In this article, David Viney looks at how collaboration between and amongst teams can become a killer application on your Intranet Portal. How can you get the best value from such an investment and achieve a step change in knowledge management and knowledge sharing in your organisation?
Knowledge Management for beginners
Knowledge Management (KM) can be defined simply as the process through which organizations generate value from their intellectual and knowledge-based assets. Knowledge assets are often grouped into two categories:
1) Explicit Knowledge:
Generally, everything and anything that can be documented, archived and codified. Examples include patents, trademarks, business plans, marketing research and customer lists.
2) Tacit Knowledge:
The rest. Tacit knowledge is the know-how contained in people's heads. The challenge inherent with tacit knowledge is figuring out how to recognize, generate, share and manage it.
Most often, generating value from such assets involves sharing them among employees, departments and even with other companies in an effort to reach – or go beyond - best practice.
Where Collaboration technologies can help… and hinder
For explicit knowledge, the focus can usefully be described as "connecting people to things", whilst for tacit knowledge, the focus is "connecting people to people".
As such, structured and unstructured search technologies are usually the core of strategies to encourage greater sharing of explicit knowledge; the user searches for a document either by typing some text into a search engine or by clicking through a document taxonomy.
Similarly, a well structured "yellow pages" directory, where one can search for people with particular skills or experience, forms the centrepiece of tacit strategies; where the aim is to connect people often for 10 minute telephone conversations / requests for help that could save a week's work.Both explicit and tacit strategies are, however, much enhanced when combined with Collaboration or "work-group" technologies. By creating "communuities of interest" around cross-functional themes, individuals can share documents, plans and other material, find and discuss issues with subject-matter experts and even allocate tasks and calendar items to each other.
For example, a community for "customer insight" might have members drawn from call centre operations, marketing and IT teams (to name but a few) who share a common interest in better understanding the customer need. They could each contribute into the team space document repository materials that (once added together) create powerful new insights and possible future revenue enhancement. By sharing, they (a) gather a sense of belonging to a wider network of similarly minded people, (b) gain knowledge that helps each to better achieve their objectives and (c) gain recognition for being an expert in their particular area.
Benefits (for your business case) include: (a) better customer service through improved response times, (b) faster new product development and time to market, (c) enhanced employee retention through rewarding knowledge sharing, (d) reduced Opex through the streamlining of processes, (e) reduced IT network and storage cost growth through a reduction in email file attachments.
There are, however, risks to collaboration, where poorly implemented. For example, if individual community documents are not accessible through the overall portal search, then you risk creating information silos, where only a select few can access information that is of much wider use. Also, part of your portal benefits are likely to stem from people visiting all areas of the site and learning about other departments and teams. If people spend all their time in their own team rooms, the benefits of this wider perspective will be lost.
Typical Team Room Functionality
Most intranet portal offerings contain some collaboration functionality, either (a) as a standalone optional module, (b) as a partly integrated standard portlet or (c) as a fully integrated function, combined with email systems. Typical elements include:
1) Shared Calendar:
The team can maintain a single calendar of notable team events or shared deadlines. Where not fully integrated to email systems, this functionality is sometimes only sparingly used.
2) Discussion Forums:
The team can set up and post to threaded discussions, where issues or opportunities can be fully explored. It can take time for people to really get used to using this functionality and taking such discussions off the email system. A key role is that of the moderator, who can (a) spark new discussions, (b) invite people to join them, (c) deal with any abuse of etiquette and (d) capture and structure the result (e.g. a key decision) before archiving the thread.
3) Shared Documents:
The team can workflow, version control, security protect and store / retrieve documents, including policies, reports, analysis and plans. This functionality is often the most heavily used and of particular value for project teams, where many hundreds of key documents may be created in the course of delivery.
4) Allocate Tasks:
The team can set-up tasks and allocate them to themlseves or other team members. Reminders appear in the team calendar and (where there is email integration) in the email inbox of the task owner. Again, it can take time to get people usign this functionality but – once working well – can be of immense value for teams driving at particular outcomes and deadlines.
Some final thoughts
Collaboration technologies can be a very powerful addition to your knowledge management strategy, complementing structured search and yellow pages functionality. It is important to get the implementation right. In particular, to really think about ways to move people from email to teamrooms (e.g link to files in a teamspace rather than attach them) and to ensure that documents in teamrooms can be accessible via the wider portal search functionality.