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The role of Knowledge Management in Modern Workplace

The premise established in previous blog posts of this series was that modern workplace can play its strengths on the best way as a combination of collaboration, communication and process management, delivered on desktop, tablet and mobile devices, to be used and consumed from residential and mobile workers, anytime, anywhere. And, as we have seen, it all revolves around content. So, the first logical question would be – what is, actually, content?

Content – we can remember it from the ECM definitions – can be structured and unstructured. Structured content can be spanned through all different range of technologies – databases, ERP/CRM/HR/LOB… solutions, and even loosely governed solutions such as SharePoint lists. Unstructured content is everything without clearly defined structure, including Emails, file shares, and SharePoint document libraries. Even if structured content has always been in the main focus of IT, researches made in the recent years have shown that most of the corporate knowledge is actually stored in unstructured content – emails, Excel sheets, Word documents… That was the very reason for the rise of metadata management, search, and the other methods that should boost content and knowledge findability inside the unstructured content. We got to know this as “knowledge management” (another loosely defined term, I agree).

The key problem with all knowledge management solutions was a necessity to actively seek for that knowledge, inside unstructured content. That was often a time-consuming activity without any promise of success. The user would have to assume that the knowledge already exists inside company, either in some unstructured data repository, to which she might or might not have access to, or in a non-written form, as knowledge that her colleagues possess. Even if the assumption that the knowledge exists would be correct, the challenge of locating that knowledge has remained the largest issue.

If someone would count total amount of hours and money that the world economy has lost in searching file repositories, email attachments and SharePoint libraries, the number would probably be expressed in billions of dollars. A reversed premise, that knowledge (“the right content”) could proactively find a way to those who might actually need it, was unthinkable.

So, what would happen if we would actually be able to reverse the premise? If the employee from that comic from the previous blog post would not have to walk over to his colleague, to inform him about that document being uploaded in the document library? What if the colleague would still be proactively informed? If he would be immediately and automatically notified about relevant changes in the document, and reasons for those changes, without need to actually compare the document versions and look for the changes? That would decrease redundant collaboration time significantly. Now, what would happen, if a third colleague, working in an office in a remote location, but working on the same or similar topics, would also be informed that something of her interest is happening? Would we dare to call this proactive knowledge management?

Unthinkable? No, it is not. This is exactly what private (consumer) social networks do every day: proactively serving us with information according to our interests. And that is the real, and actual promise of the modern workplace in the knowledge management arena, and the key of its success: it can, and it will, when properly used, make collaboration significantly easier and more enjoyable. It fills the abovementioned “communication gap” in the collaboration story.

It is a fact that most of the content is contained inside Microsoft product range, and this is not going to change for quite some time. True, there are more popular ERP systems than NAV, more popular CRM systems than Dynamics, but, as already mentioned, 70% of the knowledge (relevant content) is stored in unstructured content repositories. Just think of email (Exchange), file shares (Windows, OneDrive) and collaboration platforms (SharePoint). Google is making some attempts in this field, but in general, the field is heavily dominated by Microsoft. For the good reasons, too.

That being said, Microsoft has been missing chances after chances to point on content-driven collaboration and knowledge management, and first with Teams they managed to create a modern workplace solution which revolves around content and contextual work. However, Teams do not automatically include relevant external repositories (even such as SharePoint sites which are not connected to Teams), neither does it offer a streamlined Teams governance.