Big Data, BMWs, and Barriers to KM: This Week’s Great Reads


As we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at some of the news, articles, and blog posts that caught our eye over the last few days. 

Big Data, Big Insight

If you want to outrank other businesses in your industry, consumer strategy consultant Mark Ratekin says you’d better pay attention to big data. He defines the newest catchphrase as “the collection and synchronization of disparate data sources with the intent of having a more holistic view of a system and its component parts.” Ratekin urges companies to crunch numbers as if their very lives depend on it — because that’s probably the case. He offers several observations, including these prescient points:

  • Having a mechanism and process by which we can understand the inter-relationships of various data provides greater opportunities – and more imperative – to take a more action-oriented analytic approach. Stated differently – analyses that do not focus on action (and business outcomes) will have little value in organizations.
  • The complexity of the data systems will require that customer strategists be skilled (or at least conversant) in the theory of data structures.
  • As the volume of transactional data grows, the opportunity (and demand) for sophisticated longitudinal analysis and/or complex predictive analytics will increase. Customer strategists will need to be not only more data-savvy, but also will need to be more skilled in the use of complex predictive analytics.

One of the deepest analytical data wells you can mine lies right inside your company’s content. Behavior and curation analytics take a look at how your customers interact with your support team, documentation, and knowledge base for insightful information on what’s working and what needs improvement.

When you’re looking over your users’ shoulders though analytics, you’ll begin to understand how they relate to your product and gain a better understanding of what you can do to provide them even greater value. There’s a lot of buzz right now about big data and new ways to collect it, but don’t overlook what’s already right under your nose.


The Geniuses at BMW

Following the example of other luxury car makers, BMW is soft-launching a new program aimed at offering face-to-face customer service right in the showroom. The “BMW Genius Everywhere” pilot puts iPads into the hands of employees specifically trained as vehicle specialists. The Geniuses aren’t salespeople and aren’t expected to close a deal. Rather, they’ll roam the showroom as “product explainers” and be ready to troubleshoot or answer questions on the spot.

Ian Robertson, BMW board member for sales and marketing told the move is in response the company’s increased understanding that customers want pre- or post-purchase answers which don’t typically fall under the purview of a salesperson.

“The salesman has a complicated job…He has to understand product, he has to be trained and he has to understand financial services. And honestly, it has probably gotten a little too broad. One of the things we considered very carefully: Can we break the process up into bite-size chunks?”

The Genius program is part of a larger customer support initiative expected to take shape later this year. It’s focus is to make the vehicles as user-friendly as possible because as one BMW exec notes, “We engineer a lot of things into the car that are difficult to explain.”

This is a really great approach to customer support and a terrific way to provide an outstanding customer experience with one of the lowest barriers of entry possible. Apple may be a pioneer in the “genius” approach but it’s wonderful to see other companies take a page from their playbook. iPad-wielding specialists may not be right for your business so what off-the-beaten-path methods are you using to help your customers find the answers they’re looking for?


Breaking the Barriers

Nick Milton, founder and director of knowledge management (KM) consulting firm Knoco, agrees with the premise of an MIT Sloan Management Review article on How to Build Collaborative Advantage [PDF]. Its authors assert there are four barriers to KM that affect everyone in a product’s ecosystem from suppliers to users, all of which Milton says can be overcome.  The dichotomy of two barriers in particular stand out:

The unable supplier suffers from the Stranger problem – “I don’t know who to share this with”. This can be tackled through developing a Pull-based approach, so that they share by answering  the questions of an individual or team (through community forums, or peer assist), or by using the concept of the “Unknown User” – the psychological construct that we can bring into retrospects and after action reviews.

The unable user suffers from “needle in a haystack” – they don’t know where to look. Here we need the knowledge assets, that synthesized knowledge that creates the faucet rather than the firehose. We need the expertise locator. We need good search, and we need the places to ask – the community forums described above.

On the one hand, you have a supplier with a wealth of knowledge and nowhere to put it. On the other, you have a user looking for knowledge and nowhere to find it. This was a very real issue when MIT released this paper back in 2004, but there are all kinds of options available today that now pull down these barriers with ease.

Traditional knowledge management systems didn’t allow for collaboration the way today’s solutions do. KM used to be a fairly one-dimensional affair for both the user and supplier, and rarely the twain shall meet. This has been particularly true in the software industry but the proliferation of software-as-a-service has changed all that. Now its possible and even desirable to ensure KM is both collaborative and constantly updated across all support channels.

Check out Milton’s post to learn more about all four barriers to knowledge management, then scan the MIT article to see how far the KM industry has come in less than a decade.

Image: whisperwolf