One of the greatest catalysts for a change to modern, flatter, decentralised but more connected organisations is a need to continue to increase productivity while also improving quality, in order to compete in the market into the future. The premise of supporting remote working models is an increase in productivity and innovation derived from happier and more engaged employees. Silos within a traditional organisational structure impair the opportunities for knowledge sharing across an organisation, where lessons learned in one area of the business may well reap benefits in other operational areas. On the flip side, a remote workforce that is not equipped to share and access knowledge can also lead to lost opportunities, lower productivity and higher risk.
But even with the move from traditional to modern business structures removing some of the barriers to proactive communication, how can organisations effectively capture, manage and share knowledge to support continuous improvement? In this article, we examine the challenges of knowledge management and offer an approach available to businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Are you making the best use of knowledge held within your business?
At a minimum, most organisations store explicit knowledge as guidelines and instruction manuals, procedures, lessons learned and research outcomes. These are generally available to the business, or areas of the business, via an intranet or shared drive through information pull (seeking out information as and when needed). Gathering, recording and storing this knowledge is generally assigned as the responsibility of an individual’s role, or as a mandatory output from project activities.
But for knowledge management to be successful in returning a benefit to the organisation, the system must be aligned to a strategy that fosters a culture of knowledge sharing, one that leverages push, pull and social dissemination methods. When the correct culture and values exist alongside a technology solution that provides the whole organisation with easy access to relevant information, the outcome is improvements to customer experience and employee engagement, and increased business profit from higher productivity. What business wouldn’t want to prioritise these results?
Knowledge gained, knowledge lost
When explicit knowledge is documented – digitally or in hard copy – it will often become a static record; created, filed and sought out by a few. With hard copy documentation now out of the question for many organisations, digital knowledge records that remain static provide little benefit to the organisation – if knowledge is not refined and shared, it has no power to deliver the results every business strives for.
Lew Platt, former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard: “If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive.”
Knowledge is gained through the experiences of employees and is just as easily lost over time when the lesson is long since past or the employee (and therefore the knowledge) leaves the business. Empowering employees to easily contribute knowledge is the first and most essential step. We all have an innate desire to share information, so when we’re supported by a culture that encourages this and a system that makes it easy to do so, the rest is merely logistics.
Knowledge management for O365 businesses
The practice of knowledge management is best supported by a solution most commonly referred to as a knowledge base. Tools provided in the O365 platform can be leveraged to deliver a knowledge base that addresses the key requirements of a knowledge management strategy; identifying, collecting, curating and sharing information assets.
Gartner Group defines knowledge management as a “Discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise’s information assets.”
If any of the steps in this approach are missed, the solution is only half a solution.
When information assets take many forms and come from many sources, a simple document library fails to meet the requirements of all users and contexts when it comes to information sharing. It is nigh impossible to effectively combine imposing the controls required to present information consistently, while also supporting simple and fast knowledge contribution.
Knowledge management designed to leverage SharePoint and Power Automate (formerly Flow) – tools available to all O365 business* plans – equips employees across all areas of an organisation to introduce better processes and practices, and proactively learn from intelligence within the business. It provides a simple method of creating knowledge resources that are then made available to the organisation through search and content promotion controls. The inherently collaborative nature of sharing knowledge is supported through social interactions such as mentions, comments and discussion, ratings and share functionality.
Our knowledge base solution will support your organisation as a central repository for information by storing and delivering knowledge resources on topics that support any number of operational activities. When used effectively, it will become a valuable business asset for reducing costs and creating efficiencies through knowledge sharing and collaboration between users and teams. Features include:
- Simplified article creation – with features such as drag & drop, flexible formatting, mentions and dynamic tagging
- Powerful search – leveraging SharePoint search with bespoke taxonomy to provide powerful search granularity
- Social collaboration – commenting, discussion, sharing and rating of content to support in-context social interaction
- Topic and author following – supports subscription to topics and authors with push notifications
- Content promotion – prioritise and feature content with article pinning
- Topic and tag grouping – supports information discovery behaviour through a topic hierarchy and tag folksonomy
Content created in the knowledge base can consist of stand-alone articles, or reference articles that record information about a given document resource. This might include data such as related discipline, context, category, resource type, last review date, status, contact details and link(s) to the specific resource(s). This allows for the ability to control and maintain the supporting information and metadata within the knowledge base, while linking to specific information assets, internally (a document library within the intranet) or on external sites.
Accessing information contained within the knowledge base is primarily driven by a dedicated search application to allow users to search across all knowledge base resources, or a select topic, and refine results by metadata-driven facets. To provide flexibility of information flow, pull via search, browse and following (topics and authors) is partnered with information push via sharing, mentions, and notifications.
To support varying requirements, we provide two options; one is a lightly customised solution that leverages a custom SharePoint page layout and custom metadata, or for additional functionality, a tailored knowledge base solution provides capabilities such as drag and drop article creation (images, documents), dynamic tagging, noticeboard, mentions (@tag people), subscription/notification service and discussion.
Bespoke contribution methods can also be delivered, addressing the most essential step in knowledge management – capturing knowledge opportunities and gaps as and when they’re identified. This may be a mobile app to submit contributions and search the knowledge base, a web form integrated into your intranet, or a workflow trigger capturing data from a third-party platform.
Potential applications for a knowledge base solution
The potential uses for a knowledge base solution extends well beyond operational processes and procedures. Topical hierarchy support allows organisations to structure a knowledge base for multiple purposes, providing a living library of various forms of knowledge resources that can be continuously refined, made available as a single source of truth.
Lessons learned: large organisations with multiple operational groups are especially challenged when it comes to capturing frontline lessons learned for the potential benefit of all areas of the business. An effective method of capturing and communicating lessons learned from one project to the next supports continuous improvement by learning from both project failures as well as project successes.
Brand guidelines: one of the few resource sets pertinent to multiple areas of an organisation, brand guidelines are critical to sustaining consistent brand messaging.
Copy library: maintain a consistent and current voice by providing key communicators with a library of prepared copy, saving time and avoiding the costs and frustration associated with a lack of clarity resulting from inconsistent and out-of-date documentation and communications.
Technical guides: documenting in-house processes, standards and best practices for technical development, manufacturing and servicing.
Training and support: guides and learning resources distributed via a knowledge base are easily created, maintained and accessed to support self-help.