Managing the Web 2.0 life cycle
As more and more information is communicated through informal channels such as blogs and wikis, the importance of incorporating those electronic documents into a formal life cycle strategy also increases. An area of particular vulnerability is the issue of knowledge retention as the baby boomer generation moves into retirement. Capturing, disseminating and preserving such knowledge should be a top priority, but much of it is currently shared not through formal reports but rather through newly emerging social media such as blogs and wikis. Most organizations do not have a strategic plan for capturing such knowledge or maintaining it as records.
From a legal viewpoint, organizations should not ignore the content contained in social media, even if it is transient or incremental in nature. The Federal Records Act of 1950 requires federal agencies to document their functions, policies and essential transactions.
"The definition of what is a federal record under this Act has not changed in almost 60 years, even though the methods through which they are created have evolved," says Jason R. Baron, director of litigation for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). "The Federal Records Act encompasses Web 2.0 information along with other electronic content." NARA provides guidance for how to handle some of the unique characteristics of those records, such as their transient nature.
In the private sector, the challenge of keeping up with new types of content is similar. "Record-keeping obligations do not go away for companies attempting to comply with regulatory requirements, such as Sarbanes-Oxley, but if you are using various types of Web 2.0 technologies, the challenge may get more complex," Baron says. For information in both the public and private sectors, the criteria are not so much related to the medium as to the contents. Certain topics, authors and timeframes might result in a document’s being categorized as a record and entering a life cycle management process.
Systems that allow users to decide whether a document is a record should be monitored carefully, according to Baron who adds, "The effectiveness of selecting from a drop-down menu or other user-initiated decision depends on the compliance of that individual." He describes an electronic archiving approach that captures everything as the "least worst" of currently available approaches. Other options include continued reliance on printing to paper; IT preserving data on backup tapes; users saving electronic objects idiosyncratically in personal electronic folders, and firms deploying selective e-records management systems that rely on individuals to tag content. However, the volume of documents that results from saving everything generated from Web 2.0 systems poses massive problems when a particular document or set of documents needs to be located, and represents a challenge for today’s information access and search technologies.
Start at the beginning
Knowledge retention programs aimed at operational information should encompass Web 2.0 content along with traditional documents. Keeping a long-term perspective is important. "It’s not enough to start interviewing an employee a few weeks or even a few months before his or her departure," emphasizes Dr. Jay Liebowitz, professor in the Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins University. "Organizations should have a knowledge retention plan in place from the time the employee arrives. For one thing, that’s when a lot of learning takes place, so documenting a new employee’s questions and answers, for example, can be as helpful as documenting the insights of an experienced professional."
Such a plan (described in detail in Liebowitz’s recently published book, Knowledge Retention) allows for tracking from the time of knowledge creation to active use and finally to permanent storage if needed.
Social media will continue to grow, Liebowitz predicts, and its use is a good way of capturing previously tacit knowledge. He says, "With this type of informal exchange, the challenge becomes one of organizing it and making it searchable, so that the content can be found when it’s needed."
Liebowitz also notes that the information captured through wikis can become a record. "If the wiki is maintained by a knowledgeable community and the appropriate content is being added and modified, there are points in time at which it constitutes a record and should be preserved," he says. A strategic plan helps organizations decide what needs to be saved and what does not, which helps reduce the volume of information.
The role of a knowledge management professional can be pivotal in directing documents generated by social media onto the appropriate life cycle path. "With an increase in collaboration through less formal channels, high-quality work products should still go into formal repositories," says Curtis Conley, a collaboration analyst who supports consulting professionals at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. "The content that is saved can run the gamut from documents to discussion threads."
Knowledge managers can monitor what is going on in the various environments and either initiate capture or use newsletters to summarize valuable content. "Senior managers may not have the time to fully engage in the vast array of social media tools available," Conley says. "A formal summary can make them aware of issues and can also become a record of what is happening in the social media landscape."
Knowledge capture is not a one-time event. Conley says, "The method has to be in place to routinely save information that can contribute to organizational learning." Whether an expert is remaining in the organization or approaching retirement, an employee can tag his or her bookmarks so that others can see what sources they consult and to what blogs or forums they contribute. That electronic trail of breadcrumbs lets others see the working profile of an expert in the field, and the bookmarks can be preserved for as long as the topic is relevant.