Not Fade Away: A Knowledge Retention Strategy That Works

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The so-called Baby Boom generation – people born between 1946 and 1964 – are today roughly between 50 and 70 years old, and so are now either past, at or near retirement age. This group constitutes a significant chunk of today’s experienced workforce and it cannot be easily replaced. The generation following the baby boomers (the so-called ‘Generation X’, 30-40 year olds) are much fewer in number and are not as well represented in trades like field service and product support. The looming gap in service personnel will necessitate a radical overhaul of how companies recruit, train and enable technicians to deliver customer and product support.

Making matters worse, the collective experience of these (soon-to-be) retirees has not been captured or documented. When they leave, critical knowledge about diagnosing, maintaining and repairing equipment will go with them, unless companies quickly implement strategies for capturing and preserving their experience, while it is still available for capture. Without a proper strategy for collecting critical knowledge and delivering it to inexperienced technicians service levels will plummet and costs soar.

This product support issue is magnified in the world of complex equipment like planes, trains and automobiles, but also in other domains (semiconductor, medical, robotics, manufacturing, etc.), where proper diagnosis and fast repairs rely heavily on a technician’s expertise/experience. While machine self-diagnosis is improving it remains far from perfect, and is therefore not a viable alternative to experience. Making matters worse, emerging self-diagnosis capabilities in machines are largely associated with new designs and digital controls, but that’s not the profile of most equipment currently being supported in the field. All of this is happening at a time when the aerospace industry (and other industries) are predicting a huge demand for additional technicians based on scheduled equipment deliveries.

Judging by current press coverage, as well as conferences and papers concerning ‘grey-out’ and knowledge retention, effective retention tools appear to be scarce or simply nonexistent. In the world of complex systems, methodologies for the proper capture, validation and preservation of experience are at best convoluted and inefficient, at worst hopelessly inadequate. Knowledge management does not necessarily mean knowledge retention – a knowledge management approach with a “searchable database” is not a solution to the problem of preserving perishable knowledge. However, real solutions do exist.

CaseBank’s interactive guided diagnostic system is a prime example of delivering experience to those in need and capturing experience from those who possess it. CaseBank replaces fault isolation manuals (FIM) and troubleshooting guides (TSG) with a database of failure modes (symptoms and solutions) and a diagnostic reasoning engine that dynamically evaluates the database to provide an optimized troubleshooting process that minimizes cost and time. By using such a database, an unlimited number of failure modes can be included, new symptoms and configurations can be easily added, and troubleshooting sessions can be evaluated (to detect emerging problems). In those cases where a solution is not found, the system triggers an escalation process to engage experts – who are largely the greying-out population – thereby effectively capturing important details to modify a failure mode or generate a new one.

The dialog and forensics that occur during and after problem escalation are the key to efficient knowledge retention. Over time, tacit or tribal knowledge will be formally captured, validated and preserved in the database, available to the generations of technicians and support personnel that follow.

In addition to incorporating all known and anticipated failure modes, the fault isolation database can also incorporate information derived from maintenance reports, maintenance records and other field data. CaseBank provides sophisticated analysis tools that extract meaningful information from service records and field reports to expand the database with additional failure modes, observations, symptoms and root causes.

The CaseBank approach to guided diagnostics delivers validated troubleshooting processes derived from both engineering and field service to withstand the demands of equipment OEMs and operators and the scrutiny and rigor of regulatory bodies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

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