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?