Business Survival: the Value of Tribal Knowledge in the Cloud

The modern business is both mobile and dispersed. This makes tribal knowledge, or the collective knowledge of an organization, more difficult to disseminate. That’s why businesses are increasingly in need of cloud technology to hold them together. Here’s how you can equip your teams so that wherever they are, they’re sure to be representative of your organization.

Managing modern nomads
Manhattan Associates is a Supply Chain Commerce provider with international clients such as American Eagle Outfitters and Walmart. “We’re nomadic. We go where the customers are, where the money is,” says Dennis Story, CFO at Manhattan Associates. In addition to being a highly mobile company, Manhattan Associates is growing. This means relatively new employees are on the road, in front of high-profile customers every day.

“It’s hard traveling on the road by yourself,” says Zach Zalowitz, senior consultant at Manhattan Associates. “You feel a little isolated and it’s not always the case that someone’s available to help you or give you what you need so you can do your job well.” As the face of the company, these employees can’t wait for answers or they risk appearing unknowledgeable.

Like many other global organizations, Manhattan Associates struggled to capture the tacit (AKA tribal) knowledge trapped in its employees’ heads and on their desktops. When it comes to consolidating company knowledge, “it’s very difficult for corporations to force employees to create a library of tribal knowledge,” says Story. That library, however, becomes increasingly essential as a business grows and sprawls out, across the world.

Tribal knowledge on trial
“We had this one experience with a major, multibillion retailer,” says Zalowitz. “We were in a design session and had a room full of smart people with a lot of experience but no one specifically knew the answer.” When mobile employees all over the world are simultaneously representing your company, accessibility to tribal knowledge is a matter of company survival. For Manhattan Associates, the question became: how can we keep our tribe connected?

There’s nothing more powerful than a workforce that self-selects the best ideas to the top.

Social is the solution First, the company needed a way to end siloed thinking. Trapped tribal knowledge was about to be the Achilles heel of a growing Manhattan Associates so the company sought a solution that would internally promote social interactions. The company discovered that in the cloud it was easier to consolidate ideas across departments and time zones. One person’s insight became another’s answer and ultimately a larger solution for the company. For most Manhattan Associates employees, the cloud became part of their daily workflow by way of an internal social network.

“I’d heard a lot about Yammer, and a CFO is always a sucker for a low-cost alternative, so I signed up for the freemium version,” says Story. Within 30 days and without any top-down implementation, 90 percent of employees took it upon themselves to create profiles. According to Story, the viral explosion of the internal social network was an indication that there was a lot of pent-up demand to collaborate.

As for Zalowitz’s design session with the major retailer: “We signed on Yammer during our lunch break, posted the question, and, by the time we got back from lunch, had a full feed and the answer was at the very end.” Rather than employees working in silos and coming up with different ways to address a single problem, they’re able to consolidate to, potentially, the very best solution.

According to Story, “there’s nothing more powerful than a workforce that self-selects the best ideas to the top. That’s where you get the real power of tribal knowledge.” If your company can effectively harness knowledge in a cost-efficient way, “that’s the Holy Grail for any company,” says Story. Although today’s tribes are bigger and more spread out, the need to stay connected is just as important as it ever was.