This article originally appeared on Venture Beat on September 8, 2015
Take a moment to look around at the people you work with. Do you have a good grasp of everything they know and all the topics they’re knowledgeable about? Are you fully aware of all the connections and relationships they can leverage to help you do your job?
The likely answer is “No,” and as with everything else in the 21st Century, it turns out that there’s an app for that.
WhoKnows bills itself as the “first smart enterprise network” — a repository not just of who works for your company, but of all the topics, expertise, relationships, and interests that they possess.
The company, which has raised $3.6 million to date (led by Intel Capital, PivotNorth, and Citrix), has launched Omni Layer today. What does it do? Simply put, it allows you to leverage your internal network using any website content as its source. For example, you might be browsing a LinkedIn profile. With one click, WhoKnows will tell you everyone within your company that can help you either explain a concept on that page, or connect you to that person.
I spoke with CEO Chris Macomber about WhoKnows and Omni Layer to learn more about how this new capability can help sales teams, marketers, engineers, and more with their day-to-day tasks.
WhoKnows contextually recommends the best colleague to introduce you to for any web app, CRM, or search engine, but how does the database of workers, and the knowledge they posses, become populated in the first place?
“WhoKnows uses a combination of machine learning and slick UI to help users quickly build their employee profiles,” Macomber said. “First, the user can choose which sources she’d like WhoKnows to analyze including web profiles, articles, social content, and even email activity. Anything we discover is presented to the user for review before it’s published to protect their privacy.”
But scraping historical content only gets you so far, so I was curious to know what other tricks WhoKnows has up its sleeve to understand what each person knows.
“WhoKnows can continue to make additional recommendations of new expertise by analyzing the natural work being done through the browser,” Macomber said. “WhoKnows wants to help you get recognized for all the great work you’re already doing while ensuring you’re always in control of who can see what.”
And as we know from all the recent research I’ve conducted on how people react to personalization, that control over privacy is an important element. While WhoKnows is working in the background to identify your expertise and relationships, you still get to ultimately decide if that information is published internally to others.
Once WhoKnows understands the knowledge that is collectively possessed within the company, managers can use its analytics and reporting features to better understand gaps in the business, which is helpful for future recruiting. Individuals can use their own profiles to better understand themselves too, which could lead to higher quality self-assessments, and gives each employee data-backed evidence of areas they can improve or train in.
The new Omni Layer system allows the user to select any content within any website, and therefore any web-based application. Once a website, application, or on-page content is selected, a single click of the WhoKnows button launches a pop-up window that shows you who can help you internally with that topic, person, subject, or interest. I’ve seen WhoKnows and Omni Layer in person, and it works instantaneously to deliver the results.
“After talking with hundreds of executives and knowledge workers, we realized that organizations still barely know who knows what and who knows who within the company,” Macomber said. “As the speed of business continues to accelerate, unlocking that tacit knowledge is becoming even more critical to compete. Looking at today’s social enterprise solutions, we realized that their fundamental flaw is that they still put too much of the burden on the employee. The employee has to manually document what they know and more importantly change how they work, which is unreasonable. That’s why we wanted to build a solution that alleviates the employee burden with machine learning and contextual user experience.”
For now, WhoKnows and its Omni Layer work within a browser. I asked if the company had plans to bring this to mobile devices, much in the way that Google on Tap and Bing’s Search App for Android work now.
“WhoKnows has focused on the Web to date, but we’ll be launching our WhoKnows mobile app in Q4 this year, which will provide even more ways to put your organization’s network at your fingertips when you need it,” Macomber said. “Google Now is providing the same level of intelligence to consumers that we want to provide to knowledge workers in enterprise.”
Of course, leveraging internal knowledge becomes useful as you include higher numbers of employees, which means that WhoKnows, for now, might be more useful to larger organizations than small businesses or startups. Macomber has plans to extend the system beyond the user’s office walls.
“What I’m really excited about is allowing our customers to expand their networks outside the company into their ecosystem,” Macomber said. “Financial services and consulting firms will project their expertise to their VIP customers to tighten their relationship. Professionals, universities, and even VCs will be able to build private expertise and referral networks for their members.”
WhoKnows’ new Omni Layer capability is available from today.