Subject Matter Expert (SME): Everything You Need to Know

A subject matter expert is a term used to describe someone who is vastly knowledgeable about a subject, typically an educator. This person is useful in both the designing process and in delivering e-learning programs. While it’s common to find subject matter experts in technical disciplines, they can exist in all disciplines and functions. Many professionals are cross-trained in their specific functions, but some situations call for specialized knowledge of SMEs. These include:

·         Information technology professionals call upon different SMEs for insights into fixing bugs, integrating new software applications, or anomalies discovered during testing.

·         Project teams engage SMEs when their generalized knowledge of a topic is insufficient for a problem.

·         Engineers and architects call upon SMEs when considering new design approaches or building technologies.

·         Companies often invite SMEs as instructors when training in certain areas or use them to help develop training programs.

SMEs are crucial to helping groups solve very specific problems where their general expertise becomes insufficient. For example:

·         An expert on a specific operating system might help a company review whether a new software application is compatible with others.

·         A data management specialist might help a team learn how to extract and format data for a marketing project.

·         An expert on autoimmune diseases might be a frequent speaker at medical conferences and a leading contributor to medical journals related to the subject.

·         A social media marketing SME might train the members of a digital marketing team on building social media campaigns.

Typically, SMEs have gained their expertise in their specific discipline after a great deal of immersion in the field and over a long period of time. Many SMEs have pursued advanced degrees in their particular areas of specialization. Additionally, these experts maintain a program of continuous study in their disciplines. This helps to ensure they maintain complete and current knowledge of their particular area of expertise. Many SMEs are active as authors and have published articles or books on their areas of expertise. Others serve as educators in universities and colleges. Becoming an SME takes time, experience, intense research, and study.

The specialized knowledge of the subject matter introduces some problems when SMEs deal with broader systems issues. For instance, while someone may be the expert on a specific type of software application, the person may not understand how it interacts with newer applications outside of his/her expertise. Or, a technical support expert might not be familiar with how a product works in particular environments or situations.

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