Back in 1993, renowned management guru Peter Drucker posited that knowledge, rather than capital or labor, was the only meaningful resource in a society. The statement was made against the backdrop of rapidly changing paradigms. The world was moving from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy and today this transition is almost complete. The gathering, dissemination, and proliferation of knowledge in an organization, or knowledge management, has become a thriving industry. A study by the IDC shows that employees spend approximately nine hours per week searching for information they need to do their job. Organizations and businesses have shifted their focus from re-engineering processes and achieving industrial efficiency to mobilizing their employee passions and interests to generate knowledge and letting knowledge or learning bubble up through informal channels.
In a rapidly changing technology landscape, knowledge sharing presents a unique challenge for businesses and enterprises. Three overarching factors are the defining hallmarks of today’s knowledge industry:
- Knowledge has proliferated across multiple media formats: Information is not restricted to regulated, internal channels. Instead, workers access learning from a variety of sources and websites, internal and external. This learning is available in various formats including audio, video, and text. - Knowledge has become multi-platform: The consumerization of technology (and rise of the Bring Your Own Device era) means that learning occurs on multiple devices including phones, tablets, and personal computers. - Knowledge has become mobile: The advent of cloud technology has increasingly given rise to mobile transactions during which workers conduct transactions from home or in the field.
Furthermore, according to research by Jay Cross and the Internet Group, 80 percent of workplace learning nowadays occurs informally. In such a scenario, capturing informal knowledge creation can be a difficult task as it requires technologies to identify, assimilate, and filter data from these channels.
Given these challenges, how can businesses ensure knowledge creation, dissemination, and retention?
According to research from Gartner, a good knowledge management solution is a composite of several attributes, some of which are outlined below:
- Sharing and collaboration features: The solution allows both internal collaboration between users and also enables various applications to collaborate with each other. - Searching, retrieval, and navigation features: The solution enables users to search and retrieve relevant information quickly and easily. It also enables easy navigation. - Analytics and integration with third-party features: The solution provides meaningful information and analytics for businesses. In addition, the solution should easily integrate with the rest of the organization, technically and functionally.
Given these attributes, a key point in answering the question of knowledge sharing lies in assimilating the benefits and current trends of social sharing for a few main reasons. First, a large amount of information, economic or trivial, is exchanged via social networks. Second, social networks provide an open and transparent means of communication. Third, they can be leveraged to democratize information by changing the flow of information from a top-down approach to horizontal one. Finally, they are excellent tools to build communities channels by encouraging conversations and discussions between employees.
According to Gartner, social networks heighten collaborative practices by forming teams, communities, and informal groups to work on the same objects. In turn, this helps organizations access “relevant knowledge and expertise that can be used to formulate a plan of action when decisions need to be made.” Information, gathered at the right time, reviewed by the right individuals, and acted on while the information maintains its highest levels of relevance is the key to making the best business decisions.
However, although social networks enable the distribution of information in a speedy manner, by their very nature, social networks are unstructured and freewheeling. Discussions in social sharing networks often involve and include content and references from multiple sources, internal and external. For any knowledge sharing solution to succeed, it must identify ways to assimilate social networks with an organized and insightful structure and continue to provide the transparency necessary for a meaningful social stream.
Bloomfire integrates a unified social paradigm with knowledge sharing as it structures knowledge and data from multiple channels and sources into a cohesive whole, straddling multiple competencies and focus areas. For example, Bloomfire enables users to follow each other to form social connections. In addition, hosting interactions in the cloud enables users to upload and share files across multiple teams and stakeholders. The resulting niche is a mix of several technologies and features from enterprise software, learning management systems, social networking platforms, content management, and file-sharing systems. In short, this niche comprises the Unified Social Knowledge Sharing tool.
The chart below provides a snapshot of Bloomfire’s major specifications:
Because it is flexible and scalable, Bloomfire can be used across multiple organization types. According to its founders, Bloomfire is used by small, medium, and large organizations.
Within each organization size Bloomfire targets specific stakeholders. The solution’s stakeholders for small businesses are owners and principals interested in maximizing efficiency using knowledge-sharing practices. Within medium and large organizations, Bloomfire targets team leaders, project managers, and collaborative areas (such as areas that require co-ordination between multiple departments) that are prone to communication breakdown. Bloomfire is not specific to verticals; instead, its flexible customization strategies make it usable by most departments within an organization. To address the needs of specific departments, the solution can be integrated with third-party solutions to provide a comprehensive and holistic view of all businesses.
However, these are macro-stakeholders. At the micro level, Bloomfire is about mass collaboration. Mass collaboration involves participation. The participation, in turn, translates into artifact ownership. By incorporating social sharing as a vital aspect of their solution, Bloomfire has co-opted employees as stakeholders into the process.
Business Problems Addressed
Bloomfire addresses these major business problems:
Employee engagement: Bloomfire aims to engage and co-opt employees into the knowledge sharing process through social sharing and formation of communities. Sales enablement: Bloomfire aims to streamline the sales process by making efficient use of knowledge and resources gained from past sales processes. Productivity gains: Bloomfire aims to increase productivity by decentralizing information flow and enabling conversations between employees about important topics. Simplified processes: Bloomfire adds structure to knowledge gained through social sharing and integrates them with existing processes within an organization. Through a simplified administrative interface to manage roles and permissions simply and effectively. Expensive costs and integration: Bloomfire aims to solve the problem of expensive licensing costs by adopting the SaaS pricing model. In addition, it is scalable and can be integrated with other programs using its REST API. It is also equipped with prebuilt connectors to major enterprise applications such as LinkedIn, Salesforce, and Google.
Bloomfire is a unified social knowledge sharing tool. It provides a channel for employees to share knowledge and insight. In addition, it enables users and employees to self-engage and form communities, based on their business function and areas of expertise.
Bloomfire can easily adapt to the needs of various business functions for its users. Some popular uses of the application include corporate learning, sales enablement, customer support, and partner support. In each of the uses outlined above, Bloomfire works by forming communities and enabling content creation around topics of interest.
We analyzed key features of the solution and tested each feature of the solution for ease-of-use and utility. Our findings are are outlined below:
Content Creation: Content creation is at the heart of knowledge sharing since learning is disseminated through effective content. Bloomfire simplifies content aggregation, creation, and dissemination through multiple features. Additional software is not required to create or disseminate content. For example, the solution enables users to record a webcam video or make screencasts with a voice over from within the tool.
Bloomfire supports multiple content formats and types. Content can be created in multiple formats including text, video, and audio. In addition, the solution organizes and retrieves content using powerful filter and search features. In essence, users can organize disparate pieces of content from several sources and platforms into a meaningful big picture.
Sharing and collaboration: Bloomfire takes advantage of the social paradigm by enabling the right information to get the right audience. “When companies use social media internally, messages become content,” (McKinsey Global Institute). Bloomfire creates searchable content, which has proven to reduce employees search time by 35 percent. Users can add content from popular social media sites such as popular news outlets, or YouTube and places it into a structured social stream. The contributor can then share this information with select groups or individuals, eliminating clutter and “noise” over the social network. An interested user can decide to follow the post, or the contributing member, and post commentary. Also new users who are picking up the trails of older discussions, such as a newly on-boarded employee can find wholesome answers to their questions, and ask for updated information. If answers to their queries are absent, users can start a social stream of their own by asking the question in a real-time question and answer platform and promoting it within their respective communities.
Whilst organizing social streams is at the heart of Bloomfire’s utility as a knowledge sharing tool, the solution uses several additional mechanisms to structure and organize social content. For example, Bloomfire follows many features of mainstream social media tools such as tagging to enable quick categorization and retrieval of content.
In addition to enabling simpler navigation, the feature also helps in content discovery and community formation around specific topics. Once categories have been established, users can browse by category or media type. Similarly, notifications (similar to the Facebook notification feature) display a snapshot of activity in a given social feed. The upside of these features is that a collaborative environment is established.
Administration and Integration: The unending stream of comments and conversations on social media should typically provide for strict administrative policies. Yet, administration represents an anomaly within the context of social media because communities here are self-forming. They aggregate and disseminate information based on interests and knowledge. As such, Bloomfire takes an efficient stand on administrative duties.
Content posts can be moderated, and role management forms an integral part of administrative duties. Users can be categorized into owners, administrators, learners, and authors. Learners have personalized account settings, can search for content, ask question and make comments; Authors additionally can answer questions and contribute content; Administrators additionally can control membership privileges, contribute featured content, can edit posts, and have override authority for content; the Owner can additionally manage the overall community settings, appearance (including customized branding). The administrative interface is easy to use which in itself reduces administrative overhead. Further overhead is reduced through self-regulation features such as tagging and categorizing. Thus, learners and authors are empowered to organize content and disseminate content to the best targeted audience.
User rights can be controlled by individual features such as registration, email notifications, public access, content uploading, and downloading. Bloomfire uses a REST API to integrate with other programs. It simplifies integration and data exchange between programs. Additional usage and mapping instructions of API usage are documented for less technical users. In addition, the solution has prebuilt connectors for Salesforce, LinkedIn and Google.
This section outlines Bloomfire’s key differentiators from other, similar solutions in the knowledge management and enterprise social network spaces:
- Employee engagement:Unlike other knowledge management solutions that rely solely on user-generated content to engage employees, Bloomfire adds a social spin to knowledge management and closes the gap of knowledge creation. Through features such as following, commenting, and sharing of media content, users are encouraged to learn from each other, and allows the best responses to come from a co-worker in the same department, a boss, or a member of another department with differentiating insight. Bloomfire converts learning from a formal, pedagogical activity to a fun, accessible and collaborative activity. If the answer is not found amongst tagged posts, media sources or comments, users can pose a question to find the answer, and are encouraged to do so within Bloomfire. In the process, it taps into the informal channels of learning at work and makes online socializing a productive activity for employees.
- Sales Enablement: The core of a customer’s understanding of a product or service is a positive experience and perception of the product during the sales process. This perception is largely dictated by a salesman’s expertise and understanding of the product and its utility. Only by a thorough understanding of these specifics can the salesman establish a sale proposition that is unique to the customer.
Bloomfire facilitates the salesman’s education by providing information and best practices at a click´s reach. It provides access to the latest information, analytics, and tips to sales professionals through its search feature. In addition, analytics, such as multiple types of reporting or analysis including content and trends of recent occurrences with users, and tips are easily accessible through the analytics dashboard. You can also use Bloomfire to ensure all members of your sales team stay up to date with features that allow you to see who has seen what content, and when.
Finally, Bloomfire is an excellent tool for storing Intellectual Property (IP) in-house. It reduces the risk of IP theft by capturing process, expertise, and trade practices. This method is a unique way to unlock organizational knowledge to ensure further competitiveness and elevate performance across the board.
Ease of content creation and administration:Bloomfire simplifies content creation by including features that enable businesses and large organizations to aggregate and disseminate large amounts of information into relevant and digestible content formats.
Bloomfire supports multiple file types and formats to ensure portable and mobile content storage. Because it has an intuitive interface, the solution requires very little training. Wizards further simplify content creation, thus users can write, create, upload or link to such bite-sized content from across the web easily. This approach finds an echo in the solution’s administration policies and interface. Popular industry solutions for learning management take a centralized approach to administration. In addition to involving expensive hardware, such solutions curtail user actions and increase administrative overhead.
Bloomfire’s approach is an integrated one. Security is controlled down to individual users by using role-based management. Each role has specific user privileges associated with it. In addition, Bloomfire enables companies to monetize their blog or knowledge by using content membership privileges, thus decreasing administrative overhead and empowering employees.
Increased productivity and collaboration:Bloomfire uses a logical and intuitive interface for knowledge capture by converting the distraction of a typical social stream into a contextual stream of enduring content. This approach is a smart one because it converges social business and content management practices. We like Bloomfire’s approach to sharing and collaboration as well. This approach tackles the problem by providing a light touch to the self-regulating and self-engaging social network paradigm. A modified version of the popular “social stream” has been integrated into the interface and a sensible design of administrative management ensures that users are empowered to police out excesses from the stream. Finally, the solution has cross-channel integration that ensures you can invite external and internal users to join the Bloomfire community. The series creation enables users to create custom video or multimedia playlists that can be used as learning sequences. This is an easy way to automate training, create workflows, and organize successive tasks and operations.
Bloomfire is a SaaS-based solution that is contract free and scalable. Unlike other LMS solutions Bloomfire adds no extra charges for file storage including documents, uploads, downloads, or streaming. Monthly pricing plans include phone tech support and online support. Pricing is based upon total number of users, or by number of users in each role.
The web has opened a flood of learning resources for enterprises. It has reduced costs, extended learning channels and increased learning efficiencies. However, these benefits are only available to businesses that understand the new ways that we are absorbing and spreading information. By incorporating important elements of social curation and automation, Bloomfire remains a step ahead of the curve. It offers the advantages of reduced costs with increased employee engagement and productivity. The solution has created a tool for knowledge sharing and adoption and carved a new vertical of its own.