posted 20 Mar 2001 in Volume 4 Issue 6
Your Say: Knowledge at your
Developing an effective content management strategy
Intranets have the potential to revolutionise your company’s approach to knowledge management. Simon Lelic talks to representatives from the Gillette Company Hummingbird Mediasurface and Oracle and discusses the critical elements of an effective content management strategy.
A knowledge-focused intranet will do far more than provide access to published information. An effective intranet application will also offer your employees a means to collaborate; to share knowledge in a way that truly adds value to your company’s knowledge management initiative. This at least is the goal to which you should aspire. In practice issues such as maintaining qualifying categorising and personalising content together with the growing risk of information overload threaten to undermine the benefits an intranet can offer your organisation. Hence the importance of adopting a strategy that will allow you to contain these dangers and fully realise the potential of your intranet as a knowledge management tool.
“Without an effective strategy on content management it is highly unlikely that an intranet site can fulfil any valuable role in KM ” says Paul Fox director of communications at the Gillette Company. “Content is everything. You can live with navigational or design issues providing the site can deliver the right information to the right people at the right time.” Mark Mitcheson vice president of business development at Mediasurface agrees with Fox offering a comprehensive account of the ways in which content management will add value to an intranet application. The list includes: increased quality of published information through appropriate use of approval processes and retiring content that has passed its ‘use by’ date; reduced time needed to publish content; fewer barriers to contributing thus making it easier for subject matter experts to publish information; and improved structure and accessibility. Effectively and as Carolyn Patterson marketing manager at Oracle says: “An integrated content management approach leads to a much more agile organisation better able to react to change from whichever direction it comes from.”
From the start however an intranet designed to encourage collaborative working practices and promote knowledge sharing requires a content management strategy closely aligned with these goals. “Before designing developing and populating a site you need to decide what information is required by the organisation and in what form this information should be delivered ” says Fox. “As important is the development of content management systems to allow updating amending and feedback – trying to insert this retrospectively is usually time-consuming expensive and ineffective.” And as Patterson points out intranet users are notoriously demanding. As such Sami Hero senior director of product marketing at Hummingbird Mitcheson and Patterson all emphasise the importance of a content management approach that ensures up-to-date content ease of use and accessibility if the intranet is retain its value as a KM tool. “A content management system that makes it easy to contribute find share and discuss information will obviously facilitate knowledge sharing ” says Mitcheson.
In working towards this end therefore it is important to maintain a degree of consistency across your content management strategy. As Mitcheson suggests this is particularly desirable in terms of the look and feel of an intranet application but is often missing when an intranet consists of a multitude of small-scale websites. The answer according to Patterson is a portal interface which ensures both internal and external users are presented with a constant point of access. In terms of the information published however consistency is harder to achieve. “In any intranet implementation where you are creating a whole new generation of content contributors there is a need to develop clarify and communicate the roles and rules surrounding the content lifecycle ” says Mitcheson. “This is essentially a change management issue – covering the rollout process communication and education. It’s a bit of a balancing act. Define things too loosely and people will struggle. Define them too tightly and people will be put off. Many companies underestimate the effort needed in this area.” Mitcheson goes on to emphasise the value of a clearly defined review process; “a steering mechanism that provides both positive and negative feedback as appropriate”. Again a consistent approach will go a long way to ensuring accuracy here thus helping to build confidence in the system as a whole.
Equally employees will only use the intranet as a means to collaborate if they feel they can rely on the information it contains. As Fox says: “Dead or out-of-date content serves two purposes. It shows that the intranet site has little business relevance and that someone in the organisation actually doesn’t care about it.” This can be avoided he says by developing content ownership from the very start: “Give stakeholders the ability to update amend and feedback data from a local market level. That creates responsibility and ownership – if content is out of date or not relevant then you know where to go hunting. People should have a pride in ensuring content is accurate.” Patterson agrees that ownership should rest with those who publish the information also stressing the need to avoid any “technical bottleneck” that would slow the publishing process down. “Content ownership needs to reside with the people who understand the content. They know why it is important when it is relevant and timely and when to archive the information ” she says.
In terms of the actual process of updating information Mitcheson highlights the potential value of integrating a content management system with your intranet application. “A CMS can make a huge contribution to the process side ” he says. “It can make it a requirement for each piece of content or type of content to have a review date associated with it when it is created. As that date approaches the owner is automatically notified and the content is either updated or removed and archived. This prevents a problem that is endemic on the web – out of date content. It is hard to imagine how any intranet will ever achieve credibility as a knowledge resource if you don’t actively remove material. This is almost a prerequisite of a successful intranet.” Patterson suggests a further solution might be to avoid publishing information that remains static on the intranet instead relying on dynamic content or on delivering what would ordinarily be static information in a dynamic way. Hero agrees arguing that all content should be dynamic: “Our environment changes on a constant basis and the internet age has driven us to expect the latest news and information all the time.” (These ideas are explored further in ‘The pragmatic approach’ by David Socha.)
Expectations of how this information is supplied are also changing. Rather than relying on employees to use the intranet to search for information themselves the latest technologies allow a greater degree of customisation in terms of how content is delivered. At their most advanced as Mitcheson says smart technology products such as those produced by Autonomy learn about individuals’ interests and present relevant content to the user. In Patterson’s opinion a degree of flexibility as to how information is delivered is an essential element of any good portal and its supporting content management system. Mitcheson agrees that personalisation is desirable in most cases but warns against falling into a trap where this technology is implemented for its own sake. “It is certainly not true that every circumstance calls for a high degree of personalisation ” he says. In fact there are a number of ways in which the need to personalise content delivery can be addressed. At one level as Fox says this can be achieved by “involving the stakeholders giving them the power to amend update and feedback content and by listening to what individuals in the organisation need and want from the intranet site”. At another level and as Mitcheson points out content delivery may depend on the specific role of an employee: “An HR manager will have different needs and access rights to a relationship manager for example.” Some level of personalisation can therefore be accomplished without a massive initial outlay.
In fact a coherent content management strategy promises a significant return on investment. “The rapid and accurate sharing of information and best practice is going to hit the bottom line ” says Fox. “Being able to isolate individual components that help achieve this goal is always going to be difficult but anyone who has managed an intranet site knows the contribution it can make to business deliverables.” Admittedly specific levels of return have to be gauged on a case-by-case basis as Hero points out but he predicts some form of recompense at least in terms of time savings within 6-18 months depending on the scope of the project. At Oracle according to Patterson by implementing an integrated content and application strategy based around internet technology and fundamentally changing how business was conducted within the organisation the company has saved an estimated $1bn through increased operational efficiency and extended communications with customers and partners.
Clearly the potential benefits of a well-directed content management strategy are sizeable. Any discussion concerning the implementation of a specific technology to support knowledge management will raise concerns that too much emphasis is placed on that tool and issues relating to culture are neglected. As Fox says: “The intranet is not the beginning and end of KM. It’s not going to solve every KM issue – it’s a tool and it does some jobs well and some jobs badly. People still need interaction with people and knowledge sharing takes on a new dynamic once you collect people together in a single room.” Equally the issues surrounding the effective management of knowledge-focused intranet are copious and complex; together with the points already discussed your company must consider issues of interoperability integration mobile connectivity – the list goes on. But as a tool aimed at facilitating collaborative working practices your intranet should prove invaluable and a comprehensive content management strategy is crucial if you are to fully realise its potential.
This month’s contributors:
Name: Paul Fox
Company: The Gillette Company
Position: Director of communications
Name: Sami Hero
Position: Senior director of product marketing
Name: Mark Mitcheson
Position: Vice president of business development
Name: Carolyn Patterson
Position: Marketing manager