Knowledge and Content Management: A Foundation for Business Success

BySamuel Greengard

If content isking, then most organizations eventually come to recognize that they areservants to information and knowledge. Despite sophisticated servers andstorage devices crammed with terabytes of data, relatively few companies areadept at harnessing the content and knowledge tucked away in all corners of theenterprise.

 ?There is atremendous amount of valuable information that is never put to use,? observesStephen Powers, vice president, research director at Forrester Research.

The situationisn?t getting any easier. Today, organizations find themselves buried inunstructured data?including audio and video files, meeting notes and e-mailmessages. And as the use of mobile tools and social networking spreads, there?sa growing need to capture, manage and share content and knowledge in new ways.

?Businessesare looking to unlock the full value of their content,? says Erik Larson, asenior executive in Accenture?s Process and Information Management Practice. ?Unfortunately,many organizations lack the systems to do so.?

Achievingsuccess is not east. There?s no single tool or software package that cancapture, store and manage all the content and knowledge that resides incomputers and people. There?s also no single way to share information andcontent among employees and with customers and business partners.

Best-practiceorganizations understand that an effective strategy requires cross-functionalplanning and expertise, the right information technology, and an eye on processesand workflows.

The idea ofcapturing and sharing expertise is nothing new. To a certain extent, businesseshave always looked for ways to manage content and knowledge more effectively.But the advent of computers?and particularly the Internet?has changedthings in a significant way. Beginning in the late 1990s, organizations beganlooking for ways to share everything from existing files and snippets ofinformation to insights and experiences.

Knowledgemanagement (KM) and enterprise content management (ECM) aim to provide content,expertise and knowledge where and when they?re needed. Forrester?s Powersdefines KM as the governance model and ECM as the system that supports aninitiative.

ECM can takemany forms, including collaboration tools, Web- or server-based file- anddocument-sharing technology, social media systems and more. ?It makes sensefrom both a strategic and cost point of view to reuse the best content andshare knowledge,? Accenture?s Larson says.

Electrolux Believes in Sharing

One company that has fully embracedthe concept is Electrolux, the world?s second-largest manufacturer ofappliances. The company?based in Stockholm and with 50,000 employees spreadacross 60 countries?has turned to KM to share key content across half a dozenbusiness units, including its Frigidaire and Eureka brands. ?We realize that wecan work smarter together than apart,? says Ralf Larsson, director of online employeeengagement 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. Itturned to Microsoft SharePoint as well as IBM?s Connections, Lotus Notes andSametime software, so that employees could access content and collaborate onthe fly through an intranet, online communities and microblogs. More than 100portals now exist, including 1,100 collaboration spaces with upward of 8,500members.

The systemoffers a platform for knowledge sharing and collaborative problem solving. Forexample, last year, when the organization created a mobile-based social Internetcapability that didn?t function as intended, IT professionals in Germany, Italyand the United Kingdom began working on a fix. ?Within two hours, the problemwas resolved,? Larsson says. ?In the past, we would have had dozens of phonecalls and struggled for hours to address the problem.?

Electroluxalso uses the platform for onboarding new hires. Employees use the system tolearn about job functions and the company by accessing an array of content. Inthe past, updating content was complex and somewhat unwieldy. Today, authorizedhuman resources managers and others can share insights, collaborate and rewritecontent on the fly.

In addition,community members?typically top managers?can respond to questions posted by thecompany?s CEO or another high-ranking executive. This serves as a way to sparknew ideas and innovation. Says Larsson: ?We?re seeing open dialogue andknowledge sharing in areas as diverse as R&D and customer service.?

Instrument of Change

Three primaryareas of KM and ECM exist, Forrester?s Powers says. These encompass internalcontent, transactional content and so-called ?persuasive? content that targetsthe outside world. The last one represents a significant opportunity that manyorganizations do not fully exploit.

?Outward facinginitiatives?including Websites, mobile and social initiatives?are verydifferent from traditional document management systems,? he says. ?You candictate formats and devices internally, but you have little control overcustomers.?

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

?Our successis based on the ability of our customers to become proficient with our tools,?says John Pasquarette, vice president of e-business. ?Thecommunity of users takes the platform to places we hadn?t envisioned. In manyinstances, they know how to use it better than we do.?

As a result,NI turned to the Jive Engage Platform to enable socially focused knowledgeand content sharing both internally and externally. ?The community approach,including discussions about how to get the most out of LabVIEW and solvevarious issues, ?drives better solutions and ultimately sells our products,? hesays.

For instance,a customer with a problem can post a question and receive input from users allover the world. ?Historically, we had a traditional approach of feeding contentinto the Website,? Pasquarette says. ?Tech support engineers, R&Dspecialists and product marketing managers created content to supportLabVIEW?including [sample] programs and white papers.

?These newcollaborative technologies are shifting the publishing role toward thecustomer. Participants like to share their expertise, and they have a greatdeal of credibility with their peers. It?s a winning situation for everyoneinvolved.?

The contentis also plugged into a knowledge base that?s used by customers. The result? NIhas reduced phone support and call center costs and improved its supportmetrics. Says Pasquarette: ?Customers that are active on these sites displayhigher loyalty rates, they buy more products and they make more recommendationsto peers.?

Knowledge Rules!

Notsurprisingly, the challenges of building effective KM and ECM tools multiply asorganizations confront a growing tangle of systems and formats containingdocument files, spreadsheets, Web content, social media feeds, databases andmore. The ability to understand governance issues and business context?and mapout a strategy?is paramount.

?There?s nosingle software package that can address the full spectrum of ECM needs,?Powers notes. ?An enterprise may require a portal, a document managementsystem, a digital asset management system and numerous other components.?

It?s alsoimportant to recognize that a KM or ECM system is only as good as the searchresults it generates. In some cases, the use of tags can help manage the crushof content, although these tools present problems at the enterprise levelbecause people label things differently.

Accenture?s Larsonsuggests tweaking and fine-tuning search capabilities by examining how userssearch and access content. ?You can change the hypothesis a bit to gain insightinto what works best.? In addition, the best systems take into account aperson?s job category or role when delivering results. 

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

Says Larson:?Organizations must view information management in a broad way and understandthe full value of what knowledge management and enterprise content managementprovide.?