Building the Knowledge Culture

Corporate Intranet = “Corporate KM System”?

Guy St. Clair

Why not?

As is often the case in our knowledge-sharing community, this post is inspired by a recent query on LinkedIn. This one was posted on LinkedIn’s Knowledge Management Group, from Aprill Allen:

“What are your thoughts on intranets as a platform for knowledge management? No fancy SaaS or software, just an internal website. I know it has limitations and wouldn’t scale well, but for small companies and for many types of businesses, it could do the job quite well. What would be your suggestions to someone who might consider starting on this path?”

And Aprill’s query comes just as several of us have been discovering – in our conversations with clients and colleagues – frequent references to the corporate or organizational intranet as the company’s “corporate KM system.”

It makes sense, doesn’t it? One colleague speaks about how this has developed through the application of SharePoint solutions, and that seems to provide a good explanation for the trend.

In any case, in the current knowledge development/knowledge sharing environment – KD/KS, we like to call it – merging IT/ICT solutions and KM solutions is a perfect opportunity for strengthening the entire enterprise-wide knowledge domain.  We’re all trying to establish or strengthen the corporate knowledge culture, and now is the perfect time for moving ICT and KM out of their long-standing silos into one workable, actionable framework. Indeed, just last week I participated in a conversation in which the classic (and also long-standing) metaphor of IT/ICT as the “pipeline” and KM content as “what flows through” was soundly rejected. Perhaps moving away from the “corporate intranet” to the “corporate KM system” is the step (semantically speaking) that will take us into the age of the enterprise knowledge culture.

As for our concerns about fancy SaaS or software, or limited scalability: no problem. With the list of excellent vendors building fine KM systems expanding all the time, and – for smaller organizations – with knowledgeable internal staff able to build (with little trouble) a really good small-scale KM system, there’s no reason why a well thought-out KM system can’t produce immediate and tangible results – including financial savings.

Two tiny caveats: One has to do with how we define KM, knowledge services, and knowledge strategy. Lots of people speak about the people – processes – technology framework and others go with the culture – structure – technology arrangement. Both include the “people/culture” connection, so let’s be sure we don’t forget that as we move toward building the corporate KM system; KD/KS is all about enabling networking and working together. It’s not just the technology.

A second consideration: Yes, you can start small; that’s fine in a small organization. And if you’re part of a larger organization and you think you should build a KM system for your functional unit, division, or such, take your time and consider how you might work with other departments and units – or, for best results – enterprise-wide as you build your KM system. This latter approach is obviously a tougher job, and it will involve much more networking and cooperation than building a small system, but in the long run more people will benefit and the larger organizational environment will be more open to cross-boundary and cross-border KD/KS.

Also, for a start-up framework, review the recent series of SMR posts about starting up a KM initiative (the series starts here). The posts provide a checklist of steps for organizing your plan.

– Guy St. Clair


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  1. guystclair says:

    Posted by Rich Nimrod at LinkedIn’s Knowledge Managers Group:

    Very good points. Not so tiny caveats.

    I loathe saying “X is everything”, so I will say that scope helps determines just about everything from culture to strategy to service.

    In addition, it’s easy to sit in an ivory tower and say it is best to go with an enterprise solution in cases [where] your unit is part of a larger organization. The hard part is to lengthen the sight of leadership beyond this quarter or the next for a return. It is probably my near religious fervor against paying twice for a capability, service, or product that ensures I do not stay quiet (whether asked for or not) when someone is considering going for the myopic solution in those cases where an enterprise vision is warranted.

    Guy St. Clair adds: Well said, Rich. As managers we sometimes get so caught up in the day-to-day “managing” that we tend to forget the value of politics in the company or the organization. Which is why my team and I are always on the look-out for people who can be sponsors, champions, and advocates, so that we can get the “buzz” going. From our experience, the only way to prevent what you so well describe as a “myopic solution” is to make sure plenty of people – especially influential people – are in on the discussion.

  2. Suresh D Nair says:

    A few of the key approaches of KM, viz. communities of practice (COP); Yellow Page; Collaborative environments; knowledge tools; bulletin boards, etc. can be facilitated through Corporate Intranet. Hence, before going for SaaS or any fancy KM software KMers need to explore the possibility of using Corporate Intranet for the purpose.

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