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Making KM Clickable with Search

I’ve been in the business of Knowledge Management Consulting for the vast majority of my career and, in my experience, one of the most challenging aspects to KM is its intangibility. I’ve helped an array of organizations to define their KM Success Metrics and KM Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in order to make KM measurable and tie it to business value and hard return on investment. In these cases, though, many of these KM KPIs are only measurable over years and often have a stronger demonstration of value to the organization rather than the individual. 

Since good KM is integrated into the business, enterprise KM programs are often largely invisible when they work, and only visible when they’re causing the end user “pain.” For example, a seamless tacit knowledge capture program feels like natural conversation, whereas a badly designed program will feel forced and overtly time-consuming. A natural content governance plan will be integrated into the enterprise and simply feel like how business is done, whereas a poorly designed governance plan will slow down work and create barriers to sharing and connecting.

As a result, KM runs the risk of not being “felt” by the average end user in a way that inspires engagement and support. Though a KM effort may be meeting long-term organizational goals, it nonetheless runs the risk of a decreased focus or dwindling support over time if the individual business stakeholder doesn’t feel the benefit of it.

One key area where the individual, as well as the business, can experience meaningful value from KM on a daily basis is through enterprise search. Though I’m not suggesting a technology is necessary for all aspects of KM, the reality is that for large organizations, a great deal of KM will be enabled through supporting technologies. A well-designed, implemented, and governed enterprise search is one of the key systems where KM becomes real for the average end user.

Several exciting things are happening within the enterprise search world at this point:

  1. Enterprise search tools are increasingly able to index both structured and unstructured information, creating greater linkages between different types of knowledge and information.
  2. It is becoming easier to design more creative user interfaces within search that better reflect the needs of the end user and the actions they want to take.
  3. Once advanced features, like type-aheads and faceting, are now readily available.

In order to really make enterprise search work, foundational KM activities are still critical. For instance:

  • Content Audits and Cleanup – Content has to be cleaned up and enhanced with tags to ensure the right content appears in search and is weighted appropriately. Content cleanup alone is time-consuming and dry, but linking it to a search effort shines a critical light on why it is important. Without a content cleanup, search will end up being “garbage in, garbage out” no matter how slick it is.
  • Taxonomy Design and Tagging – Taxonomies have to be designed and applied to key content repositories as well as integrated into the search design to ensure faceting works and different types of content from different sources can be seamlessly integrated. Taxonomy by itself can be esoteric and easily set aside, but when its value surfaces as faceted navigation, it becomes a critical tool for findability and discoverability.
  • Content Types – Content Types continue to be one of the more misunderstood elements of a KM architecture, despite our efforts to make them more approachable. Content Types can serve as templates, guide workflows and security, and inform tagging. When designed correctly, they can also translate into search hit types. That said, they tend to be relatively confusing until seen in action.
  • Tacit Knowledge Capture – Almost every organization with whom we’ve worked agrees Tacit Knowledge Capture is critical to ensuring expertise isn’t lost as employees leave and new employees are up-scaled faster and more effectively. Good Tacit Knowledge Capture can take a broad array of forms, from traditional mentor/mentee pairings, to email capture tools, to communities of practice (both live and virtual). Though there can be substantial visibility for a great deal of these mechanisms, their full value isn’t felt just in their existence. Tacit Knowledge Capture really only pays off when individuals can find and engage with the captured knowledge. Search can play a key role here, and can also allow for the integration of a range of result types in a manner that allows the end user to find the “official” published answer as well as related “social” answers from experts (as well as, potentially, the experts themselves).
  • Knowledge Sharing Culture – Developing a strong culture of knowledge sharing is one of the foundational activities we seek to implement in the early stages of any KM engagement. Specific activities for this venture vary greatly amongst organizations and depend on from where they’re starting. Approaches may range from a simple commitment from leadership, to the establishment of a KM Leadership group, and to more advanced gamification and analytics efforts. At the end of the day, however, nothing shines a light on good knowledge sharing behavior like something that will surface that newly shared knowledge in a form that is easy to find and discover.
  • Governance – Governance, specifically content governance, is another building block and truly foundational activity for enterprise knowledge management efforts. Like a culture of knowledge sharing, nothing helps to show the importance of governance as much as a search initiative that shows what happens in very real terms when people DON’T follow it. Content governance will get a huge boost in importance as soon as it’s easier to find and expose content.

Each of these pieces alone is an important part of a comprehensive KM strategy. Together, they make up many of the core KM foundations I seek to put on KM Roadmaps for my clients. Integrating a search pilot into that roadmap ensures the hard work that will go into the aforementioned efforts, as well as the overall KM transformation, will be seen, and made clickable, for your end users.

Need help making KM real for your end users through search? Contact us and we’ll help set you on the path.

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 »