Standard Operating Procedures and Accountability: Perfect Together

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By Terry McGinn and Peggy Salvatore

We’ve been getting quite a bit of interest and feedback regarding our series on standard operating procedures, so we’ll continue writing about this topic this week.

After all, inherent in the word “expert” is the idea that something is done correctly. Correct procedures and best practices need to be captured and passed on. Sometimes, though, it seems the only people who care if the SOPs are followed are the experts who wrote them.

Truth is, everyone needs to care. Accountability right down to the last man or woman is absolutely the key essential ingredient in ensuring regulatory compliance.

Train for Accountability

Employees who are tasked with executing the many small, incremental steps are responsible only for their piece of the process. Sometimes in the laser-focus on one task, people may lose sight of the bigger picture. That bigger picture – a safe product going out the door – needs to be reinforced occasionally. Training usually steps in here for both reinforcement and correction. When that fails, the regulatory authorities will notice. Companies get slapped with government warnings and fines at a higher rate than the average person may realize. But if you are in a regulated industry, you know how often you are out of compliance.

Think about dialing the failure point back to its origin. The failure point is when the SOP is not correctly written, understood and applied.

Only then does the employee fail to perform to specifications.

Only then will training have to step in for often very expensive correction.

Only that will happen when an audit reveals you are out of compliance with your SOPs, and the Corrective and Preventative Actions (CAPAs) applied at that point of failure. That doesn’t need to happen.

In a perfect world, it should look like this:

Point of Success

If your current plant is not operating flawlessly as above, identify your points of failure:

  1. How many people are asked to retrain personnel after a deviation or equipment issue?
  2. How many SOPs do you have? Are they overwhelming or conflicting?
  3. Are they easy to understand and do they follow a logical, stepwise process?
  4. After a deviation, is the SOP reviewed?
  5. Are people observing the CAPAs?

And, the big question…

Do your employees feel responsible and accountable for performing their jobs according to the SOPs in place?

Employees feel empowered when they are able to follow well-written SOPs, and when they are acknowledged for contributing to a well-run organization. Points of failure cannot be business as usual. Organizations that accept points of failure as the status quo have a company culture that unintentionally encourages non-compliance.

Maybe that is worth repeating:

Organizations that accept points of failure as the status quo have a company culture that unintentionally encourages non-compliance.

And the road to audit hell is paved with regulatory non-compliance.

The Solution

Dial back your points of process failure to the source.

Ask yourself:

  • Are my SOPs well written?
  • Do my employees feel a sense of responsibility for performing to specifications?

If your answer to either of those questions is, “No” or “I don’t know”, give us a call.

We would be happy to speak with you.

Unlike some problems in the universe, the problem of poorly-written and executed SOPs can be solved. Let’s do it.

Terry McGinn has worked in regulated industry for many years and has experience in written procedures that will help pass scrutiny of a regulatory authority inspection. To have a conversation, write to us at workingwithsmes@gmail.com to set up an appointment.  

Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

Building Bench: Analyze Your Current Level of Expertise Before Hiring and Training

thZHXF49YI   Guest Blogger Robert B. Camp, Getting to Lean

Any sports analyst can tell you that the depth of your bench (the number and skill of your players), determines your ability to play the entire game with intensity. In a business, the depth of your bench determines your ability to take on new projects, even when you are already working on some major contracts. It also determines the skill level of projects you can take on, and to a large degree, determines how quickly you can grow. In short, bench depth is as important in business as it is in sports.

I once worked with a client that wanted to grow 5X in the next two years. That was a tall order, so before we got ahead of ourselves, we base-lined the current state of the business. Although there were some material concerns, this business was largely built around installation labor of a technical product.

To quintuple in size in just two years, the existing labor force had to be at the top of their game. Moreover, the company either needed to hire or train new employees at a rapid pace, all while continuing to execute on their current contracts. That was a tall order and led us to conduct a rapid assessment of their present employees. To do this, we used a 3 steps process.

  1. We asked every leader to develop a list of the job titles that reported to them
  2. Next, we asked them to develop a list of skills required by each job title
  3. Finally, for each skill, we asked them to establish the expected level of competency required by someone in that job title

Where multiple leaders had people with the same job titles, we cross-levelled the skill and competency expectations across the organization.

With this information, we created a blank matrix of Skills and Expected Competency for each employee.  We then asked leaders to assess each worker’s actual competency in performing each skill. By comparing an employee’s actual competency to that expected, we were quickly able to assess the strength of the employee and the department.

What did we learn through this analysis?

  • who in a group needed what training
  • what training needed to be conducted organizationally, and in what order
  • who in the group was most deficient, so we could initially focus on them
  • which skills we needed to concentrate on first and where in the organization those skills were required
  • who in the organization was competent to be a coach/trainer for others deficient in that skill

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COACHING: This matrix can become a tool in the ongoing coaching of employees and the establishment of growth goals.

PROMOTION:  We established an expectation that for an employee to be promoted they first need to demonstrate proficiency in the new job.

Our Results?

You’ll recall this employer wanted to quintuple in size and revenue in just two years. After reviewing their employee training matrix, this employer:

  • knew what skills they needed to hire
  • established that all new hires must demonstrate their competency in a skill before being hired
  • began intensive training classes in areas where the organization had scored poorly

In short, this process allowed the employer to recognize that their strengths rested in the skill of their employees and to begin intensively BUILDING BENCH to grow their organization.

How do you think your company would fare in an analysis like this? Are you ready to find out?

Contact Robert to learn more about how to apply this process. He will be happy to review what is needed to implement a similar system within your organization. And, of course, you can engage him to build this comprehensive Bench Strength system for your company.

robert@gettingtolean.com

 

 

 

10 Tips to Develop Best Practices and SOPs

peter-clarkson-240141 By Peggy Salvatore and Terry McGinn

When we are out in the field as trainers and consultants, we see different companies but a lot of the same problems. You may have heard the expression, “When you’ve seen one company, you’ve seen one company.” That is partially true. While each company and industry has their own culture and way of doing things, some issues are common across companies, industries and cultures.

One of the most common and preventable problems we see around training is that after training is over and best practices are instilled, personnel eventually either go back to the way they’ve always done it or find a different way around the new process. It’s not evil intent, it’s just human nature. Over time, people find a shortcut, an easier way or just forget the right way. And if things appear to continue to get done, nobody notices. That is, until you have a problem like a bad batch of product or find you are irredeemably over budget.

With a few best practices applied to development of your standard operating procedures and some vigilance, you can avoid these common and sometimes fatal (if you are making pharmaceutical products or building cars, for example) mistakes.

Call in the Experts to Validate Your Standards

When you are talking about the development of your best practices and standard operating procedures, you can’t leave the development of these documents to just anyone. You want to engage subject matter experts to make sure that the best practices and SOPs that you are capturing are, indeed, what needs to be happening for your organization to be

  • Compliant with regulatory authorities
  • Meeting your corporate targets (think financial goals, think manufacturing yields.)
  • Building products according to specifications
  • Serving customers quickly, efficiently and courteously, and
  • Making sure your standards are met across the organization.

Deviation is Undesirable

Remember high school? The kid who skipped school, cursed in front of your parents and spit on the sidewalk? Deviance. Not acceptable. Outside the bounds of what good looks like. Deviance is undesirable. Same goes for your business.

You establish the way your products need to be built to meet industry regulations, the way you want your customers to be treated so they come back, and the way your billables and receivables need to be handled so you can operate within the law, remain profitable and provide value to society. Somebody has figured all that out in your organization. Those are your experts. They create the standards, write the best practices and standard operating procedures. When everything is new, it is probably done very close to the right way.

Over time, you are likely to encounter “drift”.  Drift occurs when new people come in who don’t know why you did it that way. They may not even have access to your SOPs. They may be trained or mentored by somebody who deviates and gets by with it. Or maybe they just forgot the right way to do it.

That is why, when you are bringing new people in to your business, train them right the first time and then continuously qualify them. Make sure your procedures are documented the way you want them, check them with your experts to make sure they are current, and have them in a form so they are usable – that means available, applicable and understandable – so you can get people up to speed.

10 Tips for Designing Your SOPs

We have developed a list to avert the kinds of problems we see every day. While much of our experience is in the pharmaceutical industry, this list can be applied to many businesses because best practices and common standards make any organization run more smoothly. These are issues we see not just in one company or one industry, but have seen in many companies and industries. We interact with trainers from many companies, and this is what they say, too. Here is our list that you can use for your own SOP development. And while you are at it, see if you can add a few ideas of your own:

  1. Streamline your SOPs. Restructure them to simplify them so you can put your processes to work for you. Make them simple but inclusive enough that you are still meeting standards and regulatory requirements. Eliminate hurdles, extra steps and vague language.
  2. Better educate your personnel. Don’t just throw any training at them to check the box. Actually train them to know what to do and when to do it by developing effective learning plans built by professional adult educators. And you make it easier on yourself when you hire knowledgeable personnel that can hit the ground running.
  3. Use your own staff members to write your SOPs and train your staff. Nobody knows your business like the people in it.
  4. Develop curricula that works. Make sure it is structured to result in the right actions taken at the right time. If it needs a checklist, write one. If it requires a short video demonstration, record one.
  5. Build train-the-trainer programs for your staff so your experts can be better communicators and mentors. Just a few simple tips can make most employees into effective trainers. Also, remember that not all experts make good trainers, so don’t assume your top performers are the right people to be teaching the rest of your staff.
  6. Cut “un-need” time down to only what is needed. Your “un-need” times are those unnecessary tasks and busy work that don’t add anything to productivity or the bottom line.
  7. Keep good talent. Make sure your best people are motivated to stay and perform for you. Some people really are irreplaceable.
  8. Build a future of qualified personnel. Figure out who your future experts are and invest in them.
  9. Reduce CAPA (corrective and preventative action) and rework by building a culture of doing it right the first time. Also, teach people how to investigate issues and problems for corrective action. Always follow the SOP no matter what else is going on. Occasionally re-familiarize personnel with it because the longer they do a task, the more shortcuts and “drift” occur in work. Train on a continuous basis with qualified people and maintain qualifications to make sure they are doing it the right way.
  10. Ensure your training remains current. That refers not only to content but also to style. Your learners are changing and your old training might be correct but ineffective. Update it.

Bonus Item: Train people to begin work right away. When you hire competent people who are ready to do the job, they will want to get up the learning curve quickly and begin to produce, so make sure you give them the knowledge and tools to produce quality work right out of the gate and provide the ongoing training and oversight to maintain the quality of their work.

What is on your wish list for creating SOPs and best practices for your organization? We can help you hire competent personnel, build training that works and streamline your processes so you are doing only what you need. Contact us at workingwithsmes@gmail.com.

Photo by Peter Clarkson on Unsplash

 

Knowledge Management in Six Easy Steps

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Good morning, class.

Yesterday someone asked me the question, “What is the difference between knowledge transfer and knowledge management?” I figure if a veteran in the training industry asked this question, lots of people would appreciate this clarification.

Quickly, we’ll review the concept of knowledge management and how transfer of your internal expertise is a critical part of a valid knowledge management plan but it is not the whole magilla. Today, the best corporations consider themselves learning organizations. Learning organizations are built around knowledge management plans. So to be top drawer today, you need to be thinking about this process.

  1. Identify what your employees need to know and fill in knowledge gaps.
  2. Prioritize what you will spend valuable corporate resources to collect – is this important enough to spend time and money on?
  3. If the answer is yes, collect it. This is the part where you may discover that you need to call in experts to fill in your knowledge gaps.
  4. Store that information in a way that is easy to retrieve using the most appropriate technology to the task.
  5. Then you transfer that knowledge to workers who need it, and we often call this training. Whether it is formal training or not, in some way, take the important information that you have documented and make sure it gets passed on to other people so you keep the best practices going forward.
  6. Finally, maintain this documentation in a way that others can find it, use it, update it and keep it relevant.

“We Need More Training” (e.g. Knowledge Transfer)

Or do you?

A story that circulates in industry is that when a company has a problem, the answer is “training”. In response, training professionals are called in and their job is to do a needs analysis to determine if, indeed, the answer to the identified problem is training. Often, the training professional will find that the real solution isn’t more training, but some other issue that screams for correction. The other issue is often cloaked as a lack of knowledge, but the real problem may be a poorly structured employee incentive program (you get paid for doing it wrong or docked for doing it right) or a more systemic issue of a poisonous company culture of non-excellence that rewards mediocrity or outright incompetence.

When you’ve transferred the knowledge and you still don’t get the performance that you want, check your incentive plan and look at the culture.

A valid knowledge management plan is one that keeps information current and moving through your organization to the people who need it and use it to advance your business. If you think your knowledge management plan is breaking down at the knowledge transfer part of the cycle, then after you’ve trained your people, make sure they are incentivized to do their jobs right the first time in a culture that supports excellence.

Reading assignment for extra credit: In Pursuit of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. A classic on business quality practices.

Class dismissed.

The Online Course Opportunity and Your Expertise

jazmin-quaynor-392995The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is typically one that is slow or completely non-existent for business. Traditionally, I use that week to do a lot of offline activities to plan for the upcoming year. This year I took two great online courses, and decided to build one of my own in 2018.

First, the plan.

The last few years, I went through Michael Hyatt’s Your Best Year Ever online course and found it very helpful in the way it structures your planning process, challenges your assumptions, pressure tests your goals and is full of logical advice. He has captured the course in a book that launches today, Tuesday January 2, and if you grab it now it comes with some bonuses available until the end of the week, Friday January 5. His bonuses are terrific  and will help you apply what you learn in the book. If you are still in your planning stage for 2018, I recommend it. Here’s a link that will get you the book and bonuses.

As part of my 2018 goals, I am going to build an online course to accompany the launch of my next book due out later this year. The book, Retaining Expert Knowledge: What to Keep in an Age of Information Overload, takes the Working with SMEs series into some new territory. Writing this book met one of my 2017 goals to write a book with a major publisher, and I am very happy about meeting that goal. (More about the upcoming book in later blog posts.) Writing a book is just the first step, however, because it is getting the book and ideas out to the public that is the most important part of the process.

As part of that effort, I am going to build an online course to help readers apply the content of Retaining Expert Knowledge to their areas of expertise and their companies. Which leads me to the second course I took last week.

Executing the Plan

Big plans are accomplished one small step at a time. As Michael Hyatt says in his course (paraphrased), you only need to take the next small step to attain big goals. If your goal is big, hairy and audacious enough, you won’t know exactly how to get there. Hyatt advises that you set goals outside your comfort zone and take the very next small step that you can see, and it will usually appear in the form of resources or some kind of help that you need. That is exactly what happened. I had signed up with an elearning hosting platform, and they offered a course to make the most of your investment.

For three days, I delved into how to use this particular online platform and now I am very excited about building and presenting an online course for Retaining Expert Knowledge.

The course reminded us:

  1. Online learning is mainstream.
  2. Education is now lifelong.
  3. People want bite-sized information.
  4. Information wants to be free.
  5. The size of the online opportunity is about to explode.

Learning from Experts

For those experts who read this blog and the trainers who work with them, that list tells us that we’ve only just begun. As knowledge and information explodes, we have so much to share and people have less time to absorb it. It is a great time to share what you know and do it in a way that you can reach a lot of people.

Massive amounts of information are free or very inexpensive. Because information is free, you have to earn the space you take up in someone’s brain. Keep it short. Keep it relevant. And provide value. Blogs are one of the new “free information” sources, as well as endless streams of webinars, podcasts and more.

That is why when building a course for sale, experts need to build premium courses.  Your Expertise 101 is free, and Your Expertise 301 premium course has some price attached to it as well as support that helps your learners apply the information.

Today is the first workday of 2018. It is exciting to do what we love. And it is equally exciting to share what we love. If you are an expert in some area and have something to share or teach, think about the fact that adult learning is all-the-time, online, bite-sized and much of it is free.

You don’t have to wait to be asked. Get out there and share what you’ve got. People want to know. You can be part of the knowledge explosion.

 

Make 2018 Your Best Year Ever!

. Lost305656_YourBestYearEverHyatt_posts12  No matter how good your life is, isn’t there one thing you want to  achieve that has exceeded your grasp until now? Time to saddle up. With two more weeks to 2017 on the calendar, it’s time to come up with a plan to reach your next highest level.

Let me recommend Michael Hyatt’s Your Best Year Ever online course and the new Your Best Year Ever book for goal-setting and goal-achieving.

Many of my readers are experts, executives and people who like to excel. Because I know that you like to make the most of life, that is why I call this to your attention to this program.

Last December, I jumped into the Best Year Ever online course through one of the Best Year Ever affiliate partners, Ray Edwards, top-drawer copywriter for people like Tony Robbins, Jeff Walker and Hyatt. Those of us who took the online course with Ray benefitted from his support, wisdom and humor all year with online support groups in real time. It was fun and provided a level of interaction with others that was truly helpful in moving some of the mountains in my life and getting me unstuck when things got tough.

[To take the course with Ray, here’s a link that will get you support through Ray Edwards International.]

Working through the online Best Year Ever course over five days for an hour each morning between last Christmas and New Year’s Day, I looked at all areas of my life, saw where I was already living large and places where I wasn’t living very well at all. I made some adjustments, I worked hard during 2017 and had a lot of support from Ray’s team. I moved a few mountains…well, at least, got a few scoops of dirt in my shovel…in some important areas.

The 20 pounds I wanted to lose? They went to the Lost and Found. I lost some and most of them found me again.

The book I wanted to write? Check. My first professionally published book combining much of my work is slated to come out early in 2018. More on that as we get closer.

My finances? Meh.

I learned a few things. One is that you can really make massive progress in a few areas of your life and check off a few important boxes. In other areas, you can continue to plan, line things up, course correct and continue.

That’s what I am doing for 2018. Because I took the journey in 2017, I can recommend enthusiastically that if you still have a few mountains to move, this is a great way to do it. You’ll go through a self-assessment and goal-setting process that will reveal some things to you and show you the way forward. And you’ll get year ’round support from people who have done it before. The course has a few options, some with online support and some with a live conference option.

Your Best Year Ever program has been a bright light in 2017 for me. Therefore, it has  been an honor to be part of Michael Hyatt’s launch team of 500 believers who are promoting the book version of Your Best Year Ever. No, I don’t get paid to say this. I do, however, get the satisfaction of being part of something valuable and being an evangelist for something worthwhile.

For those of you who don’t know about Michael…

Michael Hyatt is the grand-daddy of online leadership mentors and a role model for entrepreneurs. Among the recent proliferation of online businesses owners and self-published book authors, Hyatt stands out as the one who cut the trail, the one who went first and showed others the way. He built a very successful online business with a lot of self-discipline, planning and focus. He has broken down his methods in a series of online courses, books and live programs.

Hyatt first came to my attention as the CEO of Thomas Nelson publishing, the company I knew as the publishers of John Maxwell’s leadership books. Maxwell is iconic in the leadership industry. If Hyatt led that company, I figured he is the real deal. He is.

To get started making 2018 Your Best Year Ever, click here to take the Best Year Ever online LifeScore survey find out where you stand now in all domains of your life. Then decide which mountains you will move in 2018.

For those who would rather read the book, it will be available January 2, 2018. Here’s a link to pre-order Your Best Year Ever the book.

NOTE: There are several different links that will lead you to the Best Year Ever online course directly through Michael Hyatt, one that will lead you to the online course with support from Ray Edwards International, one that will take you to a page to pre-order the book and one that leads you to a free online LifeScore to get you started.

 

 

Can Experts Teach? Well, Sometimes…

aaron-ang-61849   Yesterday I met for coffee with an expert in operational efficiency. He runs workshops, and he observed that the experts he has met have trouble teaching what they know. He said the best teachers are people who are middling performers – people he described as performing at 60 to 80 percent of someone who is excellent.

Because middling performers have had to work so hard to be good enough, they understand how to acquire their craft, skill or knowledge. They know the steps so well because they figured them out so they could attempt to replicate greatness.

Greatness, on the other hand, just is. And people who are great, just are. They can’t tell you how they do what they do because it is instinctual and innate. Therefore, my coffee companion concluded, it is pretty hard to get a great person to teach a class or teach anyone anything effectively.

This observation is the basis for the Working with SMEs book in which I describe the innately great person as an unconscious competent, they don’t even know what they know, so they have trouble telling others. The book explains why the conscious competent –  the person who knows what they know and how they learned it – is the best teacher of a craft, skill or knowledge. In their struggles, the conscious competent has put the building blocks in place to acquire something valuable.

We can probably all think of exceptions to this situation, but for the most part, he was correct.

Mel Torme – arguably one of the greatest jazz singers of all time – recorded a master class for PBS in the early 1960s where he described some of his technique. On the other hand, when you observe his face and mouth, and listen to his tone, you know how much of what he did was purely instinctive and based somewhere in his soul.

Imagine Picasso teaching someone how to paint. Then look at Guernica and imagine the mind that conceived those images. That greatness came deep from within his soul, and went far beyond paint, brush and canvas to the very meaning of existence.

For a genius in the world of science, read Ray Kurzweil who imagined artificial intelligence and leads humanity to the next level of possibility through technology.

Hard to teach that kind of inspiration.

To find a teacher, look for someone who has broken down the components of a piece of greatness into replicable chunks.

To find your own greatness, look deep inside yourself and find your truth. Everyone is a great something, and your soul knows what that is.

Photo by Aaron Ang on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

Vantage Point of the Expert Takes You Out of the Instructional Design Box

ben-white-197668  Twice this week, experts around me reminded me about the unique way they see the world and how it impacts the way their knowledge gets passed on.

In fact, twice this week I faced experts with important lifetimes of knowledge within them who had thought deeply about how best to package and move that information beyond them to others who can benefit from it. In both cases, their solutions are unique and complex but necessary to the tasks they have set forth.

Touchy-Feely

One communications expert is searching for ways to teach his very unique skill set to the several generations behind him. Like any skill, acquiring and mastering it takes physical practice. The value of his method has been proven over decades and he is recognized for his system by world-class organizations. But beyond the one-on-one practice sessions where he teaches his system, the long view requires setting up a practice pattern among participants until the habit is engrained in the students and the system is part of a culture.

In a world where we communicate mostly via smartphones and computers, it is increasingly difficult to engage people for extended periods of time in face-to-face human interaction. Yet in a time of increased human-to-device interface, the human interaction required for interpersonal skill practice has never been more important.

The basic skill set requires two humans –  not a human and a computer-based role play or a human and a disembodied AI voice. While those two options were my first thoughts, this expert makes it clear that the lessons to be taught and the skills to be learned require human beings involved in the process over time.

This expert’s dilemma highlights that learning technologies won’t fit all needs, and we are faced with the limitations of moving this type of skill to an online platform.  Only the expert understands his system well enough to transfer it, and he has come to realize that he will need something akin to 12 disciples who can carry the practice forward by geometrically dispersing the interpersonal skill practice required.

By the Book

The second expert is a process genius. Quite simply, he sees patterns in numbers and relationships where others only see isolated data. He has a lifetime of imposing order on what others perceive to be random information, and doing it in a way that saved and makes corporations many times over his value as a consultant.

Today, as he considers retirement, he is assembling his lifetime of knowledge into a searchable database of information. Each individual business insight is broken down into steps. The project will involve 100 or more related experts before it is through.

This challenge is more about organization than content, as the actual content is straightforward. However, each bit of information relates to the whole in several ways which creates an interwoven matrix of content that must be easily cross-referenced.

The Expert Knows Best

Two experts. Two radically different areas of expertise. And two completely different approaches to capturing, storing and transferring knowledge.

Proving once again, working with experts is as individual as their knowledge, their backgrounds, and the unique characteristics of what they have to offer. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions when you are working with true experts with a lifetime of knowledge, skills and attitudes that led to great success. They have put a lot of thought into developing their areas of expertise, many hours teaching others, they know what works, and it pays to follow their instincts when you are capturing it for posterity.

Sometimes your expert is the best source for how to transfer what they know. Best not to try to squeeze them into an instructional design box because their expertise just won’t fit.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Your Experts and Your IT Department – Data Integrity Best Practice

ilya-pavlov-87438  Somewhere in your organization whether it’s on a mainframe, in the cloud, resident on someone’s PC or in a paper file somewhere, just about every piece of data lives, breathes and is waiting to be put to good use.

Even in the best circumstances, often your data inputs are not easily accessible or completely accurate.

As organizations begin to understand the importance of data integrity in an age where data is your company’s gold mine, it is a good time to engage your experts across the organization to verify and bolster your current information assets.

Your data adventure has a few distinct phases:

  1. Locating all relevant data for all parts of the organization
  2. Organizing and archiving it for easy access
  3. Updating as necessary
  4. Migrating everything to your most recent platform – new forms, new enterprise software
  5. Ensuring that your data migration involves people at every stage who can ensure the integrity of your data and the integrity of the way it is handled – from subject matter experts to IT professionals and archivists
  6. Analyzing information collection and storage methods so the way it is collected is consistent and can be retrieved in a logical way – this includes making sure your data fields are named clearly, your forms are clear and your files are logical
  7. Giving IT the responsibility for locking down sensitive data and making it tamper-resistant, including establishing audit trails
  8. Engaging legal to make sure you are handling data correctly in the case of any information that is subject to laws, rules and regulations – this can save you millions or even billions of dollars in fines, lawsuits and such

Your information is your organization’s most important asset. Your data tells you what you are doing right, where your problems lie, what your customers think and how your employees are performing – just to name a few items. If you have a problem or question, you already have the answers. The key to thriving is to make sure you can find what you need, when you need it, in a form that is usable.

No time is too soon to start to review your information collection, storage and retrieval practices, and establish some guidelines to make increase the value of your most important asset.

Are you engaging your experts to make sure your information is accurate?

Photo by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash

 

Researchers: For Your Eyes Only

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Experts do research. Experts generate research papers. Those papers are referenced by other researchers. And so on. Sometimes you can get lost in the thick and sticky wickets of peer-reviewed journals searching for an arcane piece of information.

For those who live in the world of research and journal articles, you put forth painstaking and time-consuming care in finding the right papers with the latest and most relevant material to support your case. Paul Allen, the lesser-known Microsoft founder, recently put some of his considerable resources toward helping researchers enjoy a better AI-enhanced search engine. Launched in 2015, Semantic  Scholar was originally populated with 3 million computer science papers. Today, it boasts more than 40 million papers, many in the biomedical and environmental fields as well.

While Semantic Scholar has been available for two years, it caught my attention when I was doing some research for a biopharmaceutical company a few weeks ago. The Economist October 19, 2017 edition included a story that mentioned an updated version had just been launched that added 26 million biomedical research papers to its existing 12 million. I jumped on the site to test it out. What makes Semantic Scholar special, and different from other search engines like Google Scholar, is that it uses AI to search and categorize articles relevant to your specific needs rather than relying simply on rankings or citations in other papers based on your search terms.

I was looking for papers that combined two topics not commonly addressed in the same article – on the business and the medicine of a particular disease. The search netted me some good hits that met those unique criteria and sent me to the same reliable publication sources I would normally search. Overall, I had a good experience and recommend it.

From The Economist description:

Like most AI systems, the new Semantic Scholar relies on a neural network – a computer architecture inspired by the way real neurons connect to each other. Neural networks are able to learn tasks by trial-and-error. Miss [Marie] Hagman’s team [the project’s leader] wished to bend their network to the task of recognising [sic] scientific phrases and their contexts…”

To do this Ms Hagman asked four medical researchers to annotate ten entire research papers and 67 isolated abstracts, which were to serve as fodder for the training process. The annotators read the papers and abstracts, and highlighted within them a total of about 7,000 medical ‘topics’ (particular diseases, particular genes, particular proteins and so on). Between these topics they identified some 2,000 pairwise relationships, such as a particular gene encoding a particular protein, or being associated with a particular disease.

That done, they fed the results into the neural network, which, based on the context of a topic (ie, the words surrounding it in the various places it appears) and the pairwise relationships identified by the researchers, was able to find new topics and relationships to add to the hoard. The team then improved the network’s performance by presenting it with previously unseen papers to annotate, and correcting its suggestions until it was able, without help, to annotate such papers correctly. It can now identify 368,071 topics (mentioned a total of 236,979,862 times) and 6,756,863 relationships in the 38m papers available to it.

The upshot is that both scholars and laymen can pull out clutches of papers on particular topics from the database, with a reasonable presumption that those papers are the ones most pertinent to their needs.”

In my experience, that claim is true. For those whose job includes research, this tool is well worth investigating.

Have you had experience with Semantic Scholar or other search engines? We’d like to hear about it in the comment section below.

Photo by Olu Eletu on Unsplash