What do we know? Knowledge management and Knowledge Maintenance

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There’s an old joke that us IT folks find very funny.

bandaidsQ: Why could God create the world in only seven days?
A: There was no installed base

I’m deep in the process of implementing a corporate content management system. The software base is Confluence, a wiki with a lot of enterprise friendly tools.  The test system is in place and I’ve started the process of seeding it with documents.

So far, I’ve identified four primary sources of information.  There’s a big, shared folder called “S-Data”. Within that folder, there are folders named by functionality and individuals.  The second information source is personal folders. Each person also has their own personal folders on the big file server.  Sometimes important corporate documents are in the S-Data folders, sometimes in their personal folders. Email (specifically, the Exchange server) is the third information repository.  There are things recorded in email that are recorded no where else.  In addition, the Exchange server hosts public folders that function as a CRM and document exchange.  Finally, there’s an intranet hosting documents and discussions, with contributions from the corporate office and a distributed network of affiliates.

It has struck me that I’m not implementing a content management system.  I’m implementing a Knowledge Base, a system that should contain the sum of knowledge about the current state of the organization. Going forward, the version control features of Confluence will create a historical record, documenting what has changed over time. Strategically, this is A Good Thing.

Strategically, yes.  But, oh my, the task of organizing and sifting is proving painful.  It would be so much easier to buy a Google Search Appliance, let it index all the content, and put up a search page and call it “Our Knowledge”.  You and I both know that’s a straw man argument.  It finds everything, but still doesn’t give you history, context, or control.  Using a search tool Band-Aids the lack of consistent structure, framework, and planning. It’s a short term fix that lets us avoid the painful process of changing thought and business processes.

It’s time to think hard about how the knowledge trees are structured.  The goal of the project is a Wikipedia of corporate knowledge, deeply crosslinked, with the most commonly accessed information most closely at hand.  I don’t yet have the right tree structure, but I have one overriding organizing principle:  No Band-Aids.

3 Replies to “What do we know? Knowledge management and Knowledge Maintenance”

  1. While Knowledge Bases are an excellent tool, many companies have unrealistic expectations of what they can accomplish. No doubt many hope they can eliminate the employees once their "knowledge" has been collected. I hope they realize that without wisdom and experience there is a limit to the application of what is in the database. 

    There are not so many people in any organization that not only clearly understand the issues but also know how to explain them in writing in such a way that others can comprehend the information. They still need a contact who can answer questions and add context and additional details.

    It will always be far faster to ask the person who has the most indepth knowledge directly than it will be to figure out the best way to search for it in any database.

    1. Yes, but… It always comes down to that.

      The company I'm currently working with has recognized the inefficiences of the "ask the person" methodology.  In fact, in some ironic twist to all this, the person they typically asked such questions has just left the company.  The purpose of the databasei is to make the existing staff more efficient. They currently spend too much time looking for documents — a process equivalent of rummaging through drawers, shelves, closets, and a few boxes stored under the bed.  And then, when found, it's a question of figuring out if the document is current.

      The people at this company know that their job is to serve their customer and they want to do it completely quickly and reliably. That's what's driving the knowledge base project.

      1. How well knowledge bases work versus the 'ask the person' methodology depends on the complexity of the question. Many things can be well-documented and an FAQ is a wonderful resource, but when it comes to how to apply complex strategies or diagnose complicated problems there is no substitute for a live person who really understands the subject.

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