Knowledge Management is a term often understood very differently among people in business.
Some people really mean a “knowledge application” or some application built to manage content, with lots of metadata and content views and good search features.
Other people focus on behavior change, and processes that help support knowledge management activities. For some, SharePoint is used as a capability to take tacit knowledge (what’s in our heads) and make it explicit (searchable, re-usable).
That, of course, requires significant user behavior change.
There are very powerful success stories where organizations have saved tens of thousands of dollars by aggressively capturing organizational and topical knowledge as explicit knowledge. What is KM? Knowledge Management Explained, an article from KM World, does a very nice job of explaining, at high level, some basic principles of knowledge management.
So what does this have to do with Microsoft SharePoint?
Well, SharePoint is an “enabling” technology - and not a solution unto itself. It has content and document management capabilities, as well as social capabilities, albeit previously widely criticized social capabilities. SharePoint has a good search capability now. It is widely accepted across organizations in all business domains.
To be real, however, SharePoint is just a tool.
Though people have built “knowledge applications” on SharePoint, it was not a powerful tool for truly managing knowledge beyond managing and finding documents.
So what is changing?
- SharePoint 2013 social features are improved, not perfect, but much better
- Delve, in Office 365, is new but could be transformational – as content (knowledge) can exist with multiple user contexts (boards) and also surfaced to users by Office Graph
SharePoint 2013 On-Premise Social Features
SharePoint 2013 is no longer new. But taking a look at the social features, there have been improvements that aid in collaboration - which is really behavior change - and managing knowledge via content and document features.
- Community Template: Greatly underutilized as a tool, it helps to promote knowledge sharing and behaviors by tracking, if the administrator chooses to set up), responses to message boards, and participation in discussions in general.
- Categories: Which help to organize discussion threads and show discussion thread activities by category.
- Discussion Boards: The ability to set featured discussions, tag a discussion thread as a “question” and tag as the best reply, by the original author.
- Badges - Badges that the administrator can set to be visible for an individual based on their activities on the site.
- Site Newsfeed – that is a relatively lightweight but useful threaded messaging capability unique to that site only, and includes the ability to use #hashtags and @mentions that tie into the user’s SharePoint 2013 My site.
- Tracking - My site news feeds that tracks documents and people a user is following.
What About Yammer?
Yammer integration with SharePoint is still a big awkward. At Microsoft Ignite in Chicago (2015) there was a lot of angst among participants. Not about the capabilities of Yammer, but the integration with SharePoint. There were hopes in 2013 and 2014 that this integration model would become clearer.
What does Delve bring to SharePoint and Knowledge Management? Delve is powered by Office Graph, and based on the algorithms Microsoft has built, Delve is supposed to surface documents in your Delve interface that you have been working on or may be interested in. Of course, you only see documents in Delve that you have permission to see, and those permissions are based on how that document is permissioned in SharePoint or One Drive. More interesting though is the topic of context. Delve provides a capability heretofore unavailable in SharePoint without using manually published URL links. Using what Microsoft calls “Boards” which are simply topic a topic placeholder any user can create, a user can place a virtual copy of a document into one or more boards.
What does this mean? A single document may be interesting within multiple contexts. Assuming all users below have permission to see that document, a technical summary document may be interesting to:
- A set of researchers interested that topic.
- A sales person who is on a sales team that sells a product that is impacted by that summary document.
- A management team responsible for market area that is impacted by that topic.
- A marketing team that may have to promote a product that is built upon or references that topic.
That document may have relevance to these four teams/users for different reasons. Where the document exists is not important - users get a link to the location. That the document does exist is what is important. In previous versions of SharePoint, a user could only find this document by have access to and navigating to the source location, or via search. That document virtually exists in many contexts via Boards. This is very powerful for managing knowledge, because all knowledge is contextual. It is critical to a user in the context that the knowledge supports their needs.
A Microsoft Blog Article Introducing boards in Office Delve—a new way to organize and share work provides some insight.
The jury is still out on the true effectiveness of Boards. And how Boards will work in a very large organization. Yet the ability to place knowledge in context should not be underestimated. It helps to solve the findability problem in SharePoint, and teams can use behaviors to work together to use Boards to truly capture knowledge from across an organization in a way that is organized by them, and for them – rather than browsing across dozens of sites.
Success In Knowledge
The key to success in Knowledge is and will always be:
- A management commitment to a knowledge program.
- Behavior change from management through knowledge workers.
- A solid approach to and set of enabling technologies.
SharePoint, with all its warts, from an end-to-end perspective is an extremely powerful tool for managing knowledge. Many of its features are underutilized due to lack of models or lack of strategy - as opposed to build it and they will use it, which fails.
SharePoint 2016 will not change much, except it appears Delve will be in SharePoint 2016 on premise and, of course, the hybrid model is made easier. Delve is also supposed to cut across both hybrid and on-premise environments. Delve is the wildcard for knowledge management. Context is king. Delve may be a lynchpin in how SharePoint can be used as a much more powerful tool for connecting people to content from across an organization.