Monday, April 28, 2008

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Subject Matter Expert
Subject Matter Expert (SME) - An enriching and lucrative career option
By Manishankar Chakraborty

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The unexplored option

Career options often remain unexplored as the immediate stakeholders who would want to leverage the options are either groping in the dark or know things in a piece meal fashion. Emerging economies like India and China have waken up to the tremendous potential they possess in terms of quality and economical manpower, but the problem of reaching out to the masses and not the classes still remains to be resolved. The reason for this lack of information penetration lies equally with the professional experts, companies, sectors and media in not highlighting such novel, challenging, enriching and fulfilling professions.
Career option as Subject Matter Expert (SME) is one such unexplored option for many teaching professionals. The common notion about academic luminaries is that one is restricted to teaching, research and at the most to training and consultancy, however they never realize the amount of contribution they can make to the overall knowledge generation and dissemination platform.
Subject Matter Experts or SME as they are commonly referred to as in the industry parlance are professionals who are post graduates, doctorates having first hand experience in teaching, training, research, both in academic institutes and corporate with a very good understanding and application of the subject. The role of SME has increased manifold after the cross border alliances and collaborative understandings has started to gain momentum. Dr. Ma’en Al Qatamin , Global President of Dubai Headquartered Management Training and Consultancy firm, Knowledge Horizon, corroborates the development when he opines that SME are the essential requisites in any knowledge sectors, be it Information Technology (IT), Information Technology enabled Services (ITeS), Training and Consultancy, E-learning. A doctorate from the prestigious Warwick Business School of UK, Dr. Ma’en was vocal in saying that many teaching professionals are unable to explore those terrain as they are myopic in understanding the horizons their expertise can offer. SME play a very pivotal role in most of the new generation knowledge sector companies, primarily because their role have an end to end approach which initiates before the actual product development starts and continues even after actual delivery to the clientele.

The scope for an SME

The scope for an SME is huge, but for that to be gauzed a potential aspirant has to think beyond the conventional mindset. Santosh Ranjan, Director of India operations of Knowledge Horizon adds up saying that the actual scope of an SME is indefinite and he can drag it to monumental heights. An alumnus from the prestigious IIM-Bangalore, Santosh in spite of being the director of India spends considerable time with the SME, as the role has tremendous scope and the opportunity to research and formulate novel approaches are unlimited. SME play a very active role in ideating, developing novel frameworks for imparting knowledge in the needed form and shape to the client, which in turn calls for out of the box thinking. SME Siddarth Naik adds, “We work 24X7X365 in the mind, which culminates into devising novel models of training and development, in the overall interest of the knowledge related stakeholders”. The thinking cap for an SME is absolute must as he has to redefine the existing ways of pedagogy. The scope therefore for an SME is a never ending process, provided one has the flair and passion for the same.

The Role of an SME

Rajeev Kumar an SME feels that they perform the core role as they are the ones forming the bridge with the actual production and marketing team finally leading to customer satisfaction. The customer here one is referring to is not the petty customer, but the tribe who is well informed so the SME has to play a proactive role in providing them tangible value additions at every point in time. Staring from researching about contents, making mind maps, using the scanner and finally making the approach document, an SME plays a very crucial role in an organizations setup. The production process might not be akin to an SME, but his presence ensures that the deviation is bare minimum and therefore rightly pointed by an SME, Ranjan, that he need to understand the nuances of even the production process, which calls for stretching ones latent capabilities. Importantly an SME often play a cross functional role and therefore has to have very good coordinating roles with other domain experts like graphic designers, instructional designers, programmers in the overall interest of the project. It requires an open mindset and therefore prospective SME has to ensure they are team players, as it’s not about sermonizing as is typical of a teacher. The role of an SME calls for very good counseling and mentoring roles as quite often they have to groom trainees not only from their own sphere, but also from other domains. Jitesh, an SME in Finance feels that the actual role of an SME is always undefined as they should have the ability to welcome change at every point of time, which in turn calls for lot of flexibility on the part of SME. Being a part of cross functional teams, the role of an SME is even more challenging vis-à-vis that of a teacher or a trainer as there he deals mainly with people in the same platform, but over here he has to drive home the point about his subject to a cross sectional audience and more importantly ensure that the audience has understood the same and also thought of a sequence of approaching the subject, in order to add value. Girish was vocal in saying that he had never thought about the novel approaches in quantitative aptitude and operations while teaching, as it never called for so much innovating as is evident now in his new role. The role of an SME in a nutshell is an evergreen one as they form a key component of the process, aver Anil Sawant, Project Coordinator with Indian operations of Knowledge Horizon.

Profile of an SME

The ideal profile of an SME is one who has had hands on experience in training or content development with the right attitude as flexibility is one of the anchor for a successful SME. Rupa an SME in economics domain feels that the actual academic credentials of an SME play only a supporting role as the necessary prerequisite of any SME is to have the right mix of attitude, aptitude, flexibility and lateral thinking. Basic understanding of the domain areas are something all SME possess, but what is perennially required is to understand the same from diverse set of audience which at times might create confusion in the mind of an SME. Manish an SME for IT provides a solution to this saying a clutter free approach while segregating the correct ones from the incorrect ones goes a long way in transmitting the right knowledge in the right form at the tight time to the right person. At the end of the day, an SME should be able to bring in that change which was absent till now. Rewards, Challenges and fun for SME are head and shoulders above from his peers in teaching and other disciplines.

(Author is Senior Subject Matter Expert with Dubai Headquartered Knowledge Horizon, based in the India Office at Pune. He can be reached at

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