I've written recently about how unfortunate it is when businesses don't know what they don't know. Whatever their particular organizational biases (age or gender) or structural barriers (hierarchy or bureaucracy) may be that interfere with open and effective company-wide communication, the bottom line is that they're flying at least partly blind and it's actually an easy fix. (See This Common Communication Mistake is Destroying Your Productivity .)

The only worse sin in my book is not effectively using materials and other assets that you've already bought and paid for. Waste not, want not. I'm sure this all started in my childhood with the "clean plate" rule-- especially when the family occasionally went out to eat --and I'm also sure that there are fancier formulations for this philosophy, but where I'm from, the basic rule with purchased goods and services was "pay once, use often" until you used up the very last drop. Sorta like the old Maxwell House coffee slogan.

This economical disposition is also probably the main reason that I love all platform businesses-- you build these babies one time and, if you do it right, they pay you back almost in perpetuity. (See The Primacy of the Platform and What the Power of the Platform Means for Your Company.) My first grownup business (CCC Information Services) is 36 years old this year and still going strong, with about 1,900 employees worldwide. It's all based on my plan to build a computerized vehicle valuation platform, as well as a national network, which quickly became the de facto standard for the entire insurance industry. Of course, it didn't hurt that CCC was aggressively well-managed and ranked first in profitability among all of the companies listed on the Inc. 100 Lists for 1986 and 1987. 

So when I first heard about Chicago-based KnowledgeHound, I was pretty excited because I saw it as a SaaS startup that was addressing a large and important problem: the inefficiencies in the way corporations were spending billions of dollars on market research and surveys.  KnowledgeHound has a pretty basic solution with two compelling attributes: (1) it can save its customers (and their clients) millions of dollars, as well as enormous amounts of valuable team time, while increasing productivity; and (2) it has all the makings of a powerful platform both in terms of its basic service offerings and its ability to morph into a marketplace as well.

The Problem - Corporate Amnesia

Major consumer products companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year constructing, assigning and fielding market research projects and then summarily reviewing and incorporating the survey and research results into proposals, pitches, and other internal presentations to a variety of audiences. Then they file the reports into a desktop folder or a drawer somewhere and promptly forget  them. Days, weeks or months later, someone else in the company with a similar kind of inquiry has absolutely no idea of what research is already in house and authorizes a new and often completely redundant research job. This wasteful, costly process goes on and on. There is simply no simple way to know what's there.

If you ask someone about the problem, they will usually explain that the old research is off point or out of date. Even apart from the fact that they don't know what they're talking about because they don't know what's out there, the bigger issues are that: (a) almost all of these reports come back with a variety of related findings that may be precisely on point; and (b) the very age of the prior research may be invaluable if the new questions and inquiries have to do with trend lines, changes in attitudes or different behaviors. 

The Solution - A Seeing-Eye System

KnowledgeHound offers a very basic answer. Its system permits the rapid retrieval and reuse of relevant research that is already owned and paid for by the client-- wherever it may be located-- and without regard to who initially authorized it or its prior uses. Every report is located, tagged and flagged, and then added to the master indices. After an initial (and admittedly somewhat painful) intake, conversion and organization process done by KnowledgeHound, the client gets direct and immediate searchable access to all of the research results. That includes both direct findings and adjacent/tangential observations and conclusions--anything anywhere in the company's files and archives through a KH dashboard that virtually anyone in the company can quickly learn to use.  In addition to a powerful search engine, the KH system provides analytics and a straightforward visualization tool so that the retrieved and repurposed results can be quickly and clearly presented to all interested parties inside and outside of the company.

The Platform and "The Signal in the Noise"

And here's where the KnowledgeHound story gets really interesting.

First, it's a bit of an uphill slog to get all the old research reports at each firm categorized, input and discoverable. Once that task is completed, the worm turns and each participating firm (with KH's help) can start to impose new submission criteria and formats on its vendors as well as some process and increased discipline both internally and externally so that all future reports go quickly, clearly and very efficiently into the retrieval system. The KH template could readily become the industry standard for submittals and reports. In addition, each company can require polling of the existing KH database as a condition to initiate new research requests. This is all in the interest of saving time and money and increasing the speed and responsiveness of their businesses to client requests for information as well.

Second, with all of the company's data in a single location, new insights can be gleaned that would very likely have never been seen before.  KnowledgeHound's automated technology will be able to identify important and unique signals in the noise of millions of data points that historically have never before been systematically assembled.  This technology has the potential to further a company's ability to identify trends early and to gather practical insights and make connections that would have otherwise escaped its attention.  Large and acquisitive consumer products firms will now be able to identify the next food trends before new competitors recognize the opportunities and jump into the market and eventually force the major players to buy their startups for substantial sums.       

Here again, in the winner-take-all nature of the platform world, there won't be numerous places to go to search for these reports. KnowledgeHound could quickly become the biggest dog on the block.