Knowledge is a vital asset in any modern organization. Yet, while many companies are investing in knowledge management solutions, traditional tools typically fail to bring useful information to employees when they need it most, i.e. when faced with an urgent problem or question. To meet this need, Wouter Van den Bosch and Bruno Koninckx developed KnowledgeFlow, an innovative tool that captures and distributes knowledge in a structured and user-friendly way, while making sure that it is accessible from any device. In addition, the tool makes it possible to easily train and test employees’ knowledge on a regular basis.
From one-off project to start-up
Although the KnowledgeFlow start-up was founded in March 2016, the story actually began in 2011 – when Wouter Van den Bosch and Bruno Koninckx were asked to develop a knowledge platform for AVEVE Retail, the largest chain of garden centers in Belgium. What started as a one-off project turned out to be the beginning of a whole new start-up adventure.
For AVEVE, sharing knowledge and expertise between employees is essential as customers expect shop assistants to be well-acquainted with the products on offer. So what AVEVE needed was a tool that allowed them to get information to staff members quickly, while at work in the shop. And that’s where traditional knowledge management tools typically fall short.
“Many existing solutions are document-based,” explains Wouter Van den Bosch “Companies collect information in a mass of Word or PDF documents that they make available to their employees through a shared drive, cloud or collaborative platform. But if a customer asks you a face-to-face question, you don’t have the time to skim through a 6-page document to find the answer.”
That’s why the KnowledgeFlow team developed a whole new content platform tailored to AVEVE’s needs. Wouter Van den Bosch: “Our principal aim is to make knowledge usable. To do this, information needs to be captured in a structured, consistent and concise way. Moreover, it needs to be accessible from any device at any time. And we focus on making our tool very user-friendly, thus lowering the threshold for employees to add new information themselves.”
The concept they developed for AVEVE mirrors the kind of questions end-consumers might ask. By entering a short search query or by quickly scanning a product’s bar code with their phone, employees can access a structured information sheet that outlines that product’s main properties and advantages.
Because all the data is inserted in the same question-oriented format, it is easy to re-use the information for other purposes, e.g. employee training by means of a gamified app. Wouter Van den Bosch: “The tests are really short (about 5 mins) and because they can be done on a mobile phone, employees can do them whenever they have a moment to spare. If they score well on these tests, they obtain a higher ranking in the game.” Employees can do the tests on their own incentive or as part of a training program, e.g. to become acquainted with a new product range.
This training tool also makes it easier for new employees to find their way around and helps them to provide correct answers to customers’ queries even on their first day. Moreover, data on these training sessions and tests give HR and management a real-time overview of the staff’s in-house competencies. AVEVE has even calculated that using the tool has allowed them to reduce their training budget with 20%.
Wouter Van den Bosch and Bruno Koninckx soon noticed that AVEVE was not the only company struggling with efficient knowledge management. So, in 2016 they decided to start their own company. Drawing on their experience with AVEVE, they created a new, more advanced platform based on the same principles. Today, the platform consists of standard templates (Q&A, product sheet, procedure, etc.) that can be adapted or modified depending on companies’ specific needs.
The software is developed to function as a low-treshold, bottom-up system to which employees can easily add new information, which is then verified by other colleagues.
Beyond software: defining and meeting users’ needs
KnowledgeFlow’s connection with imec runs deep. Founder Wouter Van den Bosch, worked for imec as a prototyper at the imec.livinglabs department. “I enjoyed developing prototypes and testing them in a living lab context, but after doing that for about 6 years I wanted to go beyond the living lab and take my chances in the market with real users in a day-to-day professional context.”
In November 2016, KnowledgeFlow joined the imec.istart program. The istart team was especially impressed with the start-up’s well-considered vision on how to make sure knowledge is accessible on the work floor and is kept up to date. Luc Jacobs (imec.istart innovation manager) explains: “Knowledge management is not new; it has been around for a while. But one of the drawbacks of traditional systems is that the stored knowledge quickly becomes outdated after having been uploaded."
"What we liked about KnowledgeFlow is that they have found a way to complement the traditional top-down flow with a bottom-up approach. This makes it possible to keep information up to date and taps into the knowledge available on the work floor.”
When asked which advice he’d give other tech start-ups, Wouter Van den Bosch is clear: “It’s not just about developing software, but about developing software that employees will actually use. You need to do thorough user research before launching your product. Imec.livinglabs is helping us with this. And even before we officially launched KnowledgeFlow, we already relied on imec’s elaborate expertise in market research to determine companies’ needs with respect to knowledge management.”
One of these needs is that they require more than just functional, user-friendly software. They need guidance to identify which knowledge needs to be captured. To a certain extent, the tool itself facilitates this by keeping track of employees’ search queries. This way it is easy to define what the most frequently asked questions are. But the KnowledgeFlow team also helps companies to define their needs. Wouter Van den Bosch: “Both Bruno and I have acquired extensive experience with knowledge management in an organizational context. I believe that an important added value of our company is that we have become very good at coaching and accelerating this initial need-defining process.”
The next step: scaling up
KnowledgeFlow is currently being further developed in collaboration with a few key customers, including AVEVE Retail, Bioplanet (part of the Colruyt Group) and Friesland Campina. Wouter Van den Bosch: “By the end of this year, we want to properly launch our platform. In 2018, we then want to explore scaling opportunities – in Belgium but also in neighbouring countries.”
Today, KnowledgeFlow mainly targets companies in the retail and production sector, as market research suggested a clear need here, but the platform also offers perspectives for other sectors (e.g. banking and finance, medical sector).
Content-wise, KnowledgeFlow is experimenting with ways to motivate employees to continuously add and update information. Wouter Van den Bosch explains: “Through the gamified learning app, you can see how knowledge is distributed amongst your employees. In other words, you know who your experts are and what they are specialized in. We want to be able to motivate those employees to add more information on their field of expertise and then automatically have it checked by other experts. By gently nudging them by sending targeted, short requests through the app, we hope to make capturing knowledge through a bottom-up approach even more intuitive and spontaneous.”
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Wouter Van den Bosch is a seasoned technologist with a passion for collaborative software and knowledge management. He’s been working as a developer and technologist since 1999. Amongst others, he worked as a researcher & project manager on ICT innovation at the university college Thomas More (Memori research group). In 2011, he then joined the imec.livinglabs team as a senior prototyper and technical lead, helping both SME’s and start-ups with designing their innovations.
In 2016, Wouter co-founded KnowledgeFlow. He manages the development team and takes the technical lead in designing the platform, translating users’ needs to the information architecture to create the best user-experience.
Bruno Koninckx works as a project manager and researcher. Since 2003, he has been working as a researcher at the Memori-group at Thomas More, where he mainly specializes in digital and mobile media and innovation. He coordinated a number of government-funded Flemish and European projects on e-government, e-participation, e-reading and tourist innovation. Most of his research projects focus on the end-user and on developing the right business model for innovation. He also has his own company, DigitArte bvba, which helps companies and organizations to set up digital innovation with regard to collaboration, knowledge sharing and communication. In 2016, he co-founded KnowledgeFlow. At the moment, he works for the company part-time
26 October 2017