A Human Inventory

New software can help companies map their corporate DNA.

Other information is then gathered through extensive surveys and added to create a robust profile. The key, experts say, is tying it all together. For the moment, companies appear to be using a hodgepodge of ERP systems, data warehouses, intranets, collaborative networks, and disparate software to pull employee data together, store it, and provide selective access to it.

Down the road, expect vendors to come out with all-in-one packages to handle the entire skills-mapping process. “Companies have wanted to do this for a long time,” notes Kathy Battistoni, a partner in Accenture’s human-performance practice. “But the enabling technology is finally catching up.”

Technology alone cannot surmount all hurdles, however. In truth, some employees may not be thrilled with having their abilities boiled down into a 12-field HR file. Such an analysis may pigeonhole workers, thus limiting their chances to do tasks that don’t fit the pigeonhole. Often, those are exactly the kinds of tasks that help human beings to grow.

What’s more, workers aren’t always good judges of their own talents. “High performers tend to rate themselves lower than others,” says Ehrlich. “Others may rate themselves too high.” And when co-workers do the rating, they can rate only what they see—the skills that are used on the job. That doesn’t get at a whole set of hidden attributes that could prove valuable to a company.

Perhaps the biggest problem, though, is that workers don’t always want to share what they know. In businesses where employees are rewarded for knowledge, staffers may be reluctant to share their insights with others. “In cultures where knowledge is power, there can be resistance to these efforts,” concedes Battistoni.

A number of products now on the market help employers skirt this delicate issue. The software susses out worker expertise by examining documents, files, and correspondence. Some programs, for example, crawl through E-mail to find out what employees are talking about. One application, ActiveNet from Tacit Software Inc., in Palo Alto, California, can create a profile for each worker by mining information in an employee’s E-mail, instant messages, hard drive, and other digital formats.

“These systems work really well when you have a less-formal, ad-hoc need to manage knowledge,” notes Battistoni. “They are also much less labor-intensive and are constantly updating themselves.”

Maybe so. But so far, many companies have been reluctant to use these sorts of search agents, mostly because of concerns about worker privacy. Grants Battistoni: “People become very uncomfortable when you start talking about things like searching through E-mail and hard drives.”

Are You Published?

Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power isn’t crawling through workers’ E-mails to identify experts. But the Canoga Park, California-based subsidiary of The Boeing Co. is using similar technology to create an “experts network.” The division (which is being sold to United Technologies Corp.) worked with Bellevue, Washington-based AskMe Corp. to create a customized version of the vendor’s AskMe product.

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