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Business has always faced the challenge of managing knowledge so that it can add value and support internal teams as well as collaboration, both internally and between different organisations. How you create, share and manage knowledge plays a vital role in the efficiency of your business and therefore can impact profitability.

Whilst there has been a lot of focus on how emerging technology can be used to drive e-commerce and customer engagement, less is written about how it is transforming internal business process and knowledge management.

Much of the technology that is now in widespread use has been around for years but the user interfaces have improved significantly and people are more in-tune with the technology than ever before. 

Here I look at some of the tools that your business could be using:

Instant messaging

IM can be more direct than email and enables instant conversation to problem solve or share information without the delay of email or unreliability of phone.

I’ve worked with development teams who use this well, networking across geographically remote sites to manage technical projects. IM conversation can include multiple participants so dialogue is supported.

Websites have integrated IM functionality as well, from Google Mail to Facebook. IM cuts down time lags and increases the speed of knowledge sharing. I know from experience that this can reduce internal costs and get answers quickly.

Live Chat

How long does it take to resolve internal IT issues? Perhaps you have an effective call desk system but in my experience internal IT issues have significant knock on effect. Live Chat can help with the instant sharing of information from one team to another to resolve issues remotely and can compliment IM.

One advantage Live Chat has over phone communication is that you can see the history of the conversation should you need to refer back to previous information.

Wikis

A wiki is a website that allows the creation and linking of multiple web pages. Wikis are often used for collaborative projects and in knowledge management systems.

IBM uses wikis extensively amongst its global developer community. Wikis provide a dashboard of relevant content with the user able to search for specific information relevant to the project they are working on. The wiki approach enables IBM to manage remote teams globally and improve the efficiency of information management by centralising content.

Wikis are ideal for companies with remote teams operating globally where information recency is essential and decisions need to be made quickly, leveraging the existing knowledge base. They also help reduce duplication of effort where one team may not be aware of the available knowledge from another team.

Google Wave

The newly launched Google Wave is positioned as an open source personal communication and collaboration tool. It enables communication between multiple people where each person can comment on and edit any part of that communication. The wave is live, so any content you update is instantly transmitted to other participants, character by character. There is also playback function so you can rewind and see what has been said by whom and when.

Google Wave is still not fully understood and questions surround its commercial application but what’s clear is that as a collaborative tool it offers great opportunity for people to connect, share and edit in real time.

I’ll be taking a closer look at Wave in my next blog so please keep an eye out.

Podcasting

How do you stay connected with remote teams? Telephony systems that connect to the web enable companies to share audio content quickly. In the same way that podcasting is being used by brands to engage customers, telephony broadcasts can communicate with field teams to share important information. Companies can broadcast direct to intranets as well as to dedicated phone numbers that can be dialled into. The system supports voting to show what content is considered valuable and two-way dialogue is enabled.

iPadio (launched by Nemisys) has a neat solution in this area and recently won the Econsultancy Most Innovative New Technology award. It has helped Virgin support remote team communication and charities like The Red Cross to broadcast from disaster zones.

Blogs

Blogging is a great way for senior management and departments to share latest news and developments with other teams. During the heat of battle, organisations often lose touch of internal communication and feeling isolated from the business is a key driver in demotivation. By providing a regular blog, information can quickly be disseminated, keeping people in touch with the business and sharing good news to maintain morale.

M&C Saatchi submit ideas for innovation in being green at work via a microblog. Blogging can go beyond core knowledge management and help drive change. Forum For The Future uses blogs on its intranet because it suits the demographic of their staff – young, professional and passionate about their subject.

This concept is not new - Northwest Mutual addressed an issue with information bottlenecks by corporate blogging. That was in 2006. 

Social Networking

Companies can use business networks to encourage employees to share and store information. LinkedIn is the most well known and supports private groups where people can create their own profile and post conversations and information. An example would be an agency using LinkedIn to add links to latest industry research so that its employees can access the information when required to help with knowledge building and Client projects.

Social networks such as Facebook can work well to build the social side of the business, helping employees get to know each other to foster greater co-operation and trust. Employees can add photos and start discussions and the company can use this channel to communicate social and company events.

1000heads use Socialcast, a Twitter style platform, for internal communications across its employee base. It has been so successful that they have just signed a deal with Socialcast, a US company, to roll it out to their Client base in 2010.

Yammer is a popular solution for corporate social networks, enabling information sharing across your business with mobile compatibility.

RSS and Atom feeds

Information can be sent direct to the people who require it as soon as it has been created. RSS and Atom feeds enable individuals to select the content that is relevant to their jobs and receive this direct to their inbox or a reader.

This works well for policy updates – it’s important that employees are aware of changing legal requirements and updated company policies and an RSS feed could pipe this info direct to them instead of expecting them to digest documents on an Intranet. 

Crowdsourcing

This involves asking your audience for the answers and building a solution around their feedback. Companies can crowdsource product and solution ideas to help drive the business proposition. The content generated can be integrated into other KM tools such as a wiki or Facebook page so that it is visible and people can react to discussion threads and grow ideas organically.

Crowdsourcing works well for internal decision making. When people have involvement in decision making they take more ownership and will understand better what is happening in the business.

Social intranets & collaborative tools

Intranets are evolving, moving from a corporate push tool to an interactive environment in which stakeholders can share information across the business. A CMS based intranet can use workflow to provide appropriate permissions and content control. 

Employees can post blogs, add photos and files, post comments and look at the social contact profile of other people they work with to foster new connections. With intelligent search behind the content, people can quickly access the information they need and tag content they add to make it visible to the people who need to see it.

ThoughtFramer is a well regarded solution provider in this area with clients such as Oxfam and EA. Huddle is an alternative with more of a project management angle with a personalised dashboard of your workspace(s) and group discussion functionality with widgets and RSS feeds to help manage your work stream.

Viral

Major brands are using viral games internally to drive global communications, from Vodafone to Microsoft. ING has used viral marketing internally to engage employees with its F1 sponsorship. An example is an internal marketing team serving a branded game within which sits key messages; teams are created across the business and competition is encouraged. The game environment supports messaging and interaction, helping employees to discuss the subject whilst increasing their interaction and having fun.

The beauty of this approach is that it is inclusive – senior management can play alongside its employees, using a fun platform to communicate key messages. This is not the preserve of big companies, small regional companies are also thinking creatively. CleverTV has been working in this space as well as providing branded videos direct to brands and media partners for B2C campaigns. 

This is something that I hadn’t considered before asking the Chinwag UKNM list for their experiences but it is a great example of how companies can use interactive technology to improve internal engagement.

Things to be aware of

Managing knowledge is great but if people can’t access it quickly and easily, you’ve failed. When planning the technology and tools keep an eye on the user interaction:

  • Make content search friendly – ideally mimic the major search engines for content indexing.
  • Create a knowledge taxonomy so that everything can be classified consistently.
  • Ensure that every piece of content can be logically tagged.
  • Allow users to generated their own content and contribute to others’ content.
  • Design the UI to be user friendly and intuitive – people won’t use it if they don’t like it.
  • Crowdsource – involve all stakeholders in the planning so they have a personal stake in the success of the project.

Commercial benefits

  • Improve speed of information exchange.
  • Reduce duplication of content and effort.
  • Empower employees to take ownership of knowledge creation and management.
  • Increase employee interaction to drive collaboration.

Summary

I never tell people that they must do something; change has to come down to relevance. I can’t tell you that this will improve your business but I do think you are missing a trick if you don’t question whether and how it could.

Social networking and interactive technology is not just for big brand retailers. It is shifting the way business communicates and is driving the re-engineering of process and information exchange. For a species to survive it needs to evolve, the same applies to business. As competition increases and customer demands push on, your business needs the ability to respond quickly and adapt to the new rules of engagement. The technology is there to help you; do you have the business culture and need to embrace it?

James Gurd

Published 21 December, 2009 by James Gurd

James Gurd is Owner of Digital Juggler, an ecommerce and digital marketing consultancy, and a contributor to Econsultancy.He can be found on on Twitter,  LinkedIn and Google+.

49 more posts from this author

Comments (14)

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Tim Aldiss

Tim Aldiss, Consultant/Director at ThinkSearch

Great post - and how all-cencompassing Knowledge Management is.

The most important thing for me, as a former Knowledge Manager for a global agency, is a central store for any information in any format that provides the lowest barrier to entry for any user.

Known as Enterprise Search you can think of it as a platform that replaces your file server. Any Enterprise Search solution worth it's salt should be able to index content and allow the easy creation of associated meta data (and prefeably index the content too). This facilitates the easiest, and most often used method - search - to return results that can be faceted, filtered and expanded.

There are now several players in the field. I auditioned both Thought Farmer and Knowledge Plaza. I'm sure there are many more but it's an exciting field still often misunderstood.

It's good to hear that the recessuion has not killed off Knowledge Management - it is a critical business function and due attention should be paid to it.

over 6 years ago

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andy

Online collaborating and teaching can work, If you have trust and the right tools. I recently tried http://www.showdocument.com - good app for uploading documents and working on them in real-time. Most file types are supported and it needs no installation. - andy

over 6 years ago

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Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2Small Business

An interesting one. Where strategy and direction are concerned a business can become very successful with a very narrow, specialist focus which is informed from within or through a process of testing, and so the need to research and filter external information sources might be regarded as a distraction, even unnecessary. We didn't even look up once in almost 2 years!

From the point of view of driving that success forward or diversifying then it is, of course, desirable to tune people in to the mission and formulate a plan as to how the information gathering, filtering and implementation will be handled.

I watched the Google Wave video a while back and I liked that a lot, and I think internal Twittering has potential too. We use a couple of web based tools at the moment and it seems to be working well, and I'd die without Skype.

We all work remotely so the 'issue' is actually physically meeting up. We don't see it as an issue, I hasten to add, as there are plenty of organisations with big shiny offices that don't help them be good at what they do. Now the platform is built and we've got the personnel balance right some of us will be doing so regularly from next year to make sure things get discussed and, most importantly, followed through.

Your last sentence has it James: the culture of an organisation is key. This will dictate the internal processes and the priority given to making them a reality. I think culture is the bottom line here, all the ideas and tools in the universe won't help if they aren't assimilated into the culture or strategy of an organisation.

over 6 years ago

Mike Stenger

Mike Stenger, MikeStenger.com

Awesome post James! With the internet, it's ridiculously easy to collaborate and with social networking, it's just as easy to listen. I think it's super important to get customer feedback and improve/create products from the feedback of those that are your target market or will be buying your product. One thing that I would add to collaboration is Google Documents. Just a couple months ago I learned that you can collaborate on documents with others which I thought was really cool. It's not real-time like Google Wave which is what I believe will start gaining traction as a good collaboration tool but it's still nice nonetheless.

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Evening all and thanks for taking the time to comment.

Mark - yes culture is the important point here - if people aren't ready/willing to embrace the tools, you can't force it on them. However, I think people's willingness to embrace something new often comes down to how they are involved and the steps management take to empower and engage them.

Mike - Google Wave is going to make a big impact I think, especially in relation to collaboration. My next blog is going to be a more detailed look at Wave and an example of how one organisation has used it brilliantly to get people engaged with a subject at both local and global level.

Thanks

james

over 6 years ago

Guy Stephens

Guy Stephens, Social Customer Care Consultant at IBM Interactive Experience/GBS/MobileEnterprise

Excellent post and it's great to see an article written about knowledge management. There is no doubt that social media is seeing the emergence of a very rich set of tools that can be used by both companies and customers to create, manage and share knowledge with each other. We are seeing the rise of 'citizen-experts' alongside 'knowledge experts' within a company. However, no matter how powerful the social media tools are at all our disposals, it is imperative that at the heart of this lies a knowledge base that houses a company's 'knowledge universe'. The social media tools simply draw from this knowledge base in a more immediate, engaging, accessible and direct manner.

over 6 years ago

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Nigel Walsh

A great post - the title very very catchy too!


Whats your view on capturing the Tacit knowledge and making it accessible.  Keeping it fresh has always been a big challenge.

over 6 years ago

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Thomas Moreau

@Tim Aldiss: Thanks for mentioning Knowledge Plaza.

@ James Gurd: We are always happy to read such articles referring to knowledge management 2.0. While reading your article, I just systematically thought: "Well, Knowledge Plaza does it!" Or almost : podcasting or IM are not available... yet.

Indeed, Knowledge Plaza provides rich features that enable collaboration (microwikis, comments...), social networking, information management (documents, emails, contacts, internet bookmarks... all fully indexed), enterprise search (with flexible taxonomy and advanced search capabilities), diffusion (through digests or RSS feeds), plus many more, all within a secure environment with controlled –though flexible– access and visibility.

We are really concerned by the impact of those new technologies on knowledge management and truly believe that the sharing of information and collaboration are essential to any organization wanting to achieve the benefits of the new knowledge economy model.

We are currently working on a whitepaper (available in January 2010) that addresses this topic, called "Using Enterprise 2.0 to prepare for recovery". Hope you will enjoy this.

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Nigel,

By tacit knowledge I'm assuming you mean the specific skills that people have that is not simply factual but involves the ability to do something where individual skill comes into play, such as building clean accessible html code?

So that is a very good question. Tacit knowledge is much harder to share because it usually needs explanation to give context. I think business needs to map the type of knowledge it contains across its employee base - this can be done by a skills audit.

However, knowing what skills you have and how this can be shared are two very different things. Not everyone is good at explaining what they know and some don't like to share knowledge (many reasons, sometimes selfish). So, surely the challenge lies in finding the employees who are motivated by sharing their knowledge to help others and then getting this information documented clearly (guides, white papers, manuals).

It might be prudent to integrate the sharing of tacit knowledge with your HR training policy so that for subjects that have wide appeal and impact, there is regular training to skill up new employees. A quick scan of usage stats would show what information is most popular and internal surveys can highlight training needs.

I've seen this work in a developer environment using MS Sharepoint to store coding knowledge to aid future projects.

Behind this collation of knowledge will sit the information taxonomy and the collaboration toolset. The tools allow your business to store and tag information in a consistent manner to facilitate retrieval.

I wouldn't dare claim to be a KM expert but in my experience tacit knowledge is only valuable if it is relevant to others and can be easily understand and applied.

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Thomas

Thanks for sharing a bit more info about Knowlegde Plaza - I would be keen to read your white paper when ready - could you add a link in a comment on this blog or drop me a line via twitter @JamesGurd

thanks

james

over 6 years ago

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John James O'Brien

Great summary, James, and the enthusiasm is catching!  I love the innovation that has emerged from the knowledge-technology space and agree that the cultural side is critical. Ultimately, if technology does not work for people, it does not work for business.

Not arguing against the shift--I'm part of it--but attention to authentic, reliable, evidence-based decision making is overdue.  Opinion based management seems to be human nature (stretching Mintzberg's point) but from health care to governance of all kinds, what we need is sound decision making based on consideration of verifiable evidence.

This is a missing link in the k-space. Social media is, arguably, filled with more in the way of gossip and off the cuff expression than with substance. This varies, of course, with some amazing content out there.  Usually its a mix. When used for work purposes, these tools can mislead in creating what passes for "knowledge".  Technology is both enabler and inhibitor, creating a virtual frame within which meaning is perceived. 

As a leader and now advisor, I know that transparency and accountability has been lacking for the last two decades.  A risk in the adoption of social media for business purposes is that it is less and less possible to "know" about things the leader (team) is accountable for and every level is responsible for. 

There are some real challenges ahead as we discover that the repository of corporate knowledge has shifted from centrally conceived multi-media virtual and physical repositories to a dispersed, amorphous, individually created and uncontrolled mess.  The cloud metaphor is apt...but its diminishes capacity for patterns to emerge for quality improvement, makes it impossible to manage content in accord with business value lacking definition of the cloud and a structure behind it, and it's a lousy defense in court.

over 6 years ago

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Tawheed Kader

Great post, and some great thoughts! Unfortunately, in most companies/organizations, knowledge is stuck inside of hoards of e-mail threads and archived IM communications --- all great chunks of knowledge, but reached in an inefficient way, and archived for non-posterity.

We've been thinking hard about this problem and have been developing a product that helps people have organized group discussions that can later on be published for others to learn from. By encouraging users to follow a certain paradigm of sharing and debating ideas, we believe that the conversation will not only progress faster, you'll have a more menaingful one.

You can learn more at http://AskMyBrainTrust.com.

over 6 years ago

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Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2Small Business

Hi James

Just thought I'd let you know that we actually do have a knowledge base!

Back to my point on culture - it was empty at the time I enquired...

Since then, however, instructions have been issued to ensure certain information goes in, religiously, and so you and I can sleep well tonight knowing that we helped an organisation take a practical step forwards!

Cheers,

Mark.

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Mark

Thanks for the update, I shall look forward my night of blissful sleep:)

cheers

james

over 6 years ago

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