posted 10 Jun 2003 in Volume 6 Issue 9
An integrated future
Organisations looking to get the most from their knowledge-management investment are starting to recognise the value of adopting an integrated approach to KM, content management and portal implementation. Adam M. Gersting explains why consolidated environments are the future for KM, and how a defined approach to taxonomy development will be the difference between success and failure for your firm.
For organisations to maximise the business value from new or continued knowledge-management efforts, significant trends and opportunities need to be understood and addressed. In this article, three critical trends that impact the way value is realised through knowledge management-related efforts are described. The first of these three interrelated trends is the implementation of consolidated content environments – integrating knowledge-management and content-management systems together as one, physically or virtually. The second is the integration of portal interfaces with these knowledge and content systems. The third is the development and integration of taxonomy structures at the heart of these integrated knowledge, content and portal solutions.
In the sections that follow, each of these three trends are further detailed, approaches highlighted, benefits and value described, and leading solution examples provided. These examples are based on numerous Accenture initiatives around the globe. Many of the examples are compiled based on leading solutions in the chemicals industry, but the opportunities and imperatives are equally applicable across all industries. Based on these trends and examples, recommended actions for organisations are outlined.
Consolidated content environments
Knowledge management is an established space, understood by many. It continues to be an area of critical focus in terms of business benefit and cost savings. Business value is realised through best-practice application, increased speed and improved decision making. Cost savings are realised through reduced re-work and increased quality of output. Through implementations of knowledge management-related solutions across a series of clients and industries, Accenture has commonly seen strong benefits. These typically include a 15 per cent reduction in re-work through the sharing and use of best practices, and cost savings of over 30 per cent through sharing and use of collective knowledge.
While knowledge-management efforts continue to be important based on proven value to date, greater value must be realised through implementation of integrated solutions. In the past, knowledge-management solutions and content-management solutions were primarily implemented separately, to satisfy seemingly disparate needs. But organisations across industries are now implementing content and knowledge solutions in tandem. There is a growing realisation that providing the right information at the right time to the right people means all the right ‘information’. The user trying to perform their work does not care whether what they need is called knowledge or content, a document or simply information. They just want it, and want to move on.
With the increased implementation of content-management environments for intranets (for employee use) and extranets (for employee and partner use), discussion of the right environment for knowledge is common. Content management is the systematic process of creating, storing, reviewing and managing objects (text, audio, video, images), aggregating and delivering the objects via templates to one or more business areas, audiences and devices. These objects could be formalised knowledge. This means that the same core environment established for the management and delivery of content could be used for the management and delivery of knowledge.
There are many benefits of consolidated environments. Beyond bringing together all the right information to the right people at time of need through a single virtual system, there are significant savings to be gained with integrated environments. Only one system environment is required, with one core technical platform, infrastructure and operations approach. While responsibilities and processes from a knowledge-management perspective need to be addressed in tandem with content-specific roles and processes, these can be enabled together by a single system, a single environment and a single set of people with defined responsibilities.
- A majority of organisations beginning to address knowledge-management needs will look to existing content-management environments;
- Increasingly, organisations planning for knowledge as well as content needs are doing so in an integrated or parallel fashion;
- Going forward, few if any organisations will implement new knowledge solutions separately from new content solutions.
Numerous organisations are already beginning to address knowledge and content needs and systems in an integrated fashion. One leading, global science and technology company has recently implemented a content-management system to drive product, solution, education and other information to public and extranet sites. Leading knowledge-management solutions are integrated into this single common system to support employees, customers and potential customers. Knowledge management-type capabilities are provided: document sharing within defined collaborative workgroups focused on new solutions and specific customer needs, and real-time collaboration between customers and technical or sales representatives to provide immediate and personalised support. This provides a market-differentiated environment in which products can be understood, and knowledge and insights related to specific solution needs of customers can be gained.
Another leading, global chemicals organisation has implemented a similar integrated knowledge and content solution. Product literature, product specifications, regulatory information, etc, are managed via a leading content-management package and solution. Integrated with this overall content system are collaborative and threaded discussion capabilities, along with personalised knowledge and data presentation.
Several leading organisations have established single, global content-management platforms, and are now beginning to address the area of knowledge management. There has been specific recognition that the content-management investment could potentially be used to enable the sharing and use of knowledge. In multiple organisations, strategic planning initiatives are underway to determine detailed approaches for knowledge management, within and relative to exiting content environments.
Based on the increasing trend and strong value opportunity for integrated knowledge and content environments, several actions should be taken by organisations considering addressing content and knowledge needs/opportunities:
- Define a clear approach to management and use of knowledge from a business and business-process perspective;
- Define this in relation to existing or planned content-management-system and solution approaches;
- Understand the latest approaches, examples and successes in planning and implementing content/knowledge systems and solutions;
- Architect, design and develop – or update – ‘content environment’ solutions to integrate and support knowledge-management needs.
Integrated portal interfaces
There used to be knowledge-management solutions, content-management solutions and portal solutions. No longer. Content-management implementations in particular are rarely performed in isolation any more. The vast majority of such efforts are integrally tied to portal solutions. Particularly from the content-management perspective, it is the portal that plays the most important role in overall end-user solutions, human performance and business performance. It is the portal that enables performance through the automated, personalised and dynamic presentation of content and knowledge, as well as documents, data and other information.
There is strong recognition that portal and content/knowledge-system integration is critical. Without managed content, the portal provides a personalised view into an abyss. Without the portal interface, it is more challenging to access and use content – along with other types of information – to effectively solve problems, carry out work or enable performance. Beyond access to content and knowledge, the portal can provide critical context, alerts, insights, relationships and services that do not exist or are not easily obtained through the independent back-end systems alone. The criticality of integrated content and portal solutions is recognised by the software component of the marketplace. Formal alliances and even acquisitions between leading content-management and portal-software providers are based on this imperative for integrated solution.
The examples of integrated knowledge, content and portal solutions are numerous. The science and technology, and the chemical client described previously have both implemented portal solutions as part of overall content and knowledge projects. This enabled initial architecture, design and implementation efforts to be focused on the right information, as well as on how to provide it to the right people in the right way.
Several key actions must be taken in planning for integrated content, knowledge and portal solutions, or in planning the integration of new capabilities into an existing system subset:
- Recognise or gain an understanding of the business imperative to address portals in tandem with knowledge, content and other information-solution components;
- Focus on the presentation as well as the management of the content and knowledge;
- Focus portal presentation on critical workforces, groups or roles;
- Define a clear business justification for the integrated portal-driven solution.
Taxonomies: binding content environments and portals for highest value
Taxonomy structures have always been a part of leading, effective knowledge-management solutions. They often play key roles in content and portal solutions as well. A taxonomy is a defined set of descriptive terms or values, and an approach to applying these terms to pieces of content to aid in the management and presentation of this content. In other words, taxonomies play a key role in driving the efficient and effective management and retrieval of content, as well as personalised presentation or delivery of content or knowledge. It is the taxonomy that forms the critical business link between the content/knowledge environment and the presentation and business use for the end-user.
In the September 2000 edition of Knowledge Management, the Accenture Taxonomy Methodology was described. This is a proven approach to development and integration of taxonomy structures within knowledge and content solutions. The article highlighted a number of steps to design, develop, validate and integrate taxonomy structures for knowledge and content solutions:
- Current state assessment – to understand the content sources and types to be represented by the taxonomy structure;
- Develop top layers of the taxonomy – to define primary structures for management, retrieval and presentation of content and knowledge;
- Determine categories and values – specifying the detailed classification approach and characteristics of content and knowledge items;
- Classify content to test the taxonomy – validating that representative content can be classified via the defined categories and values;
- Integrate taxonomy with the content system – making the taxonomy categories and values available and usable for management and presentation of content and knowledge;
- Maintain the taxonomy over time – through formalised processes for updating and refining categories and values.
These same taxonomy methods remain in use today. Within this methodology, several points have become critical, and must be addressed when planning and implementing taxonomy structures with integrated portal solutions:
- Common platform – increasingly, content and knowledge systems are being implemented as a single common platform within enterprises or extended enterprises. This means that one system environment is used across an organisation, versus business-unit or departmental knowledge or content solutions. The time and effort required for planning, and the criticality of the taxonomy structure in a single common platform, is therefore greatly increased;
- Globalisation – common and ‘separate’ platform solutions are becoming more global in nature, in the same way that businesses and website solutions are. This means that the development of multilingual versions of taxonomies and the mapping of synonym terms across the taxonomy is critical;
- Federalisation – with common platforms, and global solutions, organisations often remain federalised in nature. This means that a common, efficiency platform may be in place, but needs, ownership, management and control may be at a business-unit or country level. This requires that governance approaches, processes and the taxonomy structure itself provide standardisation across the organisation, but be flexible and tailored to the needs of separate profit-centre entities within the organisation;
- Portal integration – as described in previous sections, integration of portals with content/knowledge solutions is now the norm. With this, the taxonomy becomes partially a tool for the management of content, but also more of an enabler of personalised and dynamic presentation. Greater focus needs to be put on how the content is to be presented to different user groups before the taxonomy is designed.
If a portal/content solution is to be effective, it is critical that taxonomy capabilities are addressed. Taxonomies are critical in the management of ever-increasing amounts of knowledge and content that integrated environments across global organisations must deal with. Taxonomy definition and integration is key to the presentation of personalised content, knowledge and other information within portal solutions and interfaces, both internally and externally.
By way of an example, the large science and technology content, knowledge and portal implementation highlighted above relies heavily on a taxonomy at its core. This taxonomy is critical to defining the content to be presented within the dynamic website and portal interface. All content for different user types is presented based on the characteristics of the user, and the classification of content. The single, global taxonomy will be used to enable sharing and re-use of content cross multiple business-unit portals in the future.
Another large chemicals company also integrated a taxonomy structure into its portal and content-management solution. In this situation as well, best-practice knowledge as well as content related to product information, regulatory information, product testing methods, performance information, etc, is presented dynamically and in a personalised fashion based on the taxonomy and user characteristics.
Several organisations that have already developed integrated content-management and portal solutions have not included taxonomy structures or capabilities as part of their solutions. Many are beginning to realise that a taxonomy structure is in fact needed as part of the next phase of system and solution development in order to meet the content-re-use, global-content-sharing and personalised-presentation goals of the overall solution.
Several actions should be taken by organisations that are planning integrated content and portal solutions, or that already have such solutions, but without taxonomy capabilities, in place:
- Assess how the business objectives of the content and portal solution are to be met, and the role that taxonomy capabilities may need to play in this environment;
- Define clearly how taxonomy capabilities within the broader solution environment will enable the objectives of the planned business solution – or further enable the system in place attempting to service these business needs;
- Design the taxonomy structure and associated system components or component changes to support taxonomy-enabled management and presentation of content and knowledge;
- Develop and implement critical process, governance, and roles and responsibilities related to taxonomies.
In summary, knowledge management-related solutions continue to provide strong workforce and business value. In the future, this value will be delivered and realised through integrated knowledge, content and portal solutions. These integrated solutions will have as their backbone taxonomy structures to aid in the management and personalised delivery of critical content, knowledge and other information. Organisations must recognise the need to address integrated solutions, and take action to continue to implement leading and high-value knowledge-related system and solutions.
Adam Gersting is a senior manager with the Accenture Resources Chemical practice. He can be contacted at email@example.com
© Accenture, 2003
1. Gersting, A., Brice, F. & Schaftlein, S., ‘Knowledge managed’ in Knowledge Management (Vol 4 Iss 1, Ark Group, September 2000)