In part 1 I discussed the value of information to companies and the impact it has on their growth and progress. We looked at some of the challenges in managing it and in this part 2 post we will look at a solution.
Quite simply, the solution to being able to effectively manage your company’s information is implementing and using a good knowledge management system. In today’s world, this is going to be a software application (good-bye filing cabinets!), generally on your server or in the cloud.
The purpose of a good knowledge management system is to give you the tools and functions that allow you to manage your data/knowledge/documents effectively and efficiently for their entire lifecycle.
This post will be solution agnostic, so I won’t go into the different options available on the market, rather I’ll go over the concepts and ideas you need to think about when picking one.
As always, the knowledge management software that is the best for you will depend on your specific needs and requirements.
Just like physical assets that have a finite lifespan of usage, so does information. We can break down the lifecycle of information into three broad stages; populating information, maintenance of information and archiving/deleting the information.
Each stage requires processes and functions for the whole system to work efficiently. Let’s look at each stage in detail.
The first step is actually getting people to use the system and sharing their information with others. Too often people hold onto their data locally, where it is inaccessible. If no one uses the system, it’s essentially useless.
The best way to get people involved is to use incentives. The most common incentive is to make it a part of a person’s KPI’s. That when it comes time to review their performance, one of the measurements is how much they have contributed to the ‘knowledge base’. You can get very creative here, but the point is that people need incentives to contribute.
What you’re looking for in a KMS (knowledge management system) are functions that support the type of incentive system you want to put in place. Reporting capability here is key; does my KMS give me the reports I need to keep track of who’s contributing what?
Once you have figured out how to get people involved, you then need to think about the actual process that allows information to be uploaded into the system. Broadly speaking there are two models here, ‘open’ and ‘closed’. The open model is where everyone is allowed to enter information into the system freely, the closed model is where there is some form of review before information is published – a form of quality control if you will.
The open model is self-explanatory. A basic example of the closed model is where a person submits a document or article into the KMS and their manager then has to review and approve it before it’s published.
There are pros and cons to each model and you need to assess it based on your requirements. An open model generally means more submissions and less overhead, but potentially lower quality content. The closed model generally means the opposite. You could also go for a hybrid approach, where submissions are reviewed after they are published.
The KMS feature that is most relevant here is workflow customisation. Workflow customisation allows you to create custom workflows; ‘if a person uploads a document, then send an email to their manager for publishing approval’. Every company will have different processes, so it’s a good idea to find a KMS which is highly customisable in this area. Some more advanced systems have GUI based flowchart style workflow customisation.
Once the information resides in the KMS, you need to implement a process for reviewing pre-existing content to ensure it’s still current and relevant.
For example, at a previous company I worked at we had published instructions on how to setup your iPhone for corporate mail on the intranet (one common type of KMS). Problem was every time Apple released a new version of iOS, the document became obsolete and needed to be replaced or updated.
One of the biggest problems with maintaining pre-existing content is knowing who is responsible for it. Often the author is assumed to be the owner, but this was a poor solution as often you would find the author was no longer at the company. Delegation of content ownership to specific positions, say head of departments, was much more effective. So in this regard, you want a KMS that allows some form of ownership management. This ownership information can be recorded in metadata, which we will cover shortly.
It’s a good idea to periodically review everything that is in your KMS. Periodic reviews are made much easier when you have strong reporting capabilities. For example, being able to run a report on all documents uploaded more than 2 years ago.
A good KMS system can help you here with other features as well. For example, you could specify an expiration date on documents at the time of uploading, which could be useful for reporting (e.g. show me all documents which have ‘expired’). This can also be used for auto-archiving.
Archiving & Deleting Information
Just like physical assets that age over time and become redundant, information can also become dated and irrelevant. While some are of the mindset that you should keep everything and just add newer content when it’s available, this idea negatively impacts accessibility.
Not long ago before the internet, we lived in a world of information scarcity. Now we are over loaded with information and searching for what we want means filtering out a lot of stuff you don’t. This can be time consuming, frustrating and inefficient. Cleaning ‘house’ keeps everything in order.
When out-dated content is still needed for historical purposes, then archiving is a good option. Archiving is basically a form of segregation and it can be done manually or in a good KMS system you can setup rules to automate it.
The other reason archiving exists is actually technical and related to your IT infrastructure. While storage is cheap and seemingly limitless today, managing large amounts can be a burden and scaling can become an issue for your KMS. When your database becomes too large, performance can suffer, from searching to opening files. Moving old data to an archive solution means you can maintain high performance for the content that is most often used.
Key things to look at here is how well does the KMS scale, what limits are there and what sort of archiving options are available.
Searching & Metadata
As mentioned in part 1, the accessibility of information is a critical part of making your KMS work well. One of the features you should look at closely is how well the search function of your KMS works.
While some systems allow you to search for content within documents, most are restricted to searching the metadata. Think of metadata as attributes that are separate to the content itself. For example, a Word document when opened displays its contents. However if you right click on the file and go to properties then details, you will see a list of fields. These fields, such as author, are metadata.
Two common forms of metadata you see are tags and categories. When a user uploads an article or document into the system they are given the option to apply categories or tags to their content. Some KMS’s have intelligence and can pre-apply some metadata depending on the content.
Adding this metadata allows you to narrow down your search to a particular interest, based on author, topic, department or anything really. This makes the accessibility of information much more efficient.
A good KMS system will allow customisable metadata fields. In other words, you can create your own metadata at the system level.
So what types of KMS’s are available? Here are a few:
- The well-known company intranet portal, like SharePoint.
- Content management platforms, like Alfresco.
- Internal ‘social’ platforms, Yammer being an example of this.
- ‘Knowledge bases’, these are usually packaged together with customer service platforms. Helpdesk ticketing software being a good example.
- Community forums or bulletin boards, a good example being phpBB. These have been around forever!
The other thing to consider is the level of collaboration that is possible. For example, social platforms and community forums allow for high levels of collaboration, but are not well suited for large scale document storage.
Intranet sites are good for document storage, but not the best for collaboration. So yes, it certainly is a case of ‘fit for purpose’ here and you need to decide what will work best for your environment. In many cases, it makes sense to have more than one, for example a social platform and a document storage system.
In summary, there’s several major benefits to having a good KMS sytem:
- Knowledge gained in the business is recorded and thus built upon, this process is what leads to forward progress. Too often, the wheel is ‘reinvented’ because previously gained knowledge was not captured.
- On-boarding new employees becomes much faster as they can access training and reference material via the KMS, rather than having to approach senior staff.
- Collaboration increases when data is shared across the company. As an example, a spreadsheet that is uploaded by one employee could have extra functions added by another employee.
- Easy access to data improves productivity. If the data is inaccessibly (e.g. in your personal inbox), then others will have to reproduce it from scratch. If it’s poorly accessible, the time to find it is unnecessarily high.
Hopefully that’s enough to get you thinking about your current situation and how you could improve it with a properly implemented KMS.
If you think your business could benefit from a KMS and would like us to give you hand with it, or have any questions, contact us here.