Challenges always lead to opportunities. And the biggest ones lie in the professional growth. To succeed in process or environmental engineering, one should be aware of the following negative trends.
- An engineer spends on the average 2.5 hours daily in searching for information (to bridge the knowledge gap) wasting about 30% of workday.
- 60% of executives think that due to time constrains this search does not lead to expected adequate results.
- The staff turnover in the companies is below 4 years - too short to become an expert.
- Continuing commoditizing of the core businesses and downsizing wave of 2010-2015 hit hard the knowledge experts. Layoffs and early retirement led to massive loss of know-how in the water industry and broke the continuity of the technological advances.
- This, in turn, amplified continuing industry stagnation adding to unpopularity of STEM among the young generation.
- As a tacit-knowledge-dominated area, project engineering will continue suffering from inferior quality and delays at accelerating rates.
These challenges scale up in the startups trying to jump from R&D stage to a business having all the attributes of the "engineering services provider" company. Such a transition always need new knowledge and new team members. When bonded together they form a basis of the knowledge management (KM) system. Today, in the "knowledge economy" KM is the only advantage over competition and an infrastructure for innovation.
So what is KM? It's most frequently cited definition is dated back to 1998 (Duhon).
Knowledge management is a discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise's information assets…
Available software packages for KM skip first 3 steps – identifying, capturing and evaluation. Besides, they are all obtrusive – their usage requires extra staff and increases workloads on experts – good reasons to start building your own domain-specific KM from scratch (as part of your business digital infrastructure).
The starting point is understanding the subtle difference between information and knowledge as both used in the above mentioned definition of KM. Knowledge is not synonym of information; it's rather disguised bits of the latter. Information is a codified knowledge; brainwork shall be applied to insert this piece into a puzzle called corporate knowledge.
Identification & Capturing
For engineering services providers, identification shall first address the information used in decision-making. Most of it may be detected in the steady stream of questions-answers and the outstanding issues tracking during the project bidding and execution.
You may be wondering how many questions may be raised? The classic example is the Nemmeli tender for desalination project of 150 MLD (India, 2017). It yielded over 1400 questions. The project execution may add roughly 10 – 20 thousand questions more. My educated guess is that only third is not recurring. As answering adds to the project delay, many questions are laid unanswered burying underneath the client satisfaction.
ASKEXPERT is a free web application from crenger.com for Q&A tracking. It is the easiest way to catch the experience-based knowledge – heuristics or "rules of thumb" valid in most situations. Heuristics is what separates experts from beginners.
What sets ASKEXPERT above LinkedIn groups or Quora.com is that questions and answers are classified. This classification is an entry into knowledge classification hierarchies – the underwater part of the KM iceberg. (Experts are believed to categorize problems and select the solutions differently from novices.)
Classification has another practical reason to introduce – information storage and search may be leveraged with the pattern recognition. It tries to match new problem to the old one encountered in the past. Modern algorithms of pattern recognition manipulate the words association groups built into questions and answers. ASKEXPERT makes one step forward – it adds physical objects associations like pump, motor, P&ID, or group of P&ID items, control loops, alarms, interlocks, cables, documents, and drawings. ASKEXPERT may quickly identify and find subject matter experts by their contribution.
A common misconception is that KM is about technology - searching algorithms and databases. Do we care about the knowledge recipient? Do we need to measure how the novice engineers absorb and use the knowledge – create their own hierarchies and patterns, and build skills? Or identify her/his knowledge gaps? Knowledge evaluation shall be pivoted around the knowledge recipient certification. It will make the engineer move up the knowledge ladder from novice to the expert status.
e-Certification is very popular in IT. Last year, Brainbench.com - the biggest online certification vendor awarded over 900,000 certifications in 600 leading skills. High professional standards are the reason why many organizations require job applicants to pass the Brainbench exam before an interview. The popularity of Brainbench is kindled by personal incentives: it gives the top performers the bragging rights and verifiable proof of excellence that they can use to enhance their prospects for promotion and better jobs. Other strong points that add to popularity are test convenience, flexibility, immediate feedback, vendor neutrality and moderate pricing. (Other sites offering similar services are listed here.)
Unfortunately Brainbench does not cover environmental engineering, water treatment or desalination. The QAGER web application from crenger.com may fill this gap. It turns the recurring question and answers of ASKEXPERT into quizzes. Currently they cover only project engineering topics from design to operation and maintenance. QAGER is an excellent training tool for new hires.