How Organizational Knowledge Defines Your Role in Automation

Feb. 10, 2014
You work in automation, sure. But what do you do?

Many of us who operate in the world of automation struggle to define our role. What do we do, exactly? Industrial automation? Factory automation? Manufacturing automation? A search of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), the U.S. government’s system for classifying industries and the products and services they provide, shows more than 7,000 results for “manufacturing.” Search for automation and you get three results – home, building and office.  

Because there is no one-size-fits-all descriptor for what we do, we need to look within to define our business. In other words, each company needs to tap its own organizational knowledge to find its niche.

So just what is “organizational knowledge?” While various authors disagree on the exact meaning of the term, it is generally defined as the knowledge that an organization has developed as a collective body and through individuals within the organization. When you add up all of the years of experience that your employees have and all of the experience that you have developed as a company, what is this worth and how does it define your organization?

To define, quantify and develop your organizational knowledge, follow this outline:

  • Determine how much it would cost you to replace your most knowledgeable employees. Not just their knowledge in “hard skills,” but the understanding of your business and corporate culture held by your top employees. They understand what makes your company unique. Sit them down with the NAICS codes and I would bet that your top employees can pick the top two codes that define what you do. These people are the backbone of your organizational knowledge. Without them your organizational IQ drops—a lot.
  • If you have been in business for any length of time, you have developed processes and procedures that help you do what you do efficiently and profitably. These processes probably have been developed through lots of trial and error. Your processes and procedures also constitute organizational knowledge as they help make you unique and have value. How much are these processes and procedures worth to you? Can you buy them? Can you survive without them? I doubt it.
  • Plan to develop your organizational knowledge. In your strategic planning, are you looking at those in your organization who are the most knowledgeable and valuable to the company? Are you planning on transitioning and capturing this knowledge for those who are not as seasoned?

Your organizational knowledge is valuable and makes you who you are. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Don’t forget to understand and invest in your organization’s knowledge.

Stephen Blank is chief executive officer of Loman Control Systems Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association

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