Knowledge and Content Management: A Foundation for Business Success
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.
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.”
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.
organizations understand that an effective strategy requires cross-functional
planning and expertise, the right information technology, and an eye on processes
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.
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
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.
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
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.”
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“Organizations must view information management in a broad way and understand
the full value of what knowledge management and enterprise content management