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Five ways to break down knowledge silos in accountancy

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 13 Sep 2022

You may be an expert in your field and understand how your area of the business operates, but what about the business as a whole? Up-to-date information is vital but, says Angus Gregory, internal knowledge management is rarely high on the priority list.

Most businesses have some form of central drive where documents and compliance information is stored, but a considerable proportion of the vital day-to-day business knowledge is saved in a much harder to access hard drive; the one in people’s heads. 

Arguably knowledge management was much easier when teams were primarily office-based. Questions could be batted around until you found the right person to ask, or if needed you could simply walk to the department next door. Passing comments made around the coffee machine could lead to process and policy improvements. This is much harder to replicate without everyday in-person contact. 

In the hybrid working world, cutting through knowledge silos is going to be crucial for maintaining internal productivity and collaboration, which directly impacts your bottom line. Here are five ways you can supercharge your knowledge management processes.

1) Put dedicated processes in place 

People are the greatest asset to any business. Their heads are jam-packed with the information they need to do their own job, as well as wider knowledge about the organisation and entire industry. This is incredibly useful, but if a colleague on the other side of the country, or even the globe, needs a specific piece of information, it cannot be fully utilised by the business if it is localised to their head or individual computer. 

The harvesting of vital information cannot be left to when someone asks a particular question. Instead, knowledge management should become more process-driven. For example, when someone leaves the business, typically their laptop or physical hard drive is returned. It should then be a priority that this information is then uploaded to a centralised platform. In addition, the leaving employee should also create knowledge articles within the database about any other vital information that is not yet recorded. 

This is just one example of the dedicated processes you could implement within your organisation to automate your knowledge management.

2) Nominate knowledge management moderators

While processes are essential, they need oversight to work efficiently. This is where knowledge management moderators come in. Moderators would help to ensure that each of the processes are running smoothly and can suggest improvements where necessary. They could vet knowledge articles in their subject area before uploading and keep existing resources up to date with the support of the wider business. Perhaps most importantly, moderators would be able to track the most commonly asked questions, flag knowledge gaps with the relevant departments and ensure these are plugged by the right resources.

Knowledge management can often get lost in the day-to-day. It is not always clear whose responsibility it is when you’re working in silos. By nominating knowledge managers, the load can be shared among existing staff so this vital function does not fall between the cracks. 

3) Promote cross-departmental collaboration

One of the biggest hindrances to effective knowledge management is departments working in isolation. Sometimes this is subconscious, people might not understand how their role contributes to the wider value chain, but in competitive workplace cultures, monopolising knowledge is considered a way of getting ahead. When this is the case, it not only slows down team productivity, but it can build tension between individuals and departments. Ultimately, all departments are working towards the same goal so it should be clear that sharing knowledge is a key contributor to this. 

Finance chiefs have a clear role to play in leading from the front. They should be spearheading collaboration initiatives to unite departments across the business. Helping individuals and their teams to understand how their work impacts others will encourage them to share more knowledge. Collecting this knowledge can also be a collaborative activity by crowdsourcing answers to FAQs.

Similarly, leaders should be taking a leading role in knowledge crowdsourcing by uploading their own job role information into the system and promoting a culture that shows it's ok to ask questions. 

4) Incentivise people to share their knowledge 

Many people have more responsibilities at work than ever. Often knowledge management for the wider team just isn’t a day-to-day priority if we are focused on our own jobs. When this mentality prevails, it can increase the reliance on firefighting when questions arise, rather than investing the time now to prevent the questions coming up in the first place. 

In addition to a crowdsourcing approach to knowledge and an inherently collaborative culture, incentivising people to share their knowledge will boost it up the priority list. Incentives could take many forms; externally and internally sharing the successes of those collaborating, leaderboards, performance reviews, promotions, learning opportunities, socials, increased responsibilities or financial rewards. Whatever the incentives, these should always be awarded fairly.

5) Invest in technology 

Often existing knowledge hubs are based around accounting-specific information or compliance issues as opposed to the day-to-day runnings of the company. When these databases are static, they are not easily searchable, up-to-date or relevant to teams working in other countries. 

Research suggests that almost 60% of people do not ask for help in the workplace. If you can’t find what you are looking for and asking a question involves messaging or calling when you are not sure if someone is available, it's likely to prevent even more people from asking for what they need. Promoting an open and collaborative culture can go some way to prevent this, but it can be further remedied by a self-service, technology-driven knowledge system. 

The pandemic clearly highlighted the necessity of a cloud-based system to maintain full productivity and this should also be a focal point of your knowledge management efforts. It does not have to be intensely complex; low-code systems such as Tenjin are available that provide an accessible, multi-platform solution. These platforms can centralise your knowledge into an intuitive, searchable system accessible to teams regardless of their locations or language. 

When the latest technology is coupled with dedicated knowledge managers, collaborative workplace cultures and efficient information-upload processes, your organisation is primed for knowledge management success. 

Angus Gregory is CEO of Biomni, the software vendor of Tenjin, a virtual assistant combining AI with a crowdsourcing approach to make business knowledge easy to access, always current and relevant to its intended audience.

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