CNA at KM Chicago

CNA Insurance presented their internal knowledge management solution, the Performance Support Tool, at the October 2005 KM Chicago meeting.  The tool has been developed within the Knowledge and Learning Group (part of HR), which has responsibilities for providing consistent knowledge and learning capabilities to the CNA population.  This has driven a number of their design decisions, and from the description of successes this has been a good fit for CNA.  The discussion primarily focused on the features and uptake of the tool.

At its core the Performance Support Tool (PST, or "pssst" as it is humorously spoken) is a new way to find domain-specific information for CNA employees.  It is also a first step in making a wider array of content available to CNA employees to support their work and their ongoing learning.  There are currently about a dozen domains available, such as Human Resources or Underwriting, and more are coming online as the business areas are trained and brought into the loop.  An interesting indicator of the quality of the PST is the high rate of preferential adoption of the tool when people have similar tools available to them (during transition periods).

The user-facing side of PST is designed to make "Google-like" search and structured browsing equally available, based on their user research that showed half the population prefer search and half prefer browsing.  Search gives users exactly the Google-like set of results, enhanced with metadata specific to the system.  The search capability also defaults to the current domain (one can search across all domains through the advanced search).  The browsing feature uses a familiar tree structure, based on the domain-specific taxonomy, which is created in concert with the domain experts and internal taxonomy experts.  The taxonomy might be process-based, as in the HR PST, or it might be product-based, as in an insurance line PST.  In either case (browse or search), users have easy access to the content and to a feedback loop to ask questions or provide additional information to the content owner. 

The back-end gives content authors a lot of flexibility and requires only about ten pieces of metadata, such as the effective date and the content owner.  Interestingly, there is no review and approval work flow built into the system: as soon as the content manager clicks "submit," the content appears in the appropriate PST.  All the approval and editing work is expected to be conducted before content goes into the PST.  (No one asked the question of how the review and approval information is tracked.)  Importantly, while the content managers can tweak the look of their content, the overall look and feel of each domain's PST remains the same, so that users remain comfortable interacting with the tool.

As presented, the Performance Support Tool is mostly a mechanism to get information out to CNA employees with some capability for feedback to the content owners.  The next phase for this set of tools includes collaboration spaces and an expertise locator system, along with continued addition of knowledge domains and integration with other CNA technologies.  The collaboration tool is envisioned as being closed spaces, where groups of people can work together.  If a group develops content that is to be shared with the larger CNA community, the tool is being designed to make it a simple process to move content out to the public PST.  The expertise locator system is similarly envisioned to be integrated with the other tools, so that people can easily move ideas from interchanges with experts into a PST.  Given that the Knowledge and Learning Group also handles learning initiatives, there is a vision to tie learning content into the system in some way.

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