Knowledge Networking

May 27, 2006 at 4:25 pm | Posted in SharePoint, SharePoint 2007 | Leave a comment

I have been working with intranets and knowledge management and document management systems  for most of my professional career. All three have very distinct purposes and roles  within an organisation, at least from the view of those in the IT department. I’m not so sure however that the end users really see the difference between them. Typically, an employee “just needs to find some information! How complicated can it be?”.

I’m not going to delve in to the science and philosophy of information sharing, knowledge management, collaboration culture as it is a colossal field, well beyond the scope of a blog posting. Some people make good careers just explaining what those words mean, “and what they could mean to your business”.

I will mention though, is that while businesses are starting to understand the value of effective information sharing, the understanding of the amount of investment that their employees need to make to a new system is something I think organisations don’t acknowledge fully.

While Word is a fancier way of writing letters, Outlook saves time on sending them, and PowerPoint supposedly improves your presentations, none of them changes how you do your job. But it enables you to do your job quicker, and more effectivly.

One of the challenges with intranet/document/knowledge management systems is that they actually ask you to do your job differently, and in some cases increases the amount of work you have to do.

  • Back in the day – get your quill pen, parchment, and blotting paper. Write letter, wait for it to dry, seal with wax, give to lackey, hope he doesn’t get held up by highway men on the London road.
  • Most of us – open Word, write document, ask colleague in the vicinity if they think it’s ok, send by email.
  • Knowledge management – open Word, write document, upload in to collaboration work space, invite feedback, tag with contextual and non-contextual metadata, submit to  document management system, and then email.

People are too busy doing their jobs and getting things done today to bother with detailed categorising and metadata tagging  and considering, “if someone were to search for this information a year from now, what terms would they use to search for it?” and “percentage wise, how relevant is this information to these 3 different parts of the organisation?”. This is well beyond the realm of most workers, and today typically only has meaning to knowledge management professionals.

And yet, most knowledge management systems require the users to have the time and training to be able to work and behave in this manner. Companies may expect a knowledge management system to solve all their “how can I find this?” issues, but it’s the training of the employees to  submit information meaningfully that is going to provide the solution, not the technology.

Thus, there are many tools out there that will “auto-tag”, “metadata-enrich”, and “buzzword-enhance” documents. These are all good things, but they do struggle. Time will improve the intelligence of these tools, and I’m sure they will become more meaningful. But they are still limited to tagging the documents and information that the company holds centrally, that has been submitted or collected and has passed the criteria for being held up as an “official company document”.

Myself, as a consultant to organisations looking to improve their ability to share information meaningfully, often try explain the challenges that will have to be faced in changing how people do their jobs. I have been working with SharePoint almost exclusively over the past few years as it proved very popular with companies  and dramatically lowered the cost of implementing knowledge management and intranet solutions. So I’ve been looking forward to the next version hoping to see various improvements and enhancements.

Then, I came across a feature that no-one appears to have been talking about before. Microsoft  recently announced a new feature at a SharePoint conference.

Knowledge Network (KM) for Microsoft Office SharePoint 2007 (MOSS).

From what I have read so far, (links below) this is a massive step forward for knowledge management in SharePoint. The basic principle is to have a security sensitive application running on your PC, searching your emails and documents to determine

  • what you know,
  • who you know,
  • who you work with,
  • and the connections between those three factors.

with, critically, no input required from the user. The information that this client application collects is then sent to a central server that collates the profiles for all individuals in an organisation. The Knowledge Network server is then able to to provide a searchable picture of how knowledge, expertise, and relationships are spread and where they are located across your organisation.

This picture could be updated every day, continuously evolving, with no input required from individuals beyond determining on their own machines what could be indexed and what couldn’t.

The beta is currently only available on betaplace, and I’m sure there’s a fair amount of work to go for Microsoft, but if they get this right it could well become a killer app for large companies spread across multiple offices in multiple countries.

The benefits would be exponential, as improved use of information in the company, new relationships formed, new knowledge understood would all feed directly back in to the Knowledge Network server. The potential of being able to access an internal “company zeitgeist” on a day to day basis, understanding the movement, appearance, disappearance of knowledge, and then filter it by departments, offices, dates has a immeasurable value.

Read on at the links below….

http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/servers/sharepointserver/kn.mspx – Microsoft Knowledge Network page
http://blogs.msdn.com/kn/ – Knowledge Network team blog

http://weblogs.asp.net/soever/archive/2006/05/24/Microsoft-goes-Social-Networking-on-SharePoint.aspx
http://www.joiningdots.net/blog/2006/05/ms-knowledge-network.html

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