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Truth or Myth?
The Realities of Social Knowledge Management

This article is part of the Best Practices White Paper Enterprise Social Networking & Collaboration [July/August 2009]

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Social knowledge management (SKM), spawned by Web 2.0 and energized by the new economy, is changing the way we think about traditional knowledge management (KM). Like any new approach to age-old problems, it’s sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction.

Everyone can agree that at its core, a successful SKM strategy starts with a knowledge repository where content is managed and accessed, and that it’s critical to enhance that experience through the "wisdom of the community."

"But that’s just the beginning—let’s get to the truth about SKM.

SKM is different from social networking (Hint: It’s not a social free-for-all)
The objective of SKM, unlike consumer-oriented social media, is to create a high-quality knowledge repository. Vetted information must be secure so that it retains its veracity. And having control mechanisms in place ensures that socialized content is chaos-proof. Simply implementing blogs and wikis into an organization is no guarantee for success.

Outside-the-firewall social networking is indeed different than SKM. The stakes are too high for inaccurate or poor knowledge contributions—therefore, MySpace- and Facebook-style social networking is, at best, an uncertain endeavor inside an organization’s firewall.

Knowledge is more than just top-down vetted information. And it’s more than bottom-up social communications and networking. It’s the intersection of these constructs where measurable value and organizational impact is derived.

ECM + blogs, ratings and comments = SKM
This is the "Goldilocks problem": finding a solution that’s just right for a specific organization.

For example, it has been said that enterprise content management (ECM) systems are too big, and that it takes too long to find information within the system. Why?

First, there is the "Google problem"—conducting searches that retrieve numerous and irrelevant results, which means wasting time searching for the appropriate content. Second, ECM often focuses on simply obtaining documents and ensuring that they are not misplaced—resulting in content that is "physically captured, but logically lost."

At the opposite extreme, organizations that have implemented social networking approaches, SharePoint or other specialized content management solutions now have too many silos. Information is dispersed across many specialized repositories, and it takes too long to visit each repository to find the information the user seeks.

SKM brings people and content together in one place, enriching the data and improving information accessibility and accuracy to enhance individual and organizational productivity.

SKM does not fall into traditional content management buckets
SKM is a game-changing approach to KM. As we all know, "knowledge management" is an awfully broad term and an awfully big bucket that no one technology, product, process or service defines.

There are many other buckets within this realm, including document management, ECM, portals, digital asset management... you get the picture.

SKM addresses problems that no single application can do alone: reducing the time it takes to search for information, complying with regulatory standards, capturing and reusing critical intellectual property, eliminating information silos and, perhaps most importantly, capturing the wisdom of knowledge communities.

SharePoint is SKM
SharePoint is the 800 lb. gorilla—it is so pervasive across the corporate landscape that it is impossible to ignore or overlook. As such, it begs the question: "How does SharePoint fit into my SKM strategy?" And it comes down to the age-old "build vs. buy" discussion.

Simply put, SharePoint is a set of tools—not an out-of-the-box solution. Using SharePoint alone brings with it concerns about potential strain on resources—time, staff and cost—to create the capabilities necessary for socializing content, especially if the project must be up and running quickly.

SharePoint can also contribute to the silo problem—a typical SharePoint footprint creates many SharePoint "sites," which can equate to additional disconnected information silos.

Information silos are the death of many KM initiatives—they’re expensive and counter-productive. Successful SKM recognizes the power of leveraging these investments and promoting connections to existing information repositories within an organization.

SKM solutions should be seen as a way to augment and complement existing infrastructure. It’s all about leverage, and leveraging SharePoint with an SKM platform enables quick start-up and a maximum return on investments already in place.

SKM provides considerable, quantifiable ROI
When implemented and used correctly, SKM produces tangible ROI. And as budgets are almost universally getting tighter, understanding ROI is more critical to a project’s success than ever.

One professional services firm calculated ROI by comparing time spent finding information before and after implementing an SKM strategy—and the results were both positive and measurable. Employees had unprecedented visibility and access to information, and the organization realized more than a 40% increase in knowledge worker productivity.

Another organization, R.V. Anderson Associates, Ltd., implemented an SKM strategy that provided ROI after just two months. The technology has been rolled out across 90% of its employee base and the organization has seen operational benefits including increased productivity, centralized intellectual capital, expanded knowledge sharing across regions and decreased time to deliver proposals.

So, now that we’ve separated the truth from the myths, ask yourself this: How much does your organization really know? 

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