Automation Process Knowledge Management

Tribal Knowledge - New Tools Are Putting Process Know-How into Online Pools, Letting Newbies Access More Useful Knowledge, and Even Awakening Some On-the-Job Training Efforts

By Jim Montague

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To replicate some veteran awareness, Conner says Project Graybeard worked with PAS' Integrity software and Automation Genome Mapping software to develop a new application that can reach into databases and secure explicit and tacit information, such as incident reports, maintenance records, automation configurations and other data. It will be released later this year or early in 2012. "This tool works in the same way as an expert source," adds Conner. "It says, ‘You asked for this, but you also need to know this.' For example, a user may want to change the controls on an oxygen compressor, and this tool will push documents to them about design, maintenance, incidents and safety interlocks."  

Creating Communities, Training Tribes

To help it capture explicit and tacit knowledge—and especially the instinctive methods of veteran operators and engineers at specific plants—Honeywell Process Solutions ( has formed more than 10 "Communities of Practice" during the past two years, and plans to have 20 up and running by the end of this year. Enabled by Microsoft's Sharepoint tools, these online groups are organized around vertical markets, such as oil and gas refining, mining or pulp and paper, or around technical areas such as advanced solutions, lifecycle solutions or other categories. The model for these communities was Honeywell's APC group, and each includes a global collaboration section and an information optimization section. So far, these communities have about 1500 total members. Every community is managed and led by rotating subject-matter expert leaders, but the whole community captures and archives the best practices it needs in a wiki-type platform, and drafts and carries out other goals.

"In the past, these kinds of groups were very ad hoc, and used service management or customer relationship management (CRM) tools. Now these communities of practice are much more organized, easier to use, and have become of the daily lives of many engineers that use them," says John Sorensen, Honeywell's director of services. "For example, if a user needs the right algorithms for a PLC or DCS in a specific application, such as a German pharmaceutical manufacturer building a greenfield plant in the U.S., then he can pull the best practices for those components from the community's veteran users, such as the unique tweaks for those types of controllers."

However, if you want to recruit and organize your own team or tribe, there are several key steps, according to Polytron (, an Atlanta-based process and packaging SI (Table 1). In his whitepaper, "Tribal Knowledge," ( Polytron's technology transfer and training manager, Rande Allen emphasizes building a new organizational culture instead of trying to change or replace an old one, which can help counteract resistance. "To create a new tribe, care must be taken to ensure that trainees from all shifts are taught together simultaneously. This is done to make sure all have the same knowledge base, and to begin building the new bonds and common language that are vitally important for a successful tribe," stated Allen. "Next, because so much tribal knowledge is verbal, steps must be taken to encourage tribal knowledge sharing, recording and dissemination. Finally, there must be a means by which tribal knowledge and resulting innovations can travel from employees up to management."     

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