our business and how we operate, as is any company that depends heavily on intellectual property (IP) and innovation.
The ability to easily configure and refine the solution by role and ensure personalized context was also critical to our decision. Because our employees work on different projects for various customers, what is contextually relevant to one project team isn’t necessarily relevant to another.
There are various companies that offer solutions to help harness collective knowledge. Household names include Google and Microsoft, but we decided to evaluate a company called Coveo, a Quebec-based advanced insight solution with a strong history of helping Canadian manufacturers.
We needed to be able to consolidate, correlate and present our collective knowledge in a unified way, while respecting security and permissions. Our selection committee immediately saw a direct return on the investment we would achieve with an advanced insight solution, and were able to calculate the ROI to be less than a year.
We also needed the ability to refine facets and present contextually relevant knowledge and information by employee role. This greatly improves the efficiency of our employees. Our team quickly expanded our use from the original Proof of Concept to include what we considered to be our most important information and knowledge repositories and where INO IP, project documents, client information and research reside: emails, project, product, platform, group and process documents and fileshares. This was rolled out to all INO employees.
We then expanded our project even further and indexed additional systems including our ticketing system, CRM system, ERP system, intranet and more. Currently, approximately 99 per cent of INO’s relevant corporate information is indexed by the system, giving scientists, engineers and all employees immediate, single-screen access to the most up-to-date information across all enterprise systems.
Advanced search brings greater insight and collaboration
Using advanced enterprise search, we now have greater insight into all our corporate knowledge and information, our customers and their projects. This unified view of information helps us to better collaborate on projects, quickly understand who our subject-matter experts are, get our new employees up to speed so that they become productive faster, avoid the recreation of work that’s already been done and more. These benefits have an impact on our ability to innovate more quickly, which translates directly into better customer service.
At INO, we were also able to report impressive productivity gains. Our CFO noted that we have significantly increased our efficiency and productivity numbers, with our average user saving two hours each week searching for information or recreating work that already exists, which translates into a five per cent improvement in productivity per employee. A five per cent productivity gain translates to big dollars for us. Our employees are very highly skilled people—engineers and scientists with masters, doctorates and post doctorate degrees— so our average salary is very high. A five per cent improvement in productivity translates into a lot of cost savings.
INO has also integrated enterprise search into the company’s new hire training process. New hires get immediately trained for 30 minutes to help them get up to speed faster, understand subject matter experts and more within the organization, and quickly ramp up on customer projects and requirements. Our new hires come up to speed more quickly and are able to start contributing to the success of client projects right away. This has helped improve our customer service, innovation levels and more.
The results of our project have earned INO awards and recognition—both internally and externally. Our internal awards program dubbed “INOvation” recognizes the outstanding achievements of teams who continue to push the boundaries of innovation and what is possible with technology. Our steering committee team was recently awarded an “INOvation award” for the project and delivering better insight into the company’s exceedingly growing and vast amount of critical knowledge.
Pierre Bergeron is the process & compliance manager with Institut National D’Optique (www.ino.ca).
This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.