Knowledge and Content Management: A Foundation for Business Success

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2012-03-12 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Knowledge management and enterprise content management are increasingly at the center of a successful business strategy.

By Samuel Greengard

If content is king, then most organizations eventually come to recognize that they are servants to information and knowledge. Despite sophisticated servers and storage devices crammed with terabytes of data, relatively few companies are adept at harnessing the content and knowledge tucked away in all corners of the enterprise.

 “There is a tremendous amount of valuable information that is never put to use,” observes Stephen Powers, vice president, research director at Forrester Research.

The situation isn’t getting any easier. Today, organizations find themselves buried in unstructured data—including audio and video files, meeting notes and e-mail messages. And as the use of mobile tools and social networking spreads, there’s a growing need to capture, manage and share content and knowledge in new ways.

“Businesses are looking to unlock the full value of their content,” says Erik Larson, a senior executive in Accenture’s Process and Information Management Practice. “Unfortunately, many organizations lack the systems to do so.”

Achieving success is not east. There’s no single tool or software package that can capture, store and manage all the content and knowledge that resides in computers and people. There’s also no single way to share information and content among employees and with customers and business partners.

Best-practice organizations understand that an effective strategy requires cross-functional planning and expertise, the right information technology, and an eye on processes and workflows.

The idea of capturing and sharing expertise is nothing new. To a certain extent, businesses have always looked for ways to manage content and knowledge more effectively. But the advent of computers—and particularly the Internet—has changed things in a significant way. Beginning in the late 1990s, organizations began looking for ways to share everything from existing files and snippets of information to insights and experiences.

Knowledge management (KM) and enterprise content management (ECM) aim to provide content, expertise and knowledge where and when they’re needed. Forrester’s Powers defines KM as the governance model and ECM as the system that supports an initiative.

ECM can take many forms, including collaboration tools, Web- or server-based file- and document-sharing technology, social media systems and more. “It makes sense from both a strategic and cost point of view to reuse the best content and share knowledge,” Accenture’s Larson says.

Electrolux Believes in Sharing

One company that has fully embraced the concept is Electrolux, the world’s second-largest manufacturer of appliances. The company—based in Stockholm and with 50,000 employees spread across 60 countries—has turned to KM to share key content across half a dozen business units, including its Frigidaire and Eureka brands. “We realize that we can work smarter together than apart,” says Ralf Larsson, director of online employee engagement and development.

In 2009, Electrolux identified a need to move away from what Larsson describes as a “traditional, corporate-driven” approach to sharing content and knowledge. It turned to Microsoft SharePoint as well as IBM’s Connections, Lotus Notes and Sametime software, so that employees could access content and collaborate on the fly through an intranet, online communities and microblogs. More than 100 portals now exist, including 1,100 collaboration spaces with upward of 8,500 members.

The system offers a platform for knowledge sharing and collaborative problem solving. For example, last year, when the organization created a mobile-based social Internet capability that didn’t function as intended, IT professionals in Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom began working on a fix. “Within two hours, the problem was resolved,” Larsson says. “In the past, we would have had dozens of phone calls and struggled for hours to address the problem.”

Electrolux also uses the platform for onboarding new hires. Employees use the system to learn about job functions and the company by accessing an array of content. In the past, updating content was complex and somewhat unwieldy. Today, authorized human resources managers and others can share insights, collaborate and rewrite content on the fly.

In addition, community members—typically top managers—can respond to questions posted by the company’s CEO or another high-ranking executive. This serves as a way to spark new ideas and innovation. Says Larsson: “We’re seeing open dialogue and knowledge sharing in areas as diverse as R&D and customer service.”

Instrument of Change

Three primary areas of KM and ECM exist, Forrester’s Powers says. These encompass internal content, transactional content and so-called “persuasive” content that targets the outside world. The last one represents a significant opportunity that many organizations do not fully exploit.

“Outward facing initiatives—including Websites, mobile and social initiatives—are very different from traditional document management systems,” he says. “You can dictate formats and devices internally, but you have little control over customers.”

One company attempting to ratchet up externally facing KM and ECM initiatives is National Instruments (NI), a leading manufacturer of testing equipment used by engineers, scientists and other technical specialists. The Austin, Texas, company, with annual revenues exceeding $1 billion and more than 6,000 employees, sells a software programming platform, LabVIEW, that uses a graphical system design and virtual instrumentation to automate testing processes for equipment.

“Our success is based on the ability of our customers to become proficient with our tools,” says John Pasquarette, vice president of e-business. “The community of users takes the platform to places we hadn’t envisioned. In many instances, they know how to use it better than we do.”

As a result, NI turned to the Jive Engage Platform to enable socially focused knowledge and content sharing both internally and externally. “The community approach, including discussions about how to get the most out of LabVIEW and solve various issues, “drives better solutions and ultimately sells our products,” he says.

For instance, a customer with a problem can post a question and receive input from users all over the world. “Historically, we had a traditional approach of feeding content into the Website,” Pasquarette says. “Tech support engineers, R&D specialists and product marketing managers created content to support LabVIEW—including [sample] programs and white papers.

“These new collaborative technologies are shifting the publishing role toward the customer. Participants like to share their expertise, and they have a great deal of credibility with their peers. It’s a winning situation for everyone involved.”

The content is also plugged into a knowledge base that’s used by customers. The result? NI has reduced phone support and call center costs and improved its support metrics. Says Pasquarette: “Customers that are active on these sites display higher loyalty rates, they buy more products and they make more recommendations to peers.”

Knowledge Rules!

Not surprisingly, the challenges of building effective KM and ECM tools multiply as organizations confront a growing tangle of systems and formats containing document files, spreadsheets, Web content, social media feeds, databases and more. The ability to understand governance issues and business context—and map out a strategy—is paramount.

“There’s no single software package that can address the full spectrum of ECM needs,” Powers notes. “An enterprise may require a portal, a document management system, a digital asset management system and numerous other components.”

It’s also important to recognize that a KM or ECM system is only as good as the search results it generates. In some cases, the use of tags can help manage the crush of content, although these tools present problems at the enterprise level because people label things differently.

Accenture’s Larson suggests tweaking and fine-tuning search capabilities by examining how users search and access content. “You can change the hypothesis a bit to gain insight into what works best.” In addition, the best systems take into account a person’s job category or role when delivering results. 

In the end, the growing complexity of managing enterprise content is both an opportunity and a challenge. Organizations that harness the full power of KM and ECM are able to work faster, smarter and better. They’re able to connect to content and distribute it in new and innovative ways.

Says Larson: “Organizations must view information management in a broad way and understand the full value of what knowledge management and enterprise content management provide.”

 



 
 
 
 
Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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