By Sarah Nicastro, publisher/editor in chief, Field Technologies
Your field workforce — especially your seasoned technicians – holds a whole wealth of knowledge. Unfortunately, for most companies, this knowledge is typically contained almost entirely in the mind of those technicians. This is problematic, because your most experienced technicians can’t be everywhere at once — and your less experienced technicians need to be able to learn the information those seasoned techs hold. This is where knowledge management comes in – enabling technicians to be able to access any relevant, documented information needed at the point they need it in order to get the job done right the first time. Knowledge management helps you capture that knowledge the experienced techs hold and share it with others, and it enables your entire workforce to communicate and collaborate in a way that helps them work more efficiently.
Greg Parker, Building Services portfolio director for Trane®, a leading global provider of indoor comfort solutions and services and a brand of Ingersoll Rand, has spent a good amount of time and effort building out the company’s knowledge management strategy. In fact, he spoke about how Trane approaches knowledge management at the Field Service USA event in April. Here, he shares his tips and advice for how to enable knowledge sharing in a way that will provide business benefits.
Field Technologies: What are the overall goals and objectives of Trane’s knowledge management strategy?
Parker: We deliver the best customer outcomes when we have the information we need. Our goal was to create an environment that is easy to use by our field workforce where solutions, questions, and social interaction around a given business or technical topic can occur immediately. We were hoping to have at least 5,000 of our service technicians and account managers using the tools and process within a year. Today, 19,000 users from throughout Ingersoll Rand have chosen to leverage the platform for finding and sharing information.
Field Technologies: At the event, you referred to “knowledge on demand.” What does that mean, and why is it so important?
Parker: Imagine being able to get the answer to your question, find literature, or be able to share key information with others immediately. In the end, knowledge management is about solving problems for our customers. This goes beyond having technical information available. We are sharing information now in real time across a broad workforce. This capability has become such an enabler for Trane to distribute information; we’ve modified our communications strategy for many channels of internal communication.
Field Technologies: What does a successful knowledge management program consist of?
Parker: I think there are some table stakes that must be in order. For example, there needs to be a good database of knowledge to leverage. In order to differentiate, the program or tool must be easy for the user. For example, access needs to be mobile and have a great user interface. The more people leverage the program, the more robust it will be. In addition, there should be multiple channels or means to obtain the information. Not all users operate alike. Consider how there are multiple social platforms. Many of these platforms offer a user to connect to the world. However, each of them have a unique feature that attracts a given user.
Field Technologies: How does Trane measure the success of its knowledge management efforts?
Parker: For us, how we look at this is both quantitative and qualitative. From a quantitative perspective we look at things such as how much information has been shared with the new tool, and can measure that far more than we ever could before. As an indirect measurement, we monitor our customer service and customer satisfaction scores for improvement. We started with measuring adoption. For example, we measure how many people are participating or contributing to the platform. We also measure how many solutions are being answered vs. before and then connect that to productivity. We saw a 1,000 percent increase in technical and product support productivity in year one. In addition, we have both solicited and unsolicited feedback from technicians and account managers.
However, it is not all about the metrics. We obtained feedback from the technicians themselves to find out how well the new platforms were working. We used those testimonials to improve the organization and determined what types of best practices were being shared using the knowledge transfer and social platform.
Field Technologies: As field service companies face the issue of an aging workforce, in what ways will knowledge management become increasingly important?
Parker: Technical roles are becoming increasingly difficult to fill. As the workforce ages toward retirement, companies should focus on employee development, retaining employees, and improving the speed of knowledge transfer. For some companies — depending on the environment and their customers and expectations — it could be essential today, for other companies it could be still just beneficial. At some point I’m sure we could all agree that whether its five years, 10 years or even 15 years down the road, it is going to become essential for everyone.
Field Technologies: What role do social and mobile technologies play in your knowledge management strategy?
Parker: This is a mobile workforce so workflow must be mobile as well. Regarding social, people receive and process information differently today than they did five years ago and certainly differently from how they did 20 years ago. When considering how to most effectively transfer information, we must consider how the channels of communication have and continue to evolve. We have integrated social media concepts and strategies to develop a more robust communications strategy that serves our mobile workforce in a more effective and engaging manner. In addition to being able to find the information needed on demand, our workforce can also follow, share, comment, and contribute. Of course, we have parameters and security measures in place so I would encourage others to consider that also.
Field Technologies: What positive impact has a focus on knowledge management had on your company’s operations? On customer experience?
Parker: We have seen a very high degree of employee engagement around this effort. In addition, our ability to train our workforce has been much improved. And, our technical and sales support teams can operate much more efficiently. Customers can be served more efficiently, problems solved proactively, and can be assured their systems are working as intended.
Field Technologies: What advice can you provide to a reader working on their knowledge management strategy?
Parker: I believe it is important to understand what it means for you and your company. You need to delight your end user; the customer, then determine how you can best achieve that throughout the entire value chain. Are you meeting those needs as well as you want to or should be? Every company has a different culture and different processes. You have to truly understand how your existing process is working, where you want it to be and then design a road map to get you there.
Trane is a trademark of Trane in the United States and other countries.