Knowledge transfer has always been important to the success of any operation. In the age of Covid-19, identifying new ways of knowledge transfer have become even more critical as companies grapple with increase safety measures and social distancing requirements.
Augmented reality (AR) is proving to be a crucial technology, vastly amplifying the manufacturing industry’s knowledge transfer process. Manufacturing is also disproportionately affected by what is often referred to as a brain drain (the loss of technical and institutional knowledge). While all business sectors grapple with an aging workforce, nearly 25 percent of American manufacturing employees were over 55 in 2017, with the proportion expected to rise. AR is playing a significant role in ensuring this generation of employees’ valuable knowledge isn’t lost.
Knowledge transfer is the theory and practice of disseminating information from one part of the business—or an individual—to another. While it contains both training and communication, it is somewhat distinct from both. Knowledge transfer is principally concerned with retaining and distributing information unique to an organization—the kind that cannot be learned elsewhere. Failure to transfer this knowledge leaves employees reinventing the wheel, representing a significant drain on company resources.
There are three broad categories of knowledge, all of which must be included in the knowledge transfer process:
Explicit knowledge is the kind that can be easily written down or verbalized.
Implicit knowledge is the application of explicit knowledge. A general example is skills that can be transferred from one job to another.
Tacit knowledge is knowledge gained through personal experience that may be difficult to express. Having a ‘feel’ for performing a task, for example.
Explicit knowledge is the easiest to store and transfer. But the most value is usually found in implicit and tacit knowledge, which are harder to capture.
Ensuring the effective preservation of organizational knowledge requires a proactive and systematic knowledge transfer program. In broad strokes, a robust knowledge transfer process has five major stages.
Where in the organization is knowledge stored? Does knowledge come from the top down? Or is the most valuable knowledge contained in frontline employees? In the context of an aging workforce, which employees are due to retire soonest, taking their knowledge with them?
How you identify experts will be unique to your organization. However, the people who work alongside them may be the best placed to identify them. Company-wide consultations and brainstorming sessions can be good exercises in recognizing expertise.
What knowledge needs to be retained? This can be more difficult to codify. Reaching out to coworkers can be of value, again, as they may be more aware of the expertise their colleagues possess—and that they lack. It is important to be rigorous in this stage to ensure nothing is overlooked when capturing knowledge.
The precise method for capturing knowledge will depend on its nature. Where it can be easily articulated, interviewing the expert—or asking them to write down a procedure, for example—can be enough. Where it is less explicit, alternative methods should be employed. The process of teaching others may bring implicit or tacit knowledge into the light. Watching the expert performing a task may be enough. Regardless of how the knowledge can be revealed, it is important that it is recorded for later distribution.
Captured knowledge must be packaged into easily accessible materials for others to learn from. This will likely be a mixture of reference documents, reports, instructional videos, work instructions, training programs, mentorships, and AR content. Recorded knowledge may best be viewed in context—rather than in training sessions—so materials should be clearly organized and accessible to anyone. The necessary recipients will also need to be identified so they can be given access to the relevant material.
New knowledge is created in your organization every single day. Addressing an aging workforce may be the most pressing need, but the knowledge transfer process is not a singular exercise. Capturing expert knowledge should be an ongoing activity. Enshrining a knowledge culture not only ensures that everybody is on the same page, but can inspire collaboration and innovation.
Augmented reality can dramatically improve both the capture and dissemination of knowledge. It is particularly useful for capturing tacit knowledge in a teachable, repeatable manner.
Experienced employees can easily author training materials while simultaneously performing their usual roles. Wearing AR goggles or glasses, they can film while they work, using gestures and voice commands to highlight important elements of their workflow.
The captured knowledge can be more fully developed into immersive, location-aware guidance for less experienced colleagues. Using this AR guidance, they can view videos of a technique or task being performed, see 3D animated diagrams and instructions, and be served relevant safety warnings where appropriate.
By recording work instructions for frontline procedures in context, AR can capture the kind of implicit and tacit knowledge that experts may not even be aware they had. Although this kind of knowledge can be taught one-on-one, by packaging it as AR content, it can be more easily and repeatably distributed, without relying on the memory of mentees. Furthermore, by following AR instructions in place, employees are more likely to remember procedures themselves, and make fewer mistakes while learning.