At Lucidea we work on KM projects with clients around the globe, in almost every industry. One question that we hear again and again is “But isn’t SharePoint a KM application?” We love this question and we hate this question, because the answer is “it depends.” It depends on what you mean by an application, and what that implies. This post covers some of the challenges of using SharePoint for knowledge management.
SharePoint is a very powerful and flexible platform for building all sorts of applications. Many organizations have adopted SharePoint because of its promise to displace all sorts of big and little applications. With SharePoint, IT can learn one framework and build out applications on an as-needed basis, rather than buying and then maintaining 1001 different applications, all with various system requirements, etc. But the key thing is that you do need someone to build out the SharePoint platform and actually turn it into a useful application.
On the surface, SharePoint has many of the attributes you need in a KM application: the ability to store and organize information, to search, etc. So in that sense, SharePoint is a KM application. But this assertion is lacking from two perspectives: first, when using SharePoint out-of-the-box, most clients find the KM functionality poorly suited to their specific needs. SharePoint must be customized and configured before it can even begin to address an organization’s overall KM requirements.
Second, what most organizations do not fully appreciate (at the beginning of a SharePoint based KM initiative) is that building out SharePoint as a KM application to meet specific requirements requires lots of time, lots of programming, and lots of project management resources, not to mention an organizational information strategy and guiding vision. And remember, once the SharePoint KM application is built, you must continue development in order to see future KM enhancements—SharePoint will deliver enhancements at the platform level, but not to your custom built KM application.
We work with several firms that are spending in excess of $1 million per year on SharePoint development (on KM initiatives alone) and they have been funding SharePoint KM development at this level for several years. So—if this meets your definition of an application, then, yup, SharePoint is a KM application.
But if your definition of a KM application is one that:
- Can be implemented in weeks / months and not years
- Is regularly enhanced and improved based on KM users’ feedback
- Seeks to minimize IT involvement and maximize the involvement of content experts and knowledge managers
- Has the flexibility to meet your KM needs today and tomorrow
- Is focused on the single problem of helping users access reliable information efficiently so that they can make better decisions…
Then, no, SharePoint is not a KM application.
In closing, when we are asked “But isn’t SharePoint a KM application?” we say the following:
- SharePoint is a general application development and collaboration environment. So it only has the technological underpinnings required in a KM application.
- It’s important to remember that KM is not about the technology, it’s about a lot of other items first, as well as about suitable technology.
- Customizing SharePoint for successful KM use is expensive. This is one of the main challenges of using SharePoint for knowledge management.
- Since SharePoint is often the de facto collaboration framework (i.e. the new intranet) you cannot ignore it or run from it: you need to embrace and integrate with SharePoint.
- Maximize the success of your KM initiative by leveraging scarce and critical KM resources— information professionals and content managers. These folks are core to your KM strategy, because they’ll ensure it’s based on an understanding of how specific content and knowledge is used by your organization (rather than based upon IT’s focus on bits and bytes). Remember, without an information strategy and accompanying organizational methodologies, you are doomed. No technology is going to save you.
- Select a KM application that can be implemented and used by content managers, with limited IT involvement. This ensures that:
- Content and knowledge doesn’t get lost in implementation details, but remains the focus of your KM work
- KM enhancements are delivered to your organization via product improvements, meaning you can stay ahead of the KM curve rather than always being in catch-up mode trying to get IT to build new features into your custom SharePoint KM application
- If your organization uses SharePoint, integrate your KM application with it and leverage SharePoint as the de facto collaboration framework.
- This means SharePoint search must work with your KM data store
- This also means your KM application should provide SharePoint web parts (or leverage native SharePoint web parts) to enable users to find information they seek, without the need to leave SharePoint
Finally, remember that knowledge management is a process and not a product. You will be working on refining and improving your KM process and capabilities forever, so be sure that you are ready to keep resources—both technical (especially if you are using SharePoint) and non-technical, e.g. content managers—allocated and focused on your KM needs for years to come.
Lucidea teams spend many hours researching best practices in KM. For more, see Stan Garfield’s book, Proven Practices for Promoting a Knowledge Management Program.