As more and more content goes digital, information overload is becoming a big challenge for most workers. How do you find the most pertinent, relevant information to get the job done without spending hours tracking it down? Knowledge management vendor Guru, which started out surfacing relevant, trusted content for customer service agents, last month launched a new product designed to help organizations ensure key information reaches all employees. I caught up with Rick Nucci, CEO of Guru, to discuss the new product and more broadly how its customers are learning to manage information in a digital world. I was particularly intrigued by a blog post on the changing world of work in which he writes:
The pandemic didn’t create a new world of work; it only rendered the old one obsolete and exacerbated its flaws. Now, we find ourselves staring at a blank canvas, with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a whole new way of working. Replicating in-office rituals digitally is not the answer, nor is attempting to force old tools to meet new needs.
What we need is a dramatic reinvention of how we work, and that starts with a reinvention of how we manage information.
We'll come back to that, and its relationship to my own views on the Collaborative Canvas enterprises need to build to co-ordinate digital teamwork. First, let's take a look at Guru's new offering, which aims to solve a pain point for enterprise leaders in a fast-changing world. Nucci explains:
Leaders within companies more than ever, especially in times like this, [are] needing to disseminate important information, to signal above the noise, of the important things that they need their company to know. It could be changes in strategy, new company OKRs, more everyday things like policy changes and things like that. How can you send those comms out to people, understand explicitly who's read it and acted on it? But really, and I think most importantly, use that as a way to bring people back into the source of truth.
Capture and share verified knowledge
The way that Guru has always worked is to capture and present verified knowledge in the form of cards that people pull up in the flow of their work. This started out as an aid for call center service agents and sales people, providing rapid, in-the-moment visibility of relevant knowledge that is regularly verified by a subject matter expert to ensure it's still up-to-date. In some customers — such as Shopify and SailPoint — other departments including product management, engineering, security, marketing and HR, have started using Guru to share knowledge in the same way.
The new product adds a 'push' function for internal communications to this traditional 'pull' use case, but still based around the notion of Guru acting as a reliable source of verified truth. Nucci explains:
Here's this source of truth of what you need to know to go about your day and get your job done. That's the part that we think needs to come together. HR is much more of an active participant in Guru than they were two years ago now, and they're doing it because ... they're feeling the asks from their leadership [saying], 'Hey, I just need everyone to know the top five things going on this week or this month, and we have the intranet, but no one's reading it. We've tried sending internal emails, no one's reading them. Or we don't know if people are reading them.'
Building engagement and agility
Rather than simply sending a feed of announcements out on an intranet or messaging platform, the new function in Guru delivers the information to recipients in their preferred channel, and adds a read receipt and reporting. Based on the analytics, the information can then be re-shared again if it's not reached enough people, for example in a weekly recap newsletter that Guru provides as a template.
Sharing company information in this way is important not only from an efficiency point of view, but also for employee engagement and business agility, as Mark Whelan, Corporate Communications Director at Guru, explains:
Bringing some internal employee communications things together with knowledge management, for the individual worker, we see as an efficiency gain ... But then for company leadership, it isn't so much efficiency as employee engagement. My employees and my immediate team know exactly what they should be working on. They know exactly how to do it. And they feel closer to me, as a leader, they feel close to the business on the whole.
And then the third piece, to make it even more high level, it's an adaptability and an agility question. How quickly can a company pivot its entire organization into a new direction? — which we're having to see companies do so frequently over the last couple of years, whether it's, 'All of a sudden, we're all working from home, and here's our new policy for this tool, that tool, the other tool.' And now as the economy starts to creak, I think we're going to see more belt-tightening, we're going to see more companies look to pivot strategy.
Reinventing how knowledge is shared
Coming back to the bigger picture of reinventing work for a more digital world, we talked about Guru's concept of cards that encapsulate specific items of knowledge. Whereas other knowledge management systems start from documents — and are therefore inherently rooted in a paper-based framework — the card provides a verified top-level summary, with links out to further information that might be stored in anything from a Word, Google or Box document to a Mural, Miro or Figma image, a Zoom or Loom recording, something in a learning management system, or any other source. Guru therefore provides a layer across an organization's Collaborative Canvas of connected teamwork resources that surfaces the key pieces of knowledge. Nucci says:
You can bring the gems, the needles within those haystacks, into this single source of truth ... These [collaboration] tools are going to continue to proliferate. We want to make it really easy to get more value out of them, frankly, by taking [for example] that useful Loom recording and make it easily discoverable via Guru.
This is enabled by empowering subject matter experts — which the organization itself nominates — to create and validate a Guru card whenever they discover or establish a useful piece of knowledge that's not previously been surfaced. He continues:
When you can package all that up in a Guru card and say, 'Here it is,' it just shortcuts so much of that energy ... I want to make a card and just give that to someone to say, here's the stuff. Don't worry about those other 10 draft versions we had floating around, this is the actual one that matters.
Under the hood, Guru is using machine learning to help surface information, based on building a knowledge graph for each organization and then using that to power intent-based search, contextual suggestions and other AI-based functions still in development.
In the blog post I quoted at the top of this article, Nucci struck a chord with the assertion that we have to build a whole new way of working. The existing knowledge structures of the enterprise still owe far too much to their paper-based origins, even when they've been absorbed into wholly digital constructs. New digital-native structures are needed, and I think Guru has come up with a strongly digital-native architecture. Moving away from a traditional document-centric model, it is built around highly componentized microcontent containers, enriched with crucial metadata. This is an architecture that can be deployed in a much more modular way and is more adaptable as the organization's knowledge evolves.
A further advantage is that it can sit above the various tools that an organization is already using to share content and collaborate. It's becoming increasingly clear that few organizations are going to be able to standardize on a single vendor's digital teamwork toolset. This is why I talk about the Collaborative Canvas as an architecture that every enterprise must design to accommodate and unify the different tools that each role and function needs to adopt for its own specific needs. I think Guru is a good example of a tool that can play a unifying role, providing a means of connecting to knowledge that needs to be accessible across the organization. In that sense there are similarities to Atlassian's recent introduction of Atlas, which aims to play a similar role across task management. It may be that overarching layers like these will become an essential component in the Collaborative Canvas.