Order From Chaos: Controlling Your Content

If your company has ventured into the realm of knowledge management, you have realized that one of the greatest challenges of KM is user buy-in. For a KM initiative to succeed, "magnet" content that draws people to it is a must. To get people "just" the right information--just enough, just in time and from trusted sources--is easier said than done.

When starting out a KM project, businesses may instinctively toss every available document and file--regardless of value or opportunity for reuse--into the knowledge repository. Or there may be great content residing all over the organization, but glitches in the process of finding and sharing stop people from taking advantage of it. And too often departments and communities create their own private systems to classify and store their content. They can find it, but no one else can.

Given these and other troubles, it's not hard to see why content management is a hot issue. Fortunately, taking the following steps can help you to design a process that will support your KM initiative.

step by step
First, establish a cross-functional design team that understands what information communities of users need most. Next, identify sources of relevant content, internal and external. The key is to select content worth managing--and in the case of importing syndicated content, worth paying for.

Then you should create a classification system and promote its adoption by all in the organization. Usually the best way to approach this complex task is through a series of workshops in which representatives of all communities learn to take an enterprise approach.

Establish a process to validate best practices for content. There are three ways to do this. The first is to appoint subject matter experts who review all content before it is published. Using electronic dialogue, these experts debate and reach a decision on the value of the content. If approved, it is published to the whole community.

A second approach that is less demanding for experts is to provide guidelines and templates to potential contributors and give their submissions only a cursory review. This approach relies on feedback from subsequent readers.

The third approach is to establish standards for "grading" documents. Everything meeting a minimum quality standard gets published, but subject matter experts indicate which items are at the highest level of best practice. Then you can create processes and workflow to refresh the content.

Next, select technology and applications to store and deliver the content. Choose a portal, search engines and personalization processes for delivery.

Eventually, you'll need a chain of accountability and funding to refresh the content. Consider who should pay the costs for staff time to maintain and refresh content. Cap Gemini Ernst & Young centrally funds its content managers, who as former consultants are well versed in relevant subject matter. Schlumberger Ltd. relies on its corporate KM group to provide content management guidelines so that there is a coherent approach to knowledge gathering, storing and distributing across all communities.

If you import content from outside, you must address copyright issues. If you want to make such content available to customers, add disclaimers about use of the information to avoid liability should it be misused or lead to harm.

Managing content provides obvious benefits to a KM initiative. Easy access to targeted information leads to huge efficiency gains, and more time is available for creative endeavors. But poorly managed content is a barrier to growth. A dispersed enterprise can't rely on friends checking each others' file drawers.

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