Enabling the Learning Organization

Craine-Art_0518New tools and techniques put the “intelligent” in intelligent information management. 

When Peter Senge’s popular book, “The Fifth Discipline,” appeared in 1990, it was a revelation. Senge went beyond the cheery platitudes of “In Search of Excellence” to dissect, with a psychologist’s skill, the elements of successful business management into practices for building what he called “a learning organization.” Today, the concept is reappearing in the notion of “intelligent information management” and the advanced systems and tools to enable the transformation.

Becoming a learning organization 

Technology is enabling the learning organization. Unlike expert systems of the past, which required rules to be hardcoded into a system by a human expert, advanced capture, imaging and natural language processing techniques learn by experience — much in the same way humans do — by ingesting unstructured data to not only understand it, but also to reason about it, combine it with structured data, and learn from it. With every industry facing an explosion of data, these cognitive solutions will change many aspects of how we approach, understand and “learn” from information.

Becoming a learning organization requires more than just technology. Senge’s focus was, and still is, on the people within the organization. It’s about the ways that successful teams work together and how methods of management impact their ability to perform, positively or negatively. While the people aspect remains, a lot has changed in 25 years. In 1990, business content was almost 100 percent paper and processes were slow and error-prone. Today, data is the new natural resource, yet 80 percent of data is largely invisible to computers.

Work smarter, not harder 

Managers today must not only contend with Senge’s five disciplines, but also adjust to the added profit pressures of the global economy, accommodate the disruptive forces of the cloud, mobile computing and analytics, and inspire workers who have less time and motivation than ever. Studies show that a great majority — 70 to 80 percent — of employees hate their job; less than 30 percent feel engaged at work. When asked why, they say that their job lacks meaning and that they feel that they are not living up to their potential.

Most people want to work smarter, not harder, but for the most part they are not being enabled to do that in a satisfactory way. The complexity and scope of information is changing, organizational needs and conditions are more demanding, and in many cases, information systems are outdated and fail to bring the level of flexibility and insight needed in order for workers to feel in control and productive.

The learning organization is an environment where people can convene to collaborate securely, consult subject matter experts when needed, leverage analytics for insight, and realize better business outcomes than they ever could previously. This is providing new choices for managers who want to foster the learning organization mentality. As Senge points out, people naturally want to excel and work together to achieve a better outcome. The challenge for businesses is to give people the tools they need to realize this aspiration; to make better decisions, put them into practice, and create an environment where success breeds more success.

Learn from these five challenges  

It’s no secret that information drives learning organizations. But leveraging that information in ways that make a difference can be a challenge. Here are some of the challenges we face.

Legacy paper processes can’t participate. While many paper-reliant processes have been converted to a digital workflow, the more difficult document types and processes remain bound by paper and manual workflow. The adoption of more robust data capture and machine learning solutions help remove human intervention and present insights and information in new and more profitable ways.

Information silos hinder business agility. Organizations today have a lot of information, but it is often stored in disparate, unconnected business systems and databases. As a result, workers often spend more time accessing information and searching for data and content than they do in activities that provide value to the organization. A common shared content platform that is available enterprise-wide can dramatically improve organizational and team performance.

Many organizations lack sufficient IT support. Properly managing the various information systems at work today is a challenge for even the most tech-savvy organizations. Often systems are deployed without sufficient testing and training. As a result, workers often are unclear about how to use the systems and, despite heavy investments in technology, the expected value is not fully realized. Advanced, yet simplified, intelligent information management platforms that reduce the complexity offer organizations distinct advantages that were not available only a few years ago.

Managing a mobile workforce. More and more organizations are employing outside contractors, temporary workers and business partners to augment their full-time teams, and most use their own mobile devices. For large companies with global teams working in multiple time zones, with language and cultural differences, the mobile workforce adds another layer of complexity. They key to taking advantage of a mobile workforce is using cloud and mobile technologies to connect people, content and processes in a way that is secure, easy to use, and tracks a project from start to finish, no matter where they are working.

Retaining knowledge is more difficult than ever. One of the realities of work today is that the workforce is getting younger and organizations are experiencing more employee turnover than ever before. As a result, organizations can find it difficult to retain intrinsic knowledge of products, customers and processes, which longtime employees develop. In contrast, learning organizations work to not only learn, but retain new sources of knowledge that all workers can access. This is where analytics can be applied, to guide employees with insight and best practices for the situations that arise.

Shared strategies 

One way organizations are finding success is by using a shared services approach to enterprise content management to enable a learning organization. Together, these shared services enable a cross-functional forum where business analysts, front-line users, IT support and C-Suite executives all work together on common goals and steps to leverage the advantages of advanced content management.

Capture services. Today’s capture systems are more advanced and more decentralized, capturing information at the point of origin often using desktop scanners and multifunction devices. Mobile capture takes the idea one step further, capturing information beyond the confines of the organization using smartphones and tablets directly at the point of service, in the field and in customer’s homes.

Archive services. Securing documents and information is a fundamental corporate imperative, especially as the risk of cyber theft and data breaches continues to rise. Digital repositories are foundational for records management and best practices in data security. Information privacy, regulatory compliance and legal discovery are just some of the important factors driving policies and procedures for enterprise archive services.

Case management and workflow. Both information and strategy is of little use without an action platform to really make a difference. Case management is a way of getting work done that helps people gather the content they need to make the right decisions and execute the best actions that lead to better business outcomes.

Content analytics. Analytics and data visualization are the next frontier of enterprise content management because of the driving need to obtain more valuable and actionable insight from the information. Classification analytics help capture systems become intelligent by “understanding” documents based on content and layout. Case analytics help managers oversee teams of workers and identify bottlenecks and balance workloads.

Moving forward 

Advanced capture, imaging and machine learning techniques are the tools that help create learning organizations by collecting and managing information in new and more meaningful ways. Archive and information governance services advance in their role as systems of record to reduce risk and ensure compliance and data security. Case management and workflow tools bring people and process together with information in ways that improve collaboration and business outcomes while data aggregation and content analytics help to provide both the technical and strategic platform from which to make quicker, better business decisions. Finally, mobile access and online collaboration speed the pace of business and make the most of diverse and global people, partners and resources.

Are you ready to move forward? The ability to put the “intelligent” into Intelligent Information Management is built on shared content and tools across the organization. The benefits include better alignment of valuable technologies with important information and people, improved responsiveness to a changing business environment, and more agile execution of business results. Look for providers and partners with the right combination of capabilities, expertise and vision to help you make the most of the new learning organization.

Kevin Craine is the managing director of Craine Communications Group.

This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Workflow.

Kevin Craine is the managing director of Craine Communications Group. He is writer, podcaster and technology analyst, as well as the author of the book Designing a Document Strategy and a respected authority on document management and process improvement. He was named the No. 1 ECM Influencer to follow on Twitter.