1 64 Industry Journal Companies to watch Companies to watch: Starmind International AG How companies know what they know Reduce complexity, share experiences, manage knowledge these are crucial success factors for large organizations. The Swiss company Starmind International AG develops learning IT systems in order to connect the know-how of employees efficiently. The networks are based on current neuroscientific findings and make it possible to find the matching expert for any question in next to no time. The highly complex software is remarkably easy to use.
2 Industry Journal Companies to watch 65 CTO Marc Vontobel (left) and CEO Pascal Kaufmann founded Starmind. Swiss people are said to be deliberate and composed. Pascal Kaufmann only conforms to half the stereotype: He is indeed relaxed. But when it comes to advancing his business idea, nothing is fast enough for the 34-year-old founder of the Swiss software company Starmind International.»When something takes too long and I am dependent on others on top of that, I m getting worried,«says Kaufmann. He is not alone in feeling this way. Employees of big businesses and organizations know the situation: they suspect that the answer to their question can be found somewhere in their company. They trawl databases and the Internet, phone around, send s and lose time. Quite often without a result. So they start at the beginning and do again what a colleague has already done before. Effective knowledge management, reducing complexity, and the dissolving of knowledge monopolies are among the central challenges for all knowledge-based big businesses. And they invest enormous amounts of money in process optimization, open-space conferences, intranet tools, inter-company search engines, and in the adaptation of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Access practical knowledge Starmind goes one step further: the Swiss offer their customers the possibility to access employees individual knowledge with their software in a targeted manner. They can basically google it with an internal search request and retrieve existing know-how from their own ranks very quickly.»our businesses need to find a new way of dealing with their most important resource the know-how of their employees,«says Kaufmann. He is particularly concerned about practical knowledge, that is, with the knowledge that is not yet fixed in PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets, and documentations. It is sufficient to type a question and related keywords into a simple search mask in order to use Starmind. The learning system forwards it directly to a handful of experts who are most likely able to answer it and the one asking the question does not even know that these people exist in the company. The questioner remains anonymous in order to avoid inhibitions caused by perceived gaps of knowledge. In some businesses, questions are already placed on numerous internal platforms in the hope that somebody somewhere may answer them, but the direct approach of Starmind yields better results in most cases.»we allow a maximum of five people to answer the question. And those five will be the best ones that are available in the company,«says Marc
3 66 Industry Journal Companies to watch The management: CTO Marc Vontobel (left) and CEO Pascal Kaufmann (center) founded Starmind. Christopher Jarke (right) completes the management board.»you are what you share.«pascal Kaufmann, CEO Starmind International AG Vontobel, CTO and co-founder of Starmind. The system learns from every question All employees are asked a couple of questions when the software is implemented in order to find the best experts. They either answer it themselves or forward it to a more competent colleague. This creates the first pool of experts that serves as a basis. The system learns more with every Q and A session. It saves where in the company an employee works who is a particular expert for a topic and also which questions have already been answered. The answer normally arrives within 24 hours.»we map the internal specialists: that s how we know where they and the know-how hotspots are,«explains Kaufmann. And when nobody can answer a recurring important question, this could be a reason for the management to systematically build up the knowledge that their business lacks. The employees do not need complex training.»anyone who can write an can also use Starmind,«says Marc Vontobel. This is what makes Starmind unique: it is easy to use and good results can be achieved quickly. Nothing is simple enough for the technology freak Vontobel:»We have prototypes of the software built until they reach trailblazing usability.«an entrepreneur cannot do business any other way.»what is hard to explain is even harder to sell,«adds Kaufmann. More than Social Media Potential customers first try to compare Starmind to a social network such as Facebook. But the Starmind managers don t see many similarities. They see social media channels as a platform for the unimportant, funny, private, for small talk, and for chitchat the answers to questions that are posted here are completely up to chance.»they are very inefficient generators of knowledge. Plus, we really can t afford the timeconsuming filter mechanisms of trial and error any more,«says founder Kaufmann. Attempts to capture the knowledge of employees in a systematic, ITsupported manner and to make them available for the entire orga-
4 Industry Journal Companies to watch 67 The neuroscientist Pascal Kaufmann has been fascinated by the human brain and artificial intelligence for a long time. The Starmind CEO wants to develop an artificial brain. nization are not new. And they fail time and again because individuals are not prepared to share their knowledge the reason for this is that in internal competition, knowledge is an asset that is relevant for a career. But the head of Starmind sees a change of opinion taking place in this area:»the desire to share knowledge and ideas as well as working together toward a goal and to improve results together is considerably higher than in the former culture of shareholder value. You are what you share.«the comparatively high willingness to answer through Starmind can also be caused by the fact that the answers are evaluated and their quality is marked with one to five stars. This creates a knowledge map of a company, and employees with an outstanding amount of good answers stand out in the crowd and can be seen by their bosses. Know-how becomes visible and can be used. Insights from brain research Kaufmann had the idea to develop a learning software for the exchange of knowledge within a company when he conducted neuroscientific research at the interface between machine and brain in the U.S. The project was advanced further at the renowned Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH, technical university) in Zurich. The trained pilot from Zurich has always been fascinated by artificial intelligence. This is why he decided to study biology at ETH and specialized in brain research after two years. The neuroscientist has been among the best since his schooldays. His ambition went so far that he decided to study classical Greek and Latin while his schoolmates enjoyed the nice weather. Kaufmann and Vontobel started Starmind International AG in Vontobel is responsible for technical questions and the advancement of the project. Kaufmann, on the other hand, sees himself more in the role of an explorer whose goal is developing an artificial brain, for instance. In the meanwhile, he and his team have made the first successful steps in this direction.
5 68 Industry Journal Companies to watch Employee knowledge map Personal knowledge maps of Starmind users show in which areas they are experts. This motivates them to participate and also helps the management utilize their human resources in a better way. The evaluation results from the assessment of the answers, among other things. Microsoft Office Mathematics User inquiry iphone Twitter Questions Answers Reseller Competitor Strategy App Internet Xerox English Product Facebook Marketing Brain of glass Idea Excel Software Starmind App Technology Bug Networking Video Viral marketing ipad PR Demo Business Brainteaser Server Apple Design Printers MySQL Corporate Identity Glass brain Testing YouTube Logistics Brand management UBS OSX Social network Brainteasers Logo Ask questions Legal Customers Google Mac OS X Terminal Php VOIP IT Sales Computer Press release Social Media Internal marketing Starmind Mac Algorithm Press Problem Database Open Source Software Sales Sales arguments Powerpoint Teamwork as a success factor At the moment, 15 employees including the management team are working at improving the software and, most importantly, at marketing it. Both activities happen mostly on the second floor of a plain, modern office building in the center of Zurich. A big kitchen serves as a communication center and the»starminders«plan to introduce table soccer quite soon. But as opposed to the New Economy businesses with their designer knick-knack, seat cushions, and lounge areas, Starmind s rooms are dominated by simplicity and functionality. Nobody works behind closed doors round here, because teamwork is among the key success factors. Fast answers to tiring routine questions The key target group is knowledgebased businesses. Among them are the arms and security industry, the pharmaceuticals industry, telecommunication, the IT and electronics industry, financial service providers, and consulting companies. Starmind s customer list currently shows about a dozen businesses, among them the large Swiss bank UBS. The evaluation of their cooperation until now yields positive results.»the search for experts is particularly helpful when we are trying to find a good answer to tiring routine questions quickly,«says Bert Pohl, IT manager at UBS, according to»handelsblatt«. A European defense supplier that sets great store by discretion is also among Starmind s customers. In addition, discussions with several German banks are reaching a very concrete level. They do not want to be named, either.»many businesses think that the cooperation with Starmind will give them a competitive edge and do not want their competitors to copy their idea,«explains Kaufmann. The software has been developed further since its inception. Today, there is also a mobile version that makes it possible to post questions in the system with a smartphone or ipad. The more employees a customer has, the more useful expert knowledge he can access. Not only the pool of knowledge increases with the number of users, but also the cost. A company has to pay between 5,000 and 120,000 Swiss francs a month for the software and Starmind s support. For a company with 1,000 employees this means some 30,000 francs (25,000 euros) a month, for instance. This is not chicken feed. But Starmind thinks that there is a huge amount of potential customers not least because the system can do more than further an internal exchange of knowledge. Even small and mediumsized businesses can connect to Starmind, for example. Another idea is to create access to international top specialists in various fields of knowledge for medium-sized businesses in this way. These are still only visions, however.
6 Industry Journal Companies to watch 69»We want to make the real-time availability of know-how a matter of course in more than 10,000 businesses by 2015.«Pascal Kaufmann, CEO Starmind International AG From the question to the answer From trivial to highly specific with the help of Starmind, employees can find their company s experts who match their question very quickly.»is there a possibility to optimize the database language MySQL-Queries in a way that is analog to XCache in the script language PHP?«is a question that has been asked in the past at a Starmind customer. In order to get an answer to such a topic, employees first have to enter their question. Adding a detailed description can improve the result even further. In addition to that, the software requires a couple of keywords. In the example question these were»mysql«and»database«. Then the system analyses the question, finds the potentially best experts on its own, and informs them. The chosen ones can answer their colleagues directly and even with very detailed additional information, such as links, from their workplace, from the road, and even when on holiday.. A part of the answer to the exam - ple question:»yes, there is a solution. It is called MemSQL (http://memsql.com). The former Facebook developers Eric Frenkiel and Nikita Shamgunov wanted to provide a fast in-memory-alternative to MySQL with MemSQL. MemSQL is completely compatible to MySQL and this means that it can replace the free database completely. And Mem- SQL is said to write on the disk 30 times faster than MySQL. ( ) Source: The employee can upload images, videos, and documents in addition to the written text answer.