Caveat emptor is Latin for ”buyer beware”; this gem of wisdom has been passed down to us from Roman times, and in some ways it’s an example of Knowledge Management (KM) in action — a nugget of ‘knowledge’ that countless generations have found to be valuable, and so passed on by word of mouth, clay tablets, scrolls or more recently books and websites!
When you consider your organization's KM strategy in the context of your content management and collaboration environments, then I would re-iterate “buyer beware”, particularly the be wary of any vendor who wants to sell you an “end to end” knowledge management solution.
I would suggest there is no such thing as a “KM system” as in a single piece or suite of software, in the mold of “one ring to rule them all”.
It's Your Knowledge Management Strategy
Your KM environment and your KM strategy, if you have one at all, will be highly contextual to your particular organization; and should reflect its strategic aims, goals and objectives. I believe that to achieve a ‘knowledge enabled’ enterprise requires massive HR input. KM needs to be built into appraisal and career development systems, organizational learning and individual learning and development and even compensation systems.
However, KM initiatives often seem to fall back on implementing some new technology in the hope that it will provide a silver bullet solution. I do agree that good information management does provide a solid bedrock for KM, and so it appears do many others as content management, collaboration and enterprise search are often cast in the silver bullet role.
A few years ago in a keynote at Information Online in London, David Gurteen spoke about the failure of “KM1.0”. He suggested that having to add certain documents into a DMS, or put information into a Knowledge Base system was mostly doomed to failure as these were onerous additional tasks, outside of an individuals core work flow.
He suggested that the use of Web 2.0 tools could produce an era of KM 2.0, where easy to use tools would allow knowledge workers to see the relationships between disparate pieces of information, and make links between information and people.
To me this is part of the utility Enterprise 2.0 frameworks, such as Prof. McAfee’s original SLATES and Dion Hinchcliffe’s extension of into FLATNESSES model. You can use these frameworks to assess products in an attempt to understand what they might bring to your more pragmatic KM efforts.
Knowledge Management Tools
Returning to the importance of context, for a global pharmaceutical (a highly regulated industry) KM is not the same as it for the U.S. Army (who brought us modern variants of After Action Reports and Lessons Learned). So what tools you will need will depend on your contextual requirements, and the output of your requirements analysis, but it may include one or more of the following:
Document Centric Collaboration
For example, MS SharePoint Team sites, EMC eRoom/CenterStage or Lotus Quickr are workspaces for collaborative information creation and editing, using tools such as blogs, wikis and forums to add context to documents, which enables individuals to process information and develop knowledge.
A view of a SharePoint document library
Conversation Centric Collaboration
Blogs, micro-blogs for activity streams — think Yammer — and open discussion forums enable conversations across divisional boundaries, solicit ideas and enable information sharing and even knowledge sharing via narratives (use of blogs as a story telling tool).
Enterprise micro-blogging with Yammer
Document and Records Management
Good information sharing is a basic building block of a knowledge enabled environment and a lot of any organization's information is locked up in unstructured content / documents (up to 80%).
Ideally your DMS / EDRMS / ECMS will provide good facilities for managing the all important metadata which improves the findability of such content, but also add the E2.0 features such as rating and comments, and standards such as CMIS with related API’s to ensure we can access this information.
Messaging, Including Email Archiving
An enormous amount of operational information and intellectual capital is still locked up in email messages, archived in an Outlook PST file in an individuals local hard drive!
Web Content Management Systems
How does your intranet ecosystem fit into your KM environment? Whether it’s a simple WCMS hosting a corporate home page — focused on news and navigation — or an ultra-sophisticated highly personalized portal, you have to understand how your intranet sites are required to support KM, and plan and procure accordingly. See Toby Wards recent article on Social Intranets.
Personal Profiles and Staff Directories
Linking people to information, providing additional context e.g. “Fred also worked on these projects……..” and allowing relationships to be discovered between people and between people and content items.
A personal profile page in ThoughtFarmer
Could this be the closest component to the ‘one ring to rule them all’? Unified Information Access is a term used by Forrester to describe enterprise search systems which allow users to discover pertinent information wherever it is stored.
Enterprise CMS Enables Knowledge Management
The diagram below is one I created when working for a client, and discussed on my blog last year. It does not suggest Enterprise Content Management as a technology platform (Documentum, OpenText or FileNet for example) but as a strategy for managing unstructured information, leading to better information sharing, which in turn enables KM:
Where an ECM strategy fits within a holistic view of KM
Finally I would like to enumerate the varied systems that composed the KM environment at one organization I worked at, just to further illustrate my point about no one system being able to do everything:
- EMC Documentum 5.3 (now at 6.5) for EDRM and DAM
- OpenText LiveLink 9.2 for DM
- EMC eRoom Enterprise – content centric collaboration
- WordPress – enterprise wide blogs
- MediaWiki – enterprise wiki platform
- In-house developed CMS for intranet sites
- Drupal – replacing the in-house CMS, and integrated with Documentum
- Various staff directory systems linked to HRMS
- Corporate Intranet home page (portal) – linking it all together and providing directories of blogs, wikis and eRooms
- Enterprise Search – Ultraseek, EMC Documentum Enterprise Content Integration Services (ex-AskOnce) federated search and they were procuring an Enterprise Search solution when I left.
So, which vendor sales person is going to tell me that their one system provides every feature and does everything that all those above can do ?
About the Author
Jed Cawthorne, based in Toronto, is a Senior Specialist in the Knowledge Management Group of a major Canadian retailer. He has a keen interest in information management, knowledge management and IT security and writes on Enterprise Content Management and related subjects on his blog at www.ecm-stuff.blogspot.com.