Martina Tomaschowski, Empolis Information Management GmbH
As business processes become increasingly complex and greater emphasis is placed on “big data”, more and more companies are seeing the urgent need to take a more critical look at the traditional division between content and knowledge management. As an interdisciplinary technology, Smart Information Management (SIM) takes on a special key role in this context, especially when the information involved includes unstructured data.
The success of an enterprise depends, to a considerable extent, on how effectively its resources are used. Often, the available resources are not used in the best possible way. This can partly be attributed to existing data silos. “The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” as the saying goes. This is why it is becoming increasingly important for companies to link their data sources and systems together in intelligent ways–in other words, to use SIM.
SIM can be defined as the comprehensive creation, management, analysis, intelligent processing, and provision of all the information relevant to business-critical processes, regardless of the source, format, user, location, or device. SIM combines content created and managed in a Component Content Management System (CCMS) with knowledge of products, customers, their profiles, suppliers, and so on, stored or generated in a Knowledge Management System to form intelligent, smart content that creates real added value for the company. Smart content facilitates high-quality analysis of large quantities of unstructured data and intelligent processing of information in a resource-efficient way, while also making the information useful for relevant business processes. The objective here is to ensure that decision-makers, employees, and customers always obtain the information relevant for their roles and what they want to accomplish—in keeping with our motto of providing “the right information, at the right time, to the right person, on any device.”
The approach noted above is useful in all fields where information and knowledge are essential assets and make a vital contribution to the success of the business. Currently, the service field in particular is making large investments in SIM. The reason is: Many companies operating globally are trying to internationalize continually growing quantities of new or updated content and make it available to the technician at the “point of service” and at the proper time. However, these companies are now faced with the challenge of doing so faster and cheaper than is possible with conventional methods and a constant supply of human resources. Potential for synergies between technical documentation and customer service are frequently neglected. After all, much of what the service department needs is already “known” and provided in the technical documentation, thereby providing the central basis for end-to-end service and maintenance processes. On the other hand, valuable knowledge that flows from the service department into documentation is often quite limited. Different data models, uncoordinated processes and methods, and various content creation and processing systems exist. These factors make the handling of service jobs a complex undertaking requiring labor-intensive information gathering for the individual pieces of information, parts, and tools. This is a typical starting point for SIM.
Documentation contains a wealth of valuable service data
Documentation for technical equipment supplies a great deal of useful information for troubleshooting. The scope and complexity of this information varies depending on the target group. For example, instructions for consumers generally contain information for solving simple technical or functional problems. Repair and maintenance manuals, on the other hand, may cover detailed and highly complex structures–but usually in a linearly published form (printed manual, PDF file, and so on).
Service staff members, however, need information of many different types from a wide range of sources. To fulfill a service contract, for instance, they need access to the following information: the terms of the contract (agreed response times, special conditions, for instance); equipment configurations (default settings); service manuals and supplementary technical documents (exploded views, circuit diagrams, technical data); and information about service parts (availability, replacement parts, delivery times, installation instructions, special tools). But since this information is usually maintained in different systems, specific cross-references are generally not included in a central source of information such as the maintenance manual. One reason for this phenomenon is the high cost of manually updating those references. In cases like this, a fully integrated approach–linking all the relevant information sources with a uniform, intelligent system–can vastly increase efficiency and facilitate extremely smart service.
A comprehensive service scenario
Picture the following scenario: A service order is submitted. The (integrated) system gathers all the information needed to complete the service order, using the customer number to call up the relevant contract information and using the equipment number or name to retrieve all the technical details. The system determines the equipment configuration used by the customer and selects the corresponding parameters. Based on this information, it provides the service technician with detailed virtual service instructions, dynamically and at runtime. These instructions are tailored to the specific product that the technician is working on at the customer site. They include technical documents like exploded views, circuit diagrams, and technical data, the needed spare parts?which are automatically retrieved from the catalog?installation instructions, and a list of required tools, and so on. All of this content is presented to the service technician in a clear way that is easy to access, on a tablet PC, for instance. When finished with the task, the technician receives a service report that has been completed automatically and requires only specific pieces of information to be added.
In this scenario, the service technicians obtain a comprehensive range of information and support so that they can work efficiently and accurately. It is no longer necessary for service technicians to carry all the service documents with them. Nor do they have to fight their way through a large amount of information that is unimportant or irrelevant to them. Instead, they obtain precisely the information they need, related to the equipment in question. Based on the supplied equipment information, they can immediately adjust incorrect parameters in the components and ensure that the equipment at the customer site has the optimal settings. Any needed spare parts can be taken along to the customer at the time of service, ensuring that the machine’s downtime is kept to a minimum. The system can help evaluate operating data, which facilitates the analysis.
Naturally, all of the information generated in the course of the service case and that is relevant for technical documentation, is returned. If additional solutions are found to known problems, if new equipment errors occur, or if sections in the operating manual are unclear to customers and need to be phrased more precisely, this knowledge can be consolidated immediately and integrated into the documentation.
The system described above also continually triggers new improvement processes. All field technicians are provided with the latest solutions for new or rare problems that they can then proficiently resolve. The trainer receives information about the topics on which service technicians, service partners, and customers need further instruction including frequent questions, frequent searches, and mechanical parts that are affected most often. All of this information is valuable for quality assurance and development. The hotline likewise receives timely feedback on the problems encountered in the field. Knowledge sharing is boosted with the implementation of the SIM approach.
Comprehensive CCMS and information access system needed
Breathing life into the SIM concept, however, requires appropriate technology. Information sources and systems need to be coordinated with one another, either directly or indirectly, and linked together in an integrated system. To accomplish this integration and realize the full synergy potential, the information must first be generated, updated, and linked together in a shared CCMS. In addition, for access to the information, intelligent technology must be used that is capable of understanding natural-language text and is, thus, able to seamlessly integrate unstructured sources into the search results, with the appropriate ranking. An organization can only benefit from all of the experience and information available in the company in this manner.
All of this is not just theory; it has already been tried and tested in practice. Real projects have shown that the consolidation of classic Component Content Management with content in decision trees and intelligent use thereof, pays off very quickly, especially in large-scale, multilingual projects. When content is consistently reused, both for handling questions and for directing users to solutions in existing technical documentation, companies can considerably reduce their expenditures for content creation, maintenance, quality assurance and translation, and so on.
The implementation of the SIM approach leads to properly documented and structured knowledge that enables systematic process support. And the knowledge can be supplied in various levels of detail, so that it can be used by both non-experts and specialists. The SIM approach reduces the interaction time needed when responding to customers, such as when service incidents are reported. Furthermore, customer satisfaction is increased as a result of the professional support they receive at any time–be it online, on the phone, or in person. Last but not least, the SIM approach makes it possible to shorten repair times at the customer site, reduce follow-up work, lower the costs for spare parts, and prevent service piracy.
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