September 2008: Using SharePoint to Achieve Advanced Knowledge Management for the Enterprise

Most organizations that have deployed SharePoint recognize the vast capabilities for document collaboration and content management. Once created, documents can be captured and categorized according to a variety of taxonomies including site, document library and folder hierarchies, content types and document metadata. Microsoft’s Enterprise Search, packaged with SharePoint, allows users to find documents regardless of their stored location.

Experienced SharePoint users know that SharePoint is a terrific repository and knowledge management environment once documents make it into the right place with the right metadata. The challenge, however, often lies in the process of efficiently getting these documents into the SharePoint repository. An effective knowledge management system must make it absolutely “brainless” for a knowledge worker to move a completed document into the repository. (As an aside, it does seem strange to want a “brainless” task for a “knowledge worker”, but after further consideration, it’s reasonable to expect that the knowledge worker should be able to focus their time and efforts on the creation of intellectual property and not on the menial tasks associated with having to determine how to appropriately index and store the document so that she and others can later access the information efficiently.)

In a native SharePoint environment, once a document is created, the user must generally go through the following process to ingest the document into the repository:

  1. Save the document to “My Documents” or Desktop or some other easy to access folder. (Navigating a complex SharePoint document library structure through the file system is too complicated/onerous for most users.)
  2. Open SharePoint and navigate to target document library.
  3. If a folder hierarchy is employed, navigate to the correct folder and if required, create new subfolder.
  4. Upload document.
  5. Apply metadata if not already captured in document information panel of an Office 2007 document.

As a SharePoint repository grows, there’s a tendency to use the site and document library hierarchy and even a folder hierarchy within a document library to maintain structure and organization of the underlying content. This puts a tremendous burden on the knowledge worker to understand the hierarchy and put the new document in the correct place. It also undermines the fundamental value of the knowledge management capabilities of SharePoint.

A much better solution is to leverage SharePoint content types and custom metadata when capturing and indexing content. This eliminates one key barrier to effective document submission and retrieval. Imagine a company that uses SharePoint to store the following classes of documents:

If the creators or owners of documents simply had to choose between just a handful of classes of information, they are removed from the burden of having to decide in which site, document library and folder to save the document. Furthermore, the headaches associated with saving a document into the SharePoint repository can be significantly simplified. With just native SharePoint, a knowledge worker can map drives to those classes they regularly use. Products such as KnowledgeLake’s Connect provide a desktop interface that even more efficiently allows for the saving of documents to a SharePoint class and immediately applying metadata values right there on the user’s desktop. Furthermore, with a modest amount of effort, a custom solution can be built for addressing a specific line of business knowledge management need where the process of uploading documents and applying metadata can be streamlined in accordance with the best practices established by the business.

By reducing the complexity of the knowledge management repository, information workers are now able to search SharePoint far more effectively! Search scopes can be set up directly against the handful of defined classes of information. The search interface can include not only full text search but also searches on the metadata fields. For example, “show me all legal documents of Type=’Master Service Agreement’ where Signature Date is between 1/1/02 and 12/31/02”.

Knowledge Management is an achievable vision for organizations that are deploying SharePoint. But to achieve an effective knowledge management solution, the organization must invest time in applying the principals described herein. In so doing, they will ensure that the knowledge worker is able to suspend their creative thinking facilities when it comes to storing the information they’ve created or finding the information they need.