Mastering Technical Knowledge Discovery

How smart engineering organizations leverage their expertise into significant cost savings, time savings and maximized market opportunities

PULLQUOTE: Companies are investing millions of dollars in tools, platforms and information databases—yet their engineers and scientists still can’t find the information they need when they need it.


The technical enterprise is under immense, top-down pressure to directly contribute to corporate growth and efficiency, cost control and risk management objectives. Operating squarely in their CEOs’ crosshairs, engineers, scientists and other key knowledge workers are being asked to constantly innovate, come up with new, groundbreaking ideas and beat out the competition on a daily basis. Achieving these goals while also managing unprecedented volumes of data and information is not only difficult, but it also takes up most of the typical knowledge worker’s day.

These pressures on engineering and other technical leaders translate into requirements to innovate faster, improve productivity and reduce time to market, manage greater product complexity, and improve customer satisfaction. Yet 94 percent of engineers say they feel greater time pressure and stress to solve problems more efficiently and effectively than they did just three years ago. In a recent study, 71 percent of organizations polled said search is “vital,” but just 18 percent of those firms report having cross-repository search capabilities. And, a staggering 75 percent of companies said it was easier to find information outside their organization than within.

The difficulties associated with knowledge discovery and management go beyond just wasted time and the inability to find the right data at the right time. For example, when engineers can’t quickly find the information they need, the end results are often product reworks/redesigns (i.e., due to poor access to “prior knowledge”), poor decision-making and increased risk. Put simply, companies are investing millions of dollars in tools, platforms and information databases—yet their engineers and scientists still can’t find the information they need when they need it.


Half of Knowledge Workers Can’t Find What They Need

A recent IHS study found that 46 percent of workers can’t find the information they need almost half of the time, and that 30 percent of total research and development (R&D) spend is wasted duplicating research and work previously done. Finally, 54 percent of decisions are made with incomplete, inconsistent and inadequate information. For example, one major aerospace and defense organization has indexed more than 3,000 knowledge bases. When its engineers retire, they archive their computer hard drives and make them searchable as corporate knowledge. This strategy is helping the organization more effectively manage the big crew change that’s looming as 50 percent of the engineering workforce retires in the next few years.

Having a robust technical knowledge discovery process in place is also helping companies get the new, millennial workforce (currently aged 19 to 36) in place and properly trained. This is particularly vital in a world where 91 percent of millennials expect to stay in their current jobs for less than three years. This expectation poses particularly difficult challenges for knowledge-dependent organizations, where it takes an average of 8.2 years for a new engineer to gain sufficient experience to make non-standard, original technical decisions. This knowledge crisis is hurting engineering productivity by impeding innovation, delaying time-to-market, driving up costs, and increasing risk.


Futile Searching and Unproductive Discovery

Every week, engineers and scientists spend a high percentage of their time searching for documents, concepts, answers, standards, experts and other pieces of pertinent information. Few would argue the value of these various pieces of data, but the problem is that the 20 to  30 percent of the day spent on these tasks could be greatly reduced and streamlined with the use of an integrated, technology-based knowledge platform that incorporates all internal and external knowledge.

Consider this:  the odds that someone within an organization—either a current or past employee—has already solved a specific problem that an engineer is trying to tackle are very high. But when that past knowledge can’t be quickly accessed, cross-referenced and reviewed, knowledge workers often wind up “reinventing the wheel” and going back to square one to get critical problems solved. The time involved with this process not only consumes precious work hours, but it can also severely impede a company’s market-leading position and increase its risk. As you’ll read in the NASA case study on page 14, anytime a new solution or innovation is introduced, the possible risks increase exponentially. When a problem has already been solved in the past, knowledge workers aren’t adding value with their new innovations—they’re simply re-hashing something that’s already been done.  

David Meza, chief knowledge architect at NASA Johnson Space Center, shares how his organization dramatically accelerated engineering research times and enhanced engineering expertise. The organization maintains hundreds of millions of documents, reports, project data, lessons learned, scientific research and other data that is stored in locations nationwide. The data grows in terms of variety, velocity, volume, value nd veracity every day, and recently pushed NASA to begin using IHS Goldfire to more effectively manage that information.


Engineers Need Accurate, Accessible Information

Engineers are always hungry for more information and data to support their decisions. Finding those “needles in the haystack” can provide an enormous amount of value for both current and future innovations. The problem is that retaining all of that corporate knowledge is a challenge. Hundreds of thousands of engineers, scientists and knowledge workers create huge volumes of intellectual property every day. At organizations like NASA, for example, this has been happening since the 1930s. That early research is still as valid and pertinent as it was 80+ years ago, but because much of it is unstructured, finding that data and extracting its value can be extremely difficult—particularly when it’s stored on different systems and at different physical locations.

Using a platform like IHS Goldfire, companies can stem the enormous loss and/or dilution of knowledge as their workforces age and as the links to critical information begin to disappear. Knowledge transfer is made easier, risk is minimized, and innovation continues at the desired rate (or better). With half of the engineering workforce eligible for retirement within the next few years—and with the technical enterprise being asked to innovate and contribute at an unprecedented pace—the companies that empower faster, more informed decision-making will be best positioned to achieve their operational excellence goals and compete effectively well into the future.