Profiling an organization’s experts – Collaboration at work

    10. Juni 2013 von Karthikeyan Palanisamy

    Organizations spend lots of time in finding the right expert at the right time in the right context. The idea of profiling and maintaining an updated list of domain and technical experts has become a mantra for success rather than an organizational process. There are so many organizations who have earned the benefits of an enterprise-wide expert profiling initiative and this article will explain the importance and benefits of the same through a small narrative

    This articel was published in Open Journal of Knowledge Management, Issue VII/2013.

    The story below explains how collaboration and knowledge management successfully helped our organization, and specifically one specific employee, to meet the requirements of their role and in doing so further the success of the organization. The story is followed with some advice on expert databases and how these can aid organizational collaboration and knowledge sharing.

    This is the story of Susan, who entered our office on a cold Monday morning having forgotten that she needed to respond to a request for information from Mark, the sales head of IT services, who was visiting a potential customer for a deal that day. Susan received a reminder email for the content she was supposed to send to Mark that stated: ‘Hi Susan, Could you please let me know our expertise in MS SharePoint practice and the number of our SharePoint experts?’ The question was very simple and to the point.

    The request therefore was for two specific pieces of knowledge: Our experience in SharePoint Projects and our total number of experts in SharePoint. Susan’s deadline to collate this information was 10:00am which meant that she had roughly one hour to locate it. Susan’s first response was to call the management information system team (the MIS team) to get this information. The reply she received was: ‘We only have information on who is working on each project. And, we do not have details of their experience’.

    Next Susan called the human resources team for this information and the reply she received this time was: ‘We do have the experience details of all our resources but in MS Word Documents’. Susan knew it was not worth the time it would take to go through each and every resume to get this information because of her deadline.

    At a loss as to what she could then do, Susan happened to open an email from the knowledge management team. What team? The KM team who help the organization to create, store, and share contextual knowledge. This vaguely rang a bell in Susan’s mind. The email she has received was to reinforce the importance of the expert database. She called the contact number provided in the KM email which brought her through to me.

    Susan explained that she was from the IT solutions presales team and that she needed information on our SharePoint expertise and the number of experts we had in SharePoint. I assured her that she was talking to the best possible person in the organization to retrieve that information as I am the anchor for the enterprise-wide expert database system (the EEDS). Our mission was to ensure the capture of our collective experience and maintain it in a centrally located yet accessible by all system. We call this system the Pinnacle Expert Database (also known as PED).

    My understanding was that Susan needed some case studies on our project experiences on SharePoint, current whitepapers from some of our experts, our SharePoint strategy for the year and the total list of SharePoint experts – all of which she confirmed . I explained that as SharePoint was our organization’s flagship practice, we are ensuring to leverage this expertise to gain competitive advantage. Susan was surprised to hear that the KM team’s knowledge was that of a customer-facing professional. She was shocked to get the insight she needed from the KM team! I explained that Susan would receive the required information within five minutes.

    In my opinion we all are customer facing. All of our actions are towards reaching organizational goals and the KM team is no exception to this. While some departments face our customers directly – such as sales and CXOs – some also face them indirectly – such as presales, KM, etc.


    The importance of an expert database for collaboration

    Anyone working in an organization working across borders and domains would have potentially come across a scenario similar to the above example. Collaboration across departments and borders is a necessary feature of today’s business world. The collaborative knowledge network in this example was an expert database that helped an employee to access important business information which helped with a client meeting.

    Typically, what is an expert database? An expert database is essentially an online catalog of organizational employee profiles, highlighting primarily the knowledge areas in which they are experts. 

    Some of the important qualities of an expert database are as follows:

    • Comprehensive – It should capture all employee profiles across an organization;
    • Better search facility – It should be able to link the user to the right expert;
    • Up-to-date – The database should be maintained and reviewed periodically;
    • Ownership – A person/team must be responsible for this initiative; and
    • Technology – There is a requirement for the right technology which will enable easy access and collaboration.

    Expert database systems are of great interest to organizations nowadays because they have the potential to direct knowledge seekers to knowledge sharers and they drastically reduce the time it takes to do so.

    Who is an expert?

    An expert is someone with an extensive knowledge or ability on a particular area – whether a domain or technical/functional skills – and they must have a continued experience through practice and education in that area.  

    Why should an organization profile its experts? There are many reasons that can be highlighted, including:

    • To enhance the organizational memory;
    • To reduce the time spent in identifying the right expert for solving the business problem;
    • To get a clear picture of “who’s who” in an organization and what their skill levels are in each business unit;
    • To find and search for employees with certain needed skills; and
    • To recognize them for their level of expertise and contribution for knowledge sharing and collaboration across teams, departments, and locations.

    How can you identify experts within the organization? An organization will have experts in all of its domains. Some possible actions that can be taken in order to identify experts are:

    1. Perform an analysis of the available employee information within the business unit – case studies, project works, and experiences;
    2. Create a template with all the relevant details requested which are needed to identify experts. This can then be filled in by employees;
    3. By conducting programs such as quizzes, case study writing competitions, and case study contests for example; and
    4. By creating awareness among employees about the benefits of tacit knowledge sharing.

    Profiling and maintaining expert databases has its advantages. The main benefits are that it:

    • Simplifies the search for experts which means that problems can be discussed faster with the correct employee;
    • Helps the business unit to prevent wasting valuable work time of experts on too simple tasks and to assign appropriate tasks to them;
    • Helps by saving enormous amounts of time and costs through the transport of internal employees over internal recruitment advertising and training programs.

    However, where there are advantages there are undoubtedly disadvantages, or more specifically challenges, which, in the case of expert databases, are:  

    • They need a dedicated person or team to continuously review and update the employee profiles; and
    • Unless they are promoted, and employees are aware of an enterprise-wide expert database, this initiative could be a waste of time and money.

    Expert Database Checklist

    Sl. No.



    Response (Yes/No)



    Is the project dependent on one or few experts?




    Are you able to reach the right expert at the right time?




    Do you think an organizational level expert locator system would help?




    Are you able to capture expertise before its lost?




    Do you recognize experts for their contributions?




    Is there a tacit knowledge capture plan?




    What are the key expertise areas of the project?




    Who are the experts in the projects?




    Is there a criterion to identify an expert?




    Are you maintaining expert profiles up-to-date?




    Are there enough experts available in project?




    Are you able to leverage the expertise at an organization-level?




    Do you know who is who in the project?


    A template for an expert profile

    An expert database should contain an individual profile for each expert identified within the organization. An expert profile template should have the main details listed below (and additional details could be useful depending on the organization or expert):

    1. Full name;
    2. Contact details;
    3. Technology skill sets (keywords);
    4. Domain skill sets (keywords);
    5. Project experiences and learning; and
    6. Availability (whether the expert would like to assist only during certain business hours or ‘as and when’ the need arises).

    Expertise Knowledge Management

    As an organization, the collective knowledge of workers is always more than the sum of all. With attrition and changing market trends at their high, it is a necessity for organizations to harvest and leverage the knowledge generated in every critical business situation.

    Every time a worker leaves the organization, she/he takes away the experiential knowledge gained over the course of work. Every situation is unique and every learning is unique but the goal is always the same – to make sure the business is a success.

    One technique relevant yesterday is irrelevant today and one could easily imagine the trend that will be tomorrow. Changing market and customer trends demands the management of expertise knowledge and the knowledge management systems to be dynamic and real time.

    Role of HR in Expertise Knowledge Management

    Human Resources Department in any organization plays a key role in identification, development and leverage skillsets of resources.

    • Identification of resources not only means that the worker is the right individual but who has the right experience.
    • Developing the workers should not only take care of enhancing their expertise but in aligning their day-to-day actions to organization’s goals.
    • Leveraging the expertise of workers is not only intended to ensure business value but to build the organization’s competitive advantage. 


    As this article clearly points out, knowing what we know as an organizational memory is extremely important. We may have a dedicated team or an automated system to take care of this but timely review and update of the database with the exact changes in expertise makes life easy for Sales and Presales professionals. An expert database system with up-to-date experience details WILL help any organization in knowing what we know and what we do not know. With this knowledge, we can plan to improve our strengths and eliminating our weaknesses.

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