The concept of ‘Knowledge Management’ was first introduced over two decades ago, when computers (and the data they created) became mainstays of business. In 1994, Thomas Davenport, a professor of Management and Information Technology, coined what is still the most widely-accepted definition:a

“Knowledge management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge”.

Knowledge itself can be split up into three categories:

  • Explicit: Information or knowledge that is set out in tangible form.
  • Implicit: Information or knowledge that is not set out in tangible form, but can be made explicit.
  • Tacit: Information or knowledge that one would have extreme difficulty setting out in tangible form.

Examples of tacit knowledge include:

  • Knowledge required to speak another language
  • Knowledge of what makes ‘good leadership’

Spreading tacit knowledge within organizations can only be achieved through effective training of employees. It isn’t a natural ability that most of us possess to disseminate tacit information to others in a useful way. Training can include classroom type sessions, but is often more effective when it takes the form of hands-on mentoring from those with specific experience.  Sharing explicit or implicit knowledge is slightly easier, and more natural to the average employee. Examples include:

  • Document processes, steps to execute specific tasks, or manuals from IT systems.
  • ‘Lessons learned’ from projects or assignments. Sometimes these are explicit and documented, but more often than not this kind of information only exists in people’s heads.

SharePoint as a Knowledge Management system

SharePoint is an excellent solution with which to implement Knowledge Management, for a number of reasons:

  • Tacit knowledge: SharePoint Social features including OneDrive for Business (i.e. My Sites), Yammer and User Profiles, enable people to easily find colleagues based on their experience and knowledge. When Lync has also been implemented, a person can also be contacted in real-time. In this way, SharePoint neatly connects tacit knowledge searching with communication.
  • Explicit knowledge: SharePoint is an industry-leading document management system, making it very good at storing explicit knowledge in the form of files. This type of knowledge can be stored in a variety of formats, and categorized with metadata. Content can easily be searched, and secured with the fine-grained SharePoint permission model.
  • Implicit knowledge: SharePoint offers a wide range of collaboration features. People can store documents easily, integrated neatly with Microsoft Office. They can take advantage of check in/out and version control. The latest Office apps also enable real-time editing, a perfect environment for making implicit knowledge more tangible.

SharePoint features

SharePoint has a number of specific features that, when combined, offer powerful Knowledge Management capabilities:

  • Yammer has been integrated seamlessly with SharePoint 2013, after Microsoft acquired the company in 2012. With Yammer, people can easily find co-workers or colleagues based on their interest, activity or place within the organization. This can help significantly with tacit knowledge management activities.
  • The SharePoint Search engine allows people to quickly find any document. Features include search suggestions, powerful ranking algorithms and a results refinement panel.
  • With Business Connectivity Services, information from other systems can be imported directly into SharePoint, helping to make document storage and classification easier. A SharePoint Knowledge Management system works well when it is a single source of the truth.
  • With multilingual sites, it is possible to translate content into multiple languages, so a range of audiences can easily understand it. With the Machine Translation Service Application, this process can even be automated.
  • Content types and taxonomy features represent powerful classification tools. In SharePoint 2010 and 2013, Microsoft expanded these tools with the Managed Metadata Service for even more flexibility.

Great Knowledge Management requires a Great User Experience

As we have seen, SharePoint provides the building blocks for an enterprise-grade Knowledge Management system. By defining content types and taxonomy structures, implementing search, and taking advantage of good document management practice, implicit knowledge sharing can be promoted.

Yet a SharePoint system needs to be well planned and thought out, with plenty of attention paid to how a company manages paper processes, and how knowledge is currently disseminated.

Most importantly, the user experience provided to users to classify documents needs to be simple. Even the best Knowledge Management program will fail if business users can’t (or won’t classify information when uploading it to SharePoint).

harmon.ie offers a number of tools to extend the SharePoint Knowledge Management feature set, with particular focus on how business workers go about their current daily routines. Our Knowledge Management Solution improves SharePoint's native content discovery and retrieval, as well as providing rich mobile functionality.

Ram Tagher
Product Manager