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Rescuing Tribal Knowledge from the Generational Shift

Synergis Software

Synergis Software

When a person retires after 20, 30, or more years of service in one company, an enormous amount of practical, hands-on experience and knowledge—what experts call tribal knowledge—walks out the door and never comes back. In a manufacturing environment, a production line worker may know things about machines that have never been written in a manual. If that person leaves without passing on this knowledge, it could cost thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. If a utility worker retires, the issues magnify because of the unique public service role and the 24/7 nature of utility services.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in 2016 members of the Millennial generation will account for 36% of the US workforce, and in nine more years will account for 75% of the global workforce. The back side of this rise of Millennials is the retirement of Baby Boomers and Generation X employees. This tidal wave of generational shift—from experienced workers with long tenure and vast tribal knowledge to inexperienced workers with much less practical knowledge and decreased interest in tenure—will be costly unless companies act quickly and strategically.

Loss of tribal knowledge impacts both operational and informational roles. In engineering environments, much of this tribal knowledge can be found in drawings and other informational documents which have accumulated over the years. But it is not enough to capture institutional knowledge in documents; there must also be clear understanding of where the information can be found. It does no good to record pipeline locations and part numbers if, when someone leaves, others don’t know where that data is stored.

A full-featured engineering document management (EDM) system will not only capture and preserve institutional knowledge; it will also automate the ability to serve up the information to the right people whenever needed. A good EDM system will also allow equal access regardless of the original technology used to record the information. Pre-digital era files can be scanned; documents created with office software and CAD or other engineering tools can all become part of one unified system.

A comprehensive EDM product like Synergis Adept eliminates the quirks of personal habits or workgroup culture and the limitations of dealing with practical knowledge when it comes to the storage, retrieval, and use of engineering data:

  • You no longer rely on human memory to recall the history of a document or where it is stored;
  • The software knows document properties and keywords; users can locate files based on keyword or phrase within any type of document;
  • Automated workflow eliminates the need for staff to continually transfer knowledge engineering business practices for any given product or project;
  • Information is centralized, not distributed on every staff member’s hard drive; users who have the necessary permissions can access information any time.

A new in-depth white paper from Synergis Software and Utility Dive describes how utilities have achieved greater efficiency with Synergis Adept Engineering Information Management, reaping significant benefits in time savings, waste reduction, and preserving that all-important tribal knowledge.

Randall S. Newton is the principal analyst and managing director at Consilia Vektor, a consulting firm serving the engineering software industry. He has been directly involved in engineering software in a number of roles since 1985. 

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