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Beyond Findability

For most of my career, one of my favorite “made up” words has been findability. It is the perfect term to explain the “why” of taxonomy, search, and, in many cases, Knowledge Management in general. When I talk findability, I discuss how we want to design our KM strategies and systems to create the most direct path between a person and the information they’re seeking.  

Findability is realized via a broad array of disciplines including KM, information management, user-centered design, and usability. It requires the right mesh of taxonomy design, search design, change management, content/information governance, and analytics to ensure the appropriate information is found quickly and easily in ways that feel natural to the end users and prove to be sustainable over time.

4 semi-transparent squares overlapping each other with the words Discovery, Dividing, Diving and Delivery along the outside.For the first half of my career in Knowledge Management consulting, Findability was the destination. Organizations made untold investments in order to address the core challenges of their users who’d repeatedly say, “we can’t find what we’re looking for,” “I’m wasting so much time looking for my stuff,” and “It’s easier just to redo the work than try to find it.” In short, the cost of not finding information was (and is) massive.

Though any number of organizations are still struggling to address the Findability challenge, many have progressed along the Knowledge and Information Management Maturity spectrum and have leveraged the right processes, designs, and technologies to address it within their organizations. It’s been satisfying to see organizations waking up to the criticality of foundational elements like content governance, taxonomy, content type design, and search hit types to improve their Findability. At the same time, technology has progressed to the point where Findability is no longer such a reach.  

As the KM field and associated technologies have quickly matured, we’re now at a point where we can go beyond Findability as the final destination. I refer to this as the 4D Knowledge and Content Ecosystem (Discovery, Delivery, Dividing, and Divining) of content use and reuse, enabling not just findability, but action and decision-making in ways that are practical and natural for our end users.

  • Discovery – Whereas findability generally assumes the end user knows what they’re looking for, Discovery allows the user to discover information they didn’t know existed or didn’t know they were seeking based on tags and taxonomies.  Discovery ensures users can Find content they were seeking and then Discover additional content of which they were unaware, but further answers their question or completes their mission. When enabled properly, good Discovery means users are wasting less time recreating information that existed within the organization. The business value of enabling Discovery, therefore, can be massive in terms of productivity; less time wasted with unnecessary work is more time for customer service, process improvement, and innovation. Moreover, Discovery isn’t just about content, it’s also about connecting people to experts (holders of knowledge) on the topics they were searching.
  • Delivery – The issue with both Findability and Discovery is that they require an initial action from the end user. The user has to be aware there’s information that could benefit them that they don’t possess. Delivery, on the other hand, uses tags, ontologies, and semantic web technologies in order to understand what a user is interested in and what they’re working on, and pushes information to them that may benefit them. Immature content delivery features have existed for years, consistently disabled quickly by users that experienced a flood of off-target content flooding their inboxes. As semantic web technologies and available tools have matured, as has the ontology design space overall, the accuracy and context of Content Delivery has moved to a place of real business value.
  • Dividing – With content Findability, Discovery, and Delivery at the ready, and recognizing the different ways  end users consume content from even a few years ago, content can be segmented, layered, and diversified for greater usability. Content access is drastically more mobile than it used to be. Search engines have moved from offering a collection of links to enabling actions and decision-making on the part of the end users. What this requires is that an organization’s content is no longer buried in the form of hundred-page PDFs, but in bites and snippets of content, along with micro-learning elements that allow for content to be easily consumed, related, and explored. If the user wants the deeper and detailed piece of content it is still there, but today’s mature systems can divide those documents into many pieces of meaningful content to improve a user’s up-take and overall experience, making the content journey more granular and more like a natural conversation, as well as quickly provide the actual answers the user was seeking.  
  • Divining – What we consistently hear from our customers is that Content Divining is the new end all destination within the Knowledge and Content Ecosystem. Many refer to this as Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the context of KM, but at its core, organizations want to understand enough about each individual end user, all the information they generate, and all the information they consume, to connect the right information to the right people, connect the right information to other information, and connect the right people to other people. This is Business Ontology in action, leveraged to implement a robust, dynamic, and evolving Enterprise Knowledge Graph. When achieved and combined with other technologies, we arrive at a point where people can “ask” the system questions and receive not just results, but answers. One critical point here is that there are many meaningful steps and checkpoints that lead to that end result, each of which makes the overall Knowledge and Content Ecosystem more natural, more usable, and more valuable.

Each of our Four D’s moves beyond the traditional Findability concept of simply connecting a person to the information they’re seeking. Instead, they each involve a web of knowledge, content, and people, both tacit and explicit, in many forms, many systems, and many places. We’re passionate about helping organizations move beyond Findability. If you’re looking for help in going 4D with EK, let us know. 

Zach Wahl Zach Wahl Expert in knowledge and information management strategy, content strategy, and taxonomy design. Zach is passionate about forming and supporting high-functioning teams and facilitating results-focused outcomes with his clients. More from Zach Wahl »