Above and Beyond KM

A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

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This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • James Robertson is Managing Director of Step Two Designs and author of Award Winning Mobile Intranets. The purpose of the Intranet Innovation Awards is to share the best new ideas (so the rest of us can steal them!). The 2012 winners presenting in today’s session are Paige Rhodes, Quality Manager, Weston Solutions; Craig Stoll, IT Senior Project Manager, Weston Solutions; and Dan Lewis, Principal Consultant, Mobility, The Judge Group.

    [These are my notes from the KMWorld 2012 Conference. Since I'm publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I've made any editorial comments, I've shown those in brackets.]


    • The New South Wales Department of Education. The innovation in their portal is a beautifully designed “Essentials” bar that the user can personalize by adding other essentials that you like. Further a user can recommend a specific essential to other people in their network. When they do, that essential pops up on the essentials bar of the people in their network. While usually only 5-10% of users personalize their portals, in the NSW Department of Education portal, a huge number of users have personalized their essentials bar.
    • Enter LLC. Enter LLC is a retail company in Russia. They are focused on growing rapidly by helping people have fun. They have done this through gamification. Users can earn points. There are many ways of winning points: you can earn a small number of points by taking action within their Jive environment (e.g., posting, commenting), by recommending somone else for doing something that merits points. You can earn a large number of points by taking action in the physical world, particularly if you do something in a retail store. You can also earn extra points if recognized by a senior manager. The top point earners win significant prizes (e.g., international holidays).
    • Scott Corp. Scott Corp is an Australian company that moves really dangerous substances (e.g., explosives). They have huge reporting obligations to the government. In fact, they used to spend one full week each month gathering and auditing these paper reports. Their new process is that the truck driver completes the same paper report they have always filled out. However, next they photocopy their reports using a multifunction device and use soft buttons on the copier to indicate the severity level. That report is then automatically added to a database in SharePoint, which then triggers some automated work flow appropriate to the severity level. Now, the auditors have reduced the time spent from one week to zero.
    • Judge Consulting Group’s mLink. Judge is a privately owned professional services firm specializing in technology services. Rather than using a traditional CRM, they use a candidate tracking tool (they call EDGE) to keep track of their staff. For each potential staff member, they keep contact details, as many as three resumes, and tools that allow Judge personnel to document interactions with potential hires. Participation is recognized by posting photos of the top users on a leader board. Another functionality they provide is real time information on staff time and attendance. You can also see paystubs. (Pay fluctuates since it is a commission-driven business.) They also included mobile calculators to help personnel determine margins. They deliver this and more functionality via the mobile web and through their own app store.
    • Weston Solutions. Weston Solutions is an integrator providing services in environmental solutions, specialty construction and green development. It is an employee-owned organization with a staff of 1,800 in more than 60 offices worldwide. They have a diverse workforce and client base. They had a collaborative culture, but needed an intranet capable of supporting collaboration. Their intranet is currently ranked #1 in the Worldwide Intranet Challenge. This is an indication of user support of the intranet. LessonTrack is the functionality they are discussing today. It is designed to collect and share lessons learned. The landing page allows users to subscribe to a lessons relating to a specific area of interest. Each lesson has links to the author (included a link via Lync so you can contact them directly), and the ability to add comments to the lesson. The data entry form has only three mandatory fields: The title of the lesson, the lesson itself (three sentences will suffice), and some way to connect the lesson to a project number or opportunity number. The system can then connect that lesson to other metadata automatically. Other fields are key words and a list of contributors. They have built this in SharePoint. Using that common platform, they can tie a lesson to a specific project tracker (which tracks the operational status and financial health of a project). Employees are expected to enter their lessons learned immediately after they learn the lesson. The key to this is that the data entry form can be invoked no matter where you are. In each system there is a button that the user can click to generate a data entry form at the moment they realize they have a lesson to share. Finally, they gathered up all the existing lessons learned and pre-populated the LessonTracker so that users could get value from the minute the tool was launched.


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  • Carmen Porco is a technology strategist at IBM, formerly at Prescient. He reports on a receent Social Intranet Study involving 1400 participants worldwide (sponsored by IABC).
    [These are my notes from the KMWorld 2012 Conference. Since I'm publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I've made any editorial comments, I've shown those in brackets.]


    • Social Intranet Study. The most popular tools ((61%) are blogs, discussion forums and instant messaging. 75% of the organizations that use social media have blogs.
    • Senior executive support is critical. Porco showed us the blog of the CEO of Pepsi and a short internal video by IBM’s CEO. Their entries are short, but they definitely initiate engagement by employees — check out the comments. The key here is not to use a ghostwriter; ghostwriters rarely convey authenticity, which is critical for engagement./li>
    • Wikis. 61% of the organizations that use social media use wikis. However, Porco cautions against using a wiki as your intranet. He equates this with “handing over the keys to your intranet to your 16-year old son.” This level of openness can have a huge negative impact on your information governance.
    • Employee Social Networking. This normally means “facebook within the organization.” However, it could also include communities of practice, as well as tools like YouTube (video).
    • Platform. 55% of the organizations that participated in the study use SharePoint. One common delusion is that SharePoint is free. However, the best looking SharePoint sites cost thousands to create and maintain.
    • What’s a Social Intranet?. This is a intranet that deploys multiple social tools. In other words, it’s not just a bulletin board for documents. Rather the social intranets permit user sharing, commenting, instant messaging, etc.
    • User Satisfaction. Forrester tested 1500 intranet sites for user satisfaction. Only 3% passed! The other 97% had common failings: illegible text, poor navigation, etc.
    • Key Lessons from the Study. (1) you get what you pay for. (2) change management is critical for use and satisfaction. (3) Training all users, but especially your top executives. You need to be sure they understand how to use the tool and actually DO use the tools. (4). Communication is key. Cross-promote as much as you can in order to get the word out.
    • XXX. YYY


  • Swiss Army KnifeLove it or hate it, you can’t ignore SharePoint.  Thanks to the might of Microsoft, SharePoint has become part of the technology and knowledge management conversation at law firms all over the world.

    While not every law firm has deployed it, most I’ve talked to are thinking about it.  Unfortunately,  all that thinking is giving them a headache.  Some don’t understand exactly what SharePoint does.  Others have read the marketing materials, but are disturbed by the mixed reports they are hearing from colleagues at other firms.  At a recent meeting I attended, a colleague from another firm summed up SharePoint rather succinctly: (i) SharePoint is a pretty decent Portal and provides a convenient platform on which a firm can gather and display information from a variety of silos, (ii)  it has aspirations of being a document management system which when fully realized could make it a powerful player in this space, and (iii) it provides some workflow tools that are much needed by law firms.

    One of the biggest problems with SharePoint seems to be that it has been marketed like a Swiss Army Knife: capable of doing lots of things.  However, the tools provided aren’t always up to the job.  A case in point is SharePoint’s social media tools.  For example, in one recent listserv conversation someone asked about the experience of others in deploying SharePoints blogs and wikis.  The uniform response was that those tools were rudimentary at best and ultimately proved disappointing.  In fact, each respondent said they were looking for a better, more functional third-party tool that they could plug into SharePoint.  What nobody discussed was the opportunity cost of using SharePoint first and leaving their user group dissatisfied.

    Initially, I thought the concerns about SharePoint and social media were more about the user interface and lack of full functionality.  However, while attending a webinar this week on using taxonomies in SharePoint, I heard something that gave me pause:  one of the experts on the panel said that while SharePoint appeared to offer the ability to have both top-down taxonomies and bottom-up folksonomies, you really could not (and perhaps should not) deploy both.  That struck me as wrong-headed so I consulted with the father of folksonomy, Thomas Vander Wal.  In an exchange on Twitter, he told me the following:

    • SharePoint’s understanding of folksonomy is really poor and really mangles some things.  Data structures are right. Others not so.
    • In folksonomy the co-occurence of terms works in similar fashion to hierarchy, but SharePoint doesn’t make that easy.
    • The folksonomy should identify gaps in taxonomy and help inform it, but SharePoint didn’t grasp that so it doesn’t work there.

    These statements might at first strike you as succinct (or perhaps cryptic), but that’s a function of the size limitations of Twitter.  Regardless, the message comes through loud and clear:  while purporting to provide social media support, SharePoint appears to have misunderstood some basic things about how social media work such that the underlying SharePoint structure seems to resist or hinder full social media functionality.  As a result, firms that are relying on SharePoint to provide a full social media experience may well be disappointed.

    To be fair, you may be able to open a wine bottle and slice a piece of cheese with your Swiss Army Knife, but are you actually able to use it to prepare a nutritious and delicious meal?  It seems that the SharePoint Swiss Army Knife suffers from similar limitations when it comes to social media.

    [Photo Credit: AJ Cann]

  • What are people searching for and where are they looking? That’s the question asked and answered in a thought-provoking article in the March 2008 issue of KMWorld. While working with an admittedly small sample, the survey yielded some interesting findings:

    - 62% of respondents said that they first search the Internet before searching more specialized resources such as their own company’s website or intranet
    – while 13% of the time the respondents said they were searching for information about their own companies, they began their search on their company intranet only 2% of the time
    - respondents tended to ask their colleagues for help before they tried their company intranet
    - business users spend a lot of time searching for information at work (approximately 9.5 hours per week)
    - knowledge workers tend to search using general indices like Google and Yahoo rather than specialized web sites or search engines

    The picture that emerges is troubling:

    - companies aren’t doing a good job of making their intranets the first choice for company information
    - despite the hours spent searching, many knowledge workers are not searching efficiently
    - knowledge workers don’t seem to understand the inherent weakness of general web search engines like Google and Yahoo when it comes to finding specialized, high-value content
    - searchers tend not to use content aggregators, specialized vertical search sites or topical sites to find data

    For knowledge management, these findings pose some real challenges. In many companies, it’s the knowledge management group that’s responsible for the intranet. The findings of this survey are a real indictment of the job we’re doing. So what must we do differently to make our intranets the first choice research resource for our colleagues? It might be worth asking them.

    And while we’re talking with them, we should investigate why it is they are using sub-optimal search methods. Is it a lack of awareness about how search engines like Google and Yahoo work? Do they simply not understand that high-value content can get buried in the Web, but will tend to be more visible on specialized web sites? According to the author of this article, people in the online industry know that “the `good stuff’ gets hidden if it is thrown into the larger web grab bag. And very often, it isn’t even in the grab bag because it isn’t indexed.” Clearly the average knowledge worker doesn’t know this or they wouldn’t be using the grab bag search engine.

    Despite this (or perhaps because of this), the author notes that there are some signs of progress in the growing recognition of the value of finding high-quality information rather than merely relevant information. As a result, there is renewed interest in recommendation engines, contextual search and vertical search sites. These are “tools that will tell [knowledge workers] what they need to pay attention to in the pile” of information they face. In this age of overload, this sounds like a step in the right direction.

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