Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

Expertise On Demand

February 5th, 2015 / in CIFellows, Research News / by Helen Wright



The following is a guest blog post by Sharoda Paul, former Computing Community Consortium (CCC) CI Fellow now Collaboration Researcher at GE Global Research

In 2011, GE embarked on a multibillion-dollar initiative called the Industrial Internet. Their vision was to augment industrial assets with sensors and connect them to a common platform that would leverage advanced analytics for efficiency gains. While it’s easy to focus on the power of big iron and big data when thinking about the Industrial Internet, the people who work on industrial assets are equally critical to delivering results. Just as intelligent machines can deliver the right information to the right people at the right time, the Industrial Internet is now making human expertise available whenever and wherever it is needed.

As part of GE’s Connected Experience Labs, I’ve been working on collaboration tools that connect industrial workers to the right information and resources in real time. When a technician is examining equipment issues at a customer site, such as a power plant, she needs to access relevant information at a moment’s notice and collaborate with experts who can provide technical advice. Hence, we worked with our Power Generation Services (PGS) business to re-image mobile collaboration in industrial contexts. We designed a mobile application, called Ask an Expert, which allows technicians to conduct multi-party, real-time collaboration with colleagues and experts.

Ask an Expert allows users to create collaboration sessions where they can share in-situ video and photos about problems, pull up relevant documents and photos, and collaboratively annotate these documents in real time. In designing this app, we followed a user-centered design process that included user research at power plants and rail yards to understand the challenges and needs of industrial workers. A paper describing our research was recently presented at the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS) held in Kauai, HI.

It’s not enough to just be able to ask an expert; finding the right expert is also crucial. It is often hard for large, globally dispersed organizations to maintain up-todate directories of employees’ expertise or to motivate employees to maintain their own internal profiles. In response, we developed another tool, Find an Expert, that automatically infers expertise from employee-generated documents. Technicians enter a few keywords into the tool to describe their problem and are presented with a list of relevant experts based on logs of previous case resolutions.

In designing the user interface for Find an Expert, we explored the question, “How do we represent recommended experts to users?”. Through several interviews with product engineering experts and technicians, we evaluated different visualization techniques and user interface designs to see which would best support technicians in selecting the right expert. We found that visually representing the topics of expertise for an individual, along with information about their availability and experience, worked best.

Tools like Ask an Expert and Find an Expert augment the social intelligence of an organization and enable efficient problem solving between humans. As we move closer to realizing the vision of the Industrial Internet, such tools have the potential to enable intelligent collaboration between humans and machines as well.

Expertise On Demand

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