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Putting enterprise content where people work

This article appears in the issue April 2015 [Volume 24, Issue 4]
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Despite the promise of new technologies, effective enterprise content management feels more elusive than ever for a lot of companies. Part of the challenge is that there’s simply more content than there used to be. While firms still have huge quantities of documents, employees are embracing new ways to record and share information—everything from wikis and social media to websites and videos. Those new formats open the door for more dynamic, interactive communication, but they also create content management hurdles, especially since the content tends to be unstructured and trapped in different systems.

But even beyond that, the way people access and consume content is changing to reflect a workforce that is increasingly hurried, mobile and collaborative. No one wants to read long reports or manuals anymore—employees demand just the information they need in the format they want. They assume the enterprise search function will work like Google, regardless of technical constraints, security restrictions and cultural norms about how different parts of the business share information. And they expect content to be delivered to them seamlessly no matter where they are, what network they’re on, or what device they’re using.

APQC recently conducted a six-month research study, “Connecting People to Content”, to find out how organizations can adapt to this brave new world. Our goal was not to compare systems—there’s already a lot of vendor information out there—but to highlight ways that firms can anticipate content needs and link people to the best information to support their jobs. To that end, we focused on four scope areas: creating compelling content, managing it throughout its lifespan, ensuring resources are findable and accessible, and understanding the interplay between content and social channels.

Through the study, APQC identified 20 best practices associated with connecting people to content in an enterprise setting. The research combines insights from a broad survey with in-depth data collected from five organizations identified as “best practice:” EY, MetLife, MWH Global, Nalco (an Ecolab company) and Wipro. The full report details how we selected the best-practice organizations and all their practices across the content lifecycle, but for this article, we’ve opted to share key findings related to making content accessible and delivering it to employees when, where and how they need it.

Putting content in the flow of work

The best-practice organizations harness a range of tools in pursuit of the elusive goal of “findability”—everything from advanced search solutions to intricately crafted taxonomies and handpicked search results for particular keywords. However, making it easy for employees to retrieve items from repositories is only half the battle. To get the most value out of content, the best-practice organizations must put it directly in the path of employees so they can access it in the context of what they’re doing at a given moment.

When it comes to integrating content into the flow of work, the differences between best practice and peer organizations are striking. Two-thirds of best-practice organizations make a habit of building templates, guidelines, best practices and/or FAQs directly into business processes and applications (Download Figure 1 also on page 9 April KMWorld, Vol. 24 Issue 4), and all either mandate or strongly encourage employees to use that content in the context of their jobs (Download Figure 2 also on page 9 April KMWorld, Vol. 24 Issue 4). By contrast, the organizations that sponsored the research exert less effort integrating content into processes and applications, and most make using such resources purely voluntary.

What does it mean to build content directly into business processes and applications? The short answer is it depends on how an organization is structured and the type of work it does. For companies that operate according to well-defined business processes, it might mean arranging content in line with process documentation so people can drill down into information on specific tasks and activities. But if a firm’s work revolves around client projects, it may want to push content directly to project team sites so relevant resources are immediately available to people in the trenches delivering projects. Still other companies embed how-to information, FAQs, and tips and tricks into software applications where employees do their work.

Integrating content into processes

Among the best-practice organizations, MWH Global, an engineering and consulting firm focused on water treatment and distribution, has a particularly robust strategy to integrate content into its business processes. The firm has translated its process maps for end-to-end project delivery into a custom software tool called the Process Navigator. The Process Navigator lets MWH employees click on each step in the project delivery process to access documentation about the step, including the inputs they need to complete it and a summary of the work involved.

The tool also links users to technical content associated with each step, such as relevant best practices and design templates from MWH’s technical library. The system is constantly updated so that, as long as project managers work from the content embedded in the Process Navigator, they will always have access to the most up-to-date information and engineering design templates.

Integrating content into projects

As a project-focused organization, IT consulting and outsourcing firm Wipro integrates targeted content into the portals its project teams use to collaborate on and store documents. When forming a portal for a new client project, Wipro’s KM team uses an analytical model to identify targeted content that may help the project team execute the project. The recommendations include content approved for enterprise use along with items specific to the client account in question.

The KM team then pushes links to the identified resources to an “organizational knowledge” section within each project portal. That makes it easy for Wipro project teams to review existing knowledge and solutions from one convenient location, without having to enter search terms and seek out relevant documents. The model fits with the Wipro KM team’s overall vision for content delivery, which de-emphasizes search in favor of using analytics to push content recommendations to employees.

Integrating content into business applications

One of the most direct ways to incorporate content into the flow of work is by inserting it directly into enterprise applications where employees enter data, complete tasks and interact with customers. APQC has seen many organizations do this successfully, including insurer MetLife in the current study. At MetLife, the KM team integrates procedures, job aids, templates and links to customer folders into the account management system and service portal so client service consultants have relevant information at their fingertips.

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