In the digital age that we now live in, making Knowledge Management (KM) successful at any organization relies heavily on the technologies used to accomplish every day tasks. Companies are recognizing the importance of providing their workforce with smarter, more efficient, and highly specialized technological tools so that employees can maximize productivity in their everyday work. There’s also the expectation for a KM system, like SharePoint, to act as an all-in-one solution. Companies in search of software solutions often make the mistake of thinking a single system can effectively fulfill all of their needs including content management, document management, AI-powered search, automated workflows, etc., which simply isn’t the case. The reality is that multi-purpose software tools may be able to serve more than one business function, but in doing so only deliver basic features that lack necessary specifications and result in a sub-par product. More information on the need for a multi-system solution can be found in this blog about the importance of a semantic layer in a knowledge management technology suite.
In our experience at Enterprise Knowledge (EK), we consider the following to be core and essential systems for most integrated KM technology solutions:
- Content Management Systems
- Taxonomy Management Systems
- Enterprise Search Tools
- Knowledge Graphs
The systems mentioned above are essential tools to enable successful and mature KM, and when integrated with one another can serve to revolutionize the interaction between an organization’s staff and its information. EK has seen the most success with client organizations once they have understood the need for a blended set of technological tools and taken the steps to implement and integrate them with one another.
Once this need for a combined set of specialized solutions is realized, the issue of how to implement these solutions becomes ever-present and must be approached with a specific strategy for design and deployment. This blog will help to outline some of the key tips and guidelines for the implementation of a KM technology solution, regardless of its current state.
Prioritizing Your Technology Needs
When thinking about the approach to implementing an organization’s identified technology solutions, there is often an inclination to prioritize solutions that are considered “state-of-the-art” or “cooler” than others. This is understandable, especially with the new-age technology that is on the market and able to create a “wow” factor for a business’ employees and customers. However, it is important to remember that the order in which systems are implemented relies heavily on the current makeup of the organization’s technology stack. For example, although it might be tempting to take on the implementation of an AI-powered knowledge graph or a chat-bot that has Natural Language Processing (NLP) capabilities, the quality of your results and real-world usability of the product will increase dramatically if you also include other technologies such as a graph database to provide the foundation for a knowledge graph, or a Taxonomy Management System to allow for the design and curation of an enterprise taxonomy and/or ontology.
Depending on your organization’s level of maturity with respect to its technology ecosystem, the order in which systems are implemented must be strategically defined so that one system can build off of and enhance the previous. Typically, if an organization does not possess a solidified instance of any of the core KM technologies, the logical first step is to implement a Content Management System (CMS) or Document Management System (DMS), or in some cases, both. Following the “content first” approach, commonly used in web design and digitalization, organizations must first have a place in which they can effectively store, manage, and access their content, as an organization’s content is arguably one of its most valuable assets. Furthermore, one could argue that all core KM technologies are centered around an organization’s content and exist to improve/enhance that content whether it is adding to its structure, creating ways to more efficiently store and describe it, or more effectively searching and retrieving it at the time of need.
Once an organization has a solidified CMS solution in place, the next step is to implement tools geared towards the enhancement and findability of that content. One system in particular that helps to drastically improve the quality of an organization’s content by managing and deploying enterprise wide taxonomies and ontologies is a Taxonomy Management Systems (TMS). TMS solutions are integrated with an organization’s CMS and search tools and serve as a place to create, deploy, and manage poly-hierarchical taxonomies in a single place. TMS tools allow organizations to add structure to their content, describe it in a way that significantly improves organization, and fuel search by providing a set of predefined values from a controlled vocabulary that can be used to create facets and other forms of search-narrowing instruments. A common approach to implementing your technology ecosystem involves the simultaneous implementation of an enterprise search solution alongside the TMS implementation. Once again, the idea of one solution building off another is present here, as enterprise search tools feed off of the previously implemented CMS instance by utilizing Access Control List (ACL) specifications, security trimming considerations, content structure details, and many more. Once these three systems are in place, organizations can afford to look into additional tools such as Knowledge Graphs, AI-powered chatbots, and Metadata Catalogs.
Defining Business Logic and Common Uses
There is a great deal of preparation involved with the implementation of KM technologies, especially when considering the envisioned use of the system by organizational staff. As part of this preparation, a thorough analysis of existing business processes and standard operating procedures must be executed to account for the specific needs of users and how those needs will influence the design of the target system. Although it is not always initially obvious, the way in which a system is going to be used will heavily impact how that system is designed and implemented. As such, the individuals responsible for implementation must have a well-documented, thorough understanding of what end users will need from the tool, combined with a comprehensive list of core use cases. These types of details are most commonly elicited through a set of analysis activities with the system’s expected users.
Without these types of preliminary activities, the implementation process will seldom go as planned. This is because various detours will have to be taken to accommodate the business process details that are unique to the organization and therefore not ‘pre-baked’ into software solutions. These considerations sometimes come in the form of taxonomy/controlled list requirements, customizable workflows, content type specifications, and security concerns, to name a few.
If the proper arrangements aren’t made before implementing software and integrating with additional systems, it will almost always affect the scope of your implementation effort. Software implementation is not a “one size fits all” type of effort; there are certain design elements that are based on the business and functional requirements of the target solution, and these must be identified in the initial stages of the project. EK has seen how the lack of these preparatory activities can have impacts on project timelines, most commonly because of delays due to unforeseen circumstances. This results in extended deadlines, change requests, additional investment, and other general inefficiencies.
Recruiting the Proper Resources
In addition to the activities needed before implementation, it is absolutely essential to ensure that the appropriate resources are assigned to the project. This too can create issues down the road if not given the appropriate amount of time and attention before beginning the project. Generally speaking, there are a few standard roles that are necessary for any implementation project, regardless of the type or complexity of the effort. These roles are listed and described below:
- KM Designer/Consultant: Regardless of the type of system to be implemented, having a KM consultant on board is needed for various reasons. A KM consultant will be able to assist with the non-developmental areas of the project, for example designing taxonomies/ontologies, content types, search experiences, and/or governance structures.
- Senior Solutions Architect: Depending on the level of integration required, a Senior Solutions Architect is likely required. This is ideally a person with considerable experience working with multiple types of technologies that are core to KM. This person should have a thorough and comprehensive understanding of how to arrange systems into a technology suite and how each component works, both alone and as part of a larger, combined solution. Familiarity with REST, SOAP, and RPC APIs, along with other general knowledge about the communication between software is a must.
- Technology Subject Matter Expert (SME): This role is absolutely critical to the success of the implementation, as there will be a need for someone who specializes in the type of software being implemented. For example, if an organization is working to implement a TMS and integrate it with other systems, the project will need to staff a TMS integration SME to ensure the system is installed according to implementation best practices. This person will also be responsible for a large portion of the “installment” of the software, meaning they will be heavily involved with the initial set up and configuration based on the organization’s specific use of the system.
- KM Project Manager: As is common with all projects, there will be a need for a project manager to coordinate meetings, ensure the project is on schedule, and facilitate the ongoing alignment of all engaged parties. This person should be familiar with KM so that they can align efforts with best practices and help facilitate KM-related decisions.
- API Developer(s): Depending on the level of integration required, a developer may be needed to develop code to serve as a connector between systems. This individual must be familiar with the communication logic needed between systems and have a thorough understanding of APIs as well. The programming language in which any custom coding is needed will vary from organization to organization, but it is required that the developer has experience with the identified language.
The list above is by no means exhaustive, nor does it contain resources that are commonly assumed to be a part of any implementation effort. These roles are simply the unique ones that help with successful implementations. Also, depending on the level of effort required, there may be a need for multiple resources at each role, such as the developer or SME role. This type of consideration is important, as the project will need to have ample resources according to the project’s defined timeline.
Defining a Realistic Timeline
One final factor to consider when preparing for a technology solution implementation effort is the estimated time with which the project is expected to be completed. Implementation efforts are notoriously difficult to estimate in terms of time and resources needed, which often results in the over- or under- allocation of financing for a given effort. As a result of this, it’s recommended to err on the side of caution and incorporate more time than is initially estimated for the project to reach completion. If similar efforts have been completed in the past, utilize informal benchmarking. If available resources have experience implementing similar solutions, bring them to the forefront. The best way to estimate the level of effort and time needed to complete certain tasks is to look at historical data, which in this case would be previous implementation efforts.
In EK’s experience implementing large scale and highly complex software and custom solutions, we have learned that it is important to prepare for the unexpected to ensure the expected timeline is not derailed by unanticipated delays. For example, one common consideration we have encountered many times and one that has created significant delays is the need to get individuals appropriate access to certain systems or organizational resources. This is especially relevant with third-party consultants and when the system(s) in question have high security requirements. Additionally, there are several KM-related considerations that can unexpectedly lengthen a project’s timeline, such as the quality/readiness of content, governance standards and procedures that may be lacking, and/or change management preparations.
There are many factors that go into an implementation effort and, unfortunately, a lot of ways one can go wrong. Very seldom are projects like these executed to perfection, and a majority of the times that they fail or go awry is due to one or a combination of a few of the factors mentioned above. The good news and common theme with these considerations is that these pitfalls can mostly be avoided with the proper planning, preparation, and estimates (with regards to both time and resources). The initial stages of an implementation effort are the most critical, as these are the times where project planners need to be honest and realistic with their projections. There is often the tendency to begin development as soon as possible, and to skip most of the preparatory activities due to an eagerness to get started. It is important to remember that successful implementation efforts require the necessary legwork, even if it may seem superfluous at the time. Does your company need assistance implementing a piece of technology and is not sure how to get started? EK provides end-to-end services beginning with strategy and design and ending with the implementation of fully functional KM systems. Reach out to us! Contact us with any questions or general inquiries.