When I was leading the Technical Services team for a large education publishing company, one of the things we spent a considerable amount of time on was searching for information that we needed to answer questions and solve problems. The information we needed was spread out over a variety of different systems and repositories and much of it was outdated or incomplete. My team spent upwards of a quarter of their time looking for the right information, often with a customer waiting.
Implementing Slack was an important step forward because it allowed a level of frictionless collaboration that our existing tools—like email—could not provide. But it did not solve the root problem—that it was too difficult and took too long to find the information we needed.
Discovering a new tool
Then one day one of my more creative problem solvers on the team came to me with a suggestion that we try out a new tool that promised to solve this knowledge management problem. This new tool was called Guru, from a company founded in Philadelphia by Rick Nucci and Mitchell Stewart.
It turned out that I knew Rick from a prior stint at Dell—Rick’s first successful start-up, Boomi, was purchased by Dell in 2010—so I agreed to a pilot which turned into a full rollout six months later. It was hugely successful.
The quality of knowledge available to my team increased while the amount of time searching for it was cut by more than half. Guru also transformed our knowledge base from a bunch of static repositories to a dynamic knowledge ecosystem that was integrated right into our workflows. One of my team members summed it up nicely when she told me that Guru “gave her superpowers.” In all my career, I don’t think I ever saw another software product have such rapid adoption and dramatic impact on productivity.
When I subsequently decided to leave the corporate world to start Ka'ana Solutions, I knew that Guru would have an important role to play. Just like a business, schools and school districts have the same challenges with managing knowledge, and maybe more so, given the resource constraints that IT teams struggle with. That's why one of the core functions that the students in the Ka'ana Solutions program are focusing on is building the same kind of dynamic knowledge base to provide support to teachers, students, and families and give “superpowers” to the support team. As we have been piloting this solution, it has become more and more apparent how applicable the Guru model is to education. Schools may not have a “sales” team, but a primary function of a school is delivering learning success.
The SaaS: School as a Service
At its core, education is a service industry, with administrators and teachers providing services to customers: students and their families, and a critical function of high-quality service delivery is knowledge management. In schools, knowledge management is most typically associated with teaching and learning and the content and lessons that teachers use to provide student instruction.
However, there are other aspects to knowledge management that also have a significant impact on customer (learner) success, such as providing excellent support to all the stakeholders in the learning process—teachers, students and families—especially as it relates to using tools that support important processes (ie accessing assignments, documenting projects, using laptops and checking on grades).
The students working for Ka'ana Solutions are building a knowledge base that is dynamic and tailored to the needs of the schools we serve, facilitating collaboration and giving the students an opportunity to innovate using the same kinds of transformational tools used by fast-growing companies like Slack, Intercom, and Duolingo. I have no doubt also that our students will come up with new ways to utilize this kind of technology, and I am excited to see where it goes.
Knowledge management in a knowledge culture
This whole experience with Guru has also had me thinking deeply about the concept of knowledge management and its role in teaching and learning. Guru may have been designed to support customer-facing “revenue teams,” but it presents a framework that is much broader in scope. For example, we are using Guru to manage the traditional kinds of knowledge that a technical support team might care about, but it is also being used to transfer other kinds of knowledge to people.
In the corporate implementation I mentioned, we used it to push out HR-related information and provide visibility to marketing programs being deployed. For instance, when we rolled out organizational changes for one of our teams, we put the information in a Guru card and posted it on Slack. This made it easy for everyone to find, and we could make sure that everyone actually reviewed it. And any questions about it could be handled right in Slack.
At Ka'ana Solutions, in addition to the core knowledge management function, we are using Guru to manage training programs for the student workers and to build asynchronous collaborative communications skills. When students onboard, they have a series of Cards to review which provide them with information about the company and the work they will do, and will guide them through activities that help them begin to build core skills.
The more that we use it, the more applications we find for it. It's actually not a stretch to imagine it being used one day as a repository for teacher lesson content and for student knowledge synthesis and creation.
Right now, we have students using Guru to build a “student success portal” for their school, where knowledge that will support students at the start of the school year is being collected, validated and organized for easy access. During the school year, we'll also be creating similar knowledge Collections for teachers and parents.The Guru team has been an excellent partner for us in this whole endeavor, but our success with the platform has also been due to how simple it is to get up and running and how intuitive it is. As we have more usage, we'll also begin to explore the AI functionality that promises to expand the value proposition even further—and give our students a real-world example of the role that AI can play in industry. Our students will both be creating new knowledge content and managing it for our end-users. We will be providing updates throughout the school year as our work progresses.