Most of my blog posts avoid discussing products and technology, and while I hasten to add that I really do love the techie side, the point is that while the technology is really cool and makes a significant contribution, it has a very short shelf-life and is never going to account for more than 30% of the success factors.
Technology comes and goes and mostly needs massive hype and spin to make it crack open the budgets and get the dollars rolling out, which inevitably leaves a lot of people embarrassed or frustrated, and disillusioned by the whole Knowledge Management idea because they equated it with a specific brand or technology .
So I tend to focus on the other 70% more or less stable side of the equation, which includes human behavior, organizational structure, and all those other bits that make up the socio-behavioral complex.
However, something is going on in techieland that is worth talking about – According to Global360, the adoption of Microsoft’s Sharepoint will hit 97% this year and has already reached a user-count of 130,000,000.
Of course they are very bullish on the topic because they sell Sharepoint stuff for a living, but still, even in the 90’s when Knowledge Management was something many software vendors and gurus were proclaiming as the next big thing, nobody ever thought that all the products put together would get near 97%, and 130 million licenses is a big number in any language.
Towards the end of 2010 I briefly flirted with a company that pretty much only does Sharepoint add-on’s and seemed to be doing just fine, although I thought they were way too focused on plumbing and pipes i.e. the software and technology, and far too little on the human side – which is where the action really is and why this time Knowledge Management may be rising as never before.
During 2010 I actually tried to stamp out SharePoint at a previous employer, but failed, and now I am a strong advocate of Sharepoint adoption (yes Christy, I am).
So what led to this Damascus Road change of heart?
At the start of 2009/2010 SharePoint was just another (yet another) file-sharing toy that users had discovered and had started to put things into – just like the wikis, Lotus Notes groups and folders, fileshares, portals, and all the other bits and pieces that proliferated over the years and slowly gathered dust under layers of corporate accretion. We already had an order of magnitude too many file-sharing/storage methods, most of which were hidden and not spidered by the corporate search engine, and some of which were backed up onto expensive RAID while other repositories should have been but weren’t.
There was also already a huge investment of time and money in Alfresco, and I didn’t want to simply attenuate focus on another contender.
However, as the year drew on, and just before I left, I had changed my mind and was actively pushing for adoption.
Why did I change my mind? – It was simply that there was a strong user desire that was capable of pushing through the resistance.
My view is that when users put that much effort into something, then that enthusiasm should be supported and guided where possible and not left to rust out in the cold.
A KM solution is less than 20% technology, and over 70% culturally determined in my view, so where you find a high degree of engagement and desire from users, especially where it will help to form Communities of Practice, then this is worth supporting.
… and it seemed that SharePoint wasn’t going to go away anytime soon.
What can SharePoint do for YOU?
Well, it’s a bunch of code that costs money, so it can eat some of your budget and keep the IT guys out of mischief for a while.
It can also be a reasonably good document repository with passable workflow for approval and control and reasonable version-control, which means with a modicum of effort you can shift files that were lying in a nice orderly canonical structure on a server into another nice pile in SharePoint. Naturally you can start corralling all those stray files and index them, but of course that was possible with canonical file-shares too.
SharePoint also allows searchable Knowledge Bases to be built, but before you get too excited about that remember that retrieving hundreds of hits that are infojunk is no better than not getting any at all.
What it adds that canonical file taxonomies can’t however, is folksonomies via tagging that give multiple taxonomical hooks to a single file, and it can provide a far more social environment for people to access than regular traditional fileshares could – and this is where SharePoint can bring you real value.
By bringing information closer to people in a more natural ecology than before, SharePoint can make a real contribution to your operation.
It also allows add-on products that build out the social side, and can bring learning, socializing, chatting, and people’s biographical pages to cohabit in an informational ecosystem that plays far more naturally to our inbuilt preferences.
One thing that you can use it for that probably dwarfs everything else if you have an organization with more than 150 staff, is to make people searchable in terms of their skills, training, and experience by adding them as knowledge artifacts. Why this isn’t done more completely baffles me, because a “facebase” was something we were experimenting with long before Bill Gates brought out Windows.
Using technology like integrated search and content management to help find people should be a no-brainer.
The point is to give people a page that can be modified to suit their tastes but that contains scrapable information that says what they are good at, trained in, and willing to help with, along with their availability and rules of engagement – how to contact them, when, for what, etc. If you tie this in to the more modern B&N/Amazon idea of “what I am reading”, and also to what articles they have authored you can do some magic that goes far beyond a semantic web will ever get.
Allowing the thought leaders to emerge, and to allow people to see what informational sources they are producing is probably worth the investment, but add to that the ability to see what informational sources they use and how they rate them, and you will have as close to a miracle as ICT can deliver.
Life After SharePoint
Not that I go in for predictions much, but until exobiology produces something better, humans are always going to be way faster at finding semantic information than machines. Long after Microsoft is just an historical footnote, people will still be the fastest way to get meaning out of information, and that’s what knowledge is all about.
This is SharePoint’s year, and with it an opportunity to use technology to support and sustain very ancient and effective human abilities to share and create meaning – we should not let it slip by.
Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management expert and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge assets to work.