[Ncsi-net] Article on "Knowledge Management and Intranets'
t.s.x.prasanna at intel.com
Thu Apr 24 23:12:41 IST 2003
An interesting article titled "Knowledge Management and Intranets: Putting
People First" has got published in the Intranet Journal. It is available at
It is worth reading.
Those who have problem in accessing it may use the following:
Knowledge Management and Intranets: Putting People First
Andrew Sarnoff & Thomas Wimmer
In recent years, corporate intranets and other internal knowledge-sharing
systems have moved from "nice to have" to "must have" status in virtually
all industries. In many cases, they have evolved into information-sharing
platforms that companies rely on to survive in a knowledge-driven global
Intranets exist in all sizes, shapes, and forms. They range from
comprehensive, all-encompassing sites that attempt to collate and store the
collective knowledge of global companies to the relatively low-cost, lean
intranets built for small professional service firms or individual
departments within larger organizations. While some intranets require large,
full-time content and IT support teams, others are just one of many items on
a human resources or communications manager's job description. Some rely on
a high level of central control and others are built on a philosophy of
The quality that unites intranets is their overall purpose: to drive
organizational efficiency and productivity, support the sharing of best
practices, lead to more-informed decisions, and in some cases, serve as the
primary channel for internal communications.
Management skepticism about intranets and other knowledge-sharing efforts
has often been based on their alleged lack of providing a
return-on-investment (ROI). Admittedly, most benefits are intangible and
cannot easily be measured using conventional ROI criteria. However, industry
research increasingly demonstrates that intranets have a direct impact on
bottom-line results. For example, several Fortune 500 companies report ROIs
of up to $20 million.
Research has also demonstrated that intranets have a significant effect on
workforce efficiency and productivity, and that there is a significant
correlation between intranet satisfaction and job satisfaction.
So far, so good. But despite these optimistic findings, the intranet outlook
for many organizations remains grim. Low usage, aborted intranet projects
and complaints of inefficient allocation of resources are widespread. Too
often, knowledge sharing is seen as an unwelcome, separate activity,
detached from employees' "real" work. How can this outlook be improved?
Steps to Success - A Few Guidelines
Let's start with a truism: An intranet is not a toy. Rather, it is a
strategic investment made by an organization to capture and disseminate
intellectual capital and, in the process, remain competitive. Too often,
this goal seems to have been forgotten. Elaborate knowledge-sharing
platforms that were built and launched proved to have little connection to
employees' real needs and the organization's business goals.
Focuses on user needs - not technology promises
Directly supports the organization's goals and processes
Enables collaboration and communities
Inspires learning, innovation and new thinking through sharing best
Promotes and delivers bottom-line results
Experience shows that employees use an intranet primarily because it is of
substantial benefit to them and helps them perform their jobs better, not
because of its sheer availability or a company-dictated policy. "Build it
and they will come" rarely works. Success depends on an ongoing process that
has as much to do with people management as it does with the availability of
an appropriate information-technology infrastructure.
Guideline number one: Don't inflate expectations. The introduction or
relaunch of any knowledge-management tool is often perceived as a
distraction and, therefore, approached with a high dose of skepticism.
Overpromising and the associated disappointment may reinforce skepticism and
result in rejection. Setting realistic goals is a prerequisite for success
and a good starting point for measuring progress.
The technology and knowledge-management euphoria of the 1990s produced many
costly intranet projects that were abandoned shortly after their launch.
Many examples of failed knowledge-sharing efforts can be attributed to
underestimating the need for ongoing content and technical management.
Recent experiences clearly demonstrate that outdated content and technical
mishaps are major obstacles to user acceptance. Misleading information can
also have an adverse impact on an organization's ability to make informed
decisions. Any intranet-planning effort, therefore, must carefully map out
long-term resource needs for continued maintenance.
Promise of Technology
Organizational knowledge-sharing initiatives sometimes fail because too much
emphasis is placed on what technology can achieve rather than on what users
actually need. A more successful approach is to avoid guiding projects by
promises of what technology alone can deliver. At every stage of the
process, decision makers need to consider whether a new technology feature
supports overall objectives, or is merely an option that could complicate
the tool, distract users or result in serious technical-support issues.
Content and Functionality
Given the diversity of corporate environments and needs, there is no
one-size-fits-all prescription for "the right" content and tools. One
general rule, however, does apply: The more directly a knowledge-sharing
tool is tied to user needs, the more likely it is to be widely used. An
intranet's purpose is to enhance existing processes, not to create a
separate activity. Knowledge-sharing initiatives should, therefore, start
with a candid assessment of the tools employees may be lacking to improve
their job performance, as opposed to preconceived notions of what would be
nice to have. Guiding questions should be: Which information and tools are
critical to an organization's operating performance? What resources will
help users perform their jobs more efficiently?
More is not Always Better
Users are interested in finding - not searching for - the right information
without delay. A good intranet is therefore built on the premise of avoiding
the frustrations of information overload whenever possible through a logical
site structure, functional search engine and a content-management approach
that values quality over quantity. More sophisticated sites feature virtual
communities and collaborative tools, as well as business and financial tools
that integrate the intranet into day-to-day work processes.
Keep it Simple
There are no solutions that work for everyone; however, there are solutions
that work well for the vast majority of users in an organization. Experience
shows that intranet tools implemented to satisfy small groups of users with
highly specialized needs often fail. The added complexity can result in
dissatisfaction among the user majority. Systematic simplification and
standardization - even "underengineering" - of knowledge-sharing tools can
be winning approaches. According to industry surveys, organizations whose
intranets have been strategically redesigned to deliver content in a
simplified format have seen increases in usage of almost 100 percent.
Knowledge-sharing initiatives require some level of senior-management
support. Existing goodwill from the top has to be nurtured, which can be
accomplished by communicating progress and successes. Continuous management
commitment and visible involvement is typically a prerequisite for driving a
knowledge culture. Long-term success also requires middle-management
support. Those who are in contact with and supervise employees on a daily
basis ultimately have a much larger impact on work habits than the CEO or
other senior leaders.
A strong knowledge culture depends on informative communications, site
improvements, and meaningful incentives that encourage employee involvement.
A People-Based Infrastructure
A reliable content-management system requires a people-based infrastructure
with clearly assigned responsibilities. The exact design should be tailored
to an organization's structure, resources, and needs.
Many global companies have achieved excellent results with dedicated
knowledge networks that serve as the foundation for their
knowledge-management strategy. Participants can be selected from different
levels and departments and across markets and regions. Although they
typically do not have to provide full-time support, their role should be
clearly defined within their overall job description. They further the
development and sharing of knowledge and its application to client services
and company initiatives. Their responsibilities include:
Providing local information, research and knowledge from around the world.
Beta testing new tools and features.
Delivering hands-on assistance and training to employees in local languages.
Offering feedback on intranet content, other knowledge management
initiatives, and cultural differences that enhance the tool's effectiveness.
Collaboration and Communities
To achieve maximum impact in today's business environment, intranets need to
go beyond being depositories of static information. They need to enhance
teamwork and knowledge sharing by enabling the creation of team suites,
location-independent shared spaces, and real-time collaborative tools.
Intranets need to provide dynamic platforms where employees can share
thoughts and insights, and collaborate in "communities of practice" -
loosely organized groups of professionals within an organization who are
dedicated to a specific interest or expertise. Communities of practice can
significantly improve employees' ability to solve problems quickly, transfer
best practices, and discover fast solutions and strategies that lead to
Knowledge management needs to be actively marketed within an organization.
The launch or relaunch of an intranet provides a unique opportunity to
effectively position the intranet by clearly articulating its goals, key
features, and value. However, ongoing post-launch communications are at
least as important as the communications for the initial rollout. Regular
updates that highlight new content and features are necessary to keep the
site top-of mind. Systematically prompting employee feedback - through
surveys and built-in response mechanisms - assists in refining the site and
gauging employee support.
One strategy to position an intranet at the heart of the organization is to
use it as the platform of choice for internal communications on topics such
as business development, key messages from senior management, and updates on
In many organizations, targeting communications about new
knowledge-management solutions to specific internal audiences has been an
effective strategy. Every organization has informal knowledge brokers,
thought leaders and teams that are highly motivated to test and champion new
approaches. These groups have to be convinced of the offering's importance
and value in order to become internal marketers.
Considering the growing evidence for unsuccessful organizational
knowledge-management efforts, it is important to emphasize once again that
knowledge-management communications must be realistic and candid. Overstated
claims create a disconnect between wishful thinking and organizational
realities, and can result in a lack of trust and usage erosion.
Coping with Change
Knowledge-management tools are evolving resources that easily adapt to an
organization's changing business environment. For example, an intranet can
be an especially invaluable asset during a crisis situation by providing
employees with up-to-the minute information and leadership messages. It is
during these times that the site's most dynamic capabilities can be
exhibited. When a large U.S. company filed for bankruptcy protection,
Burson-Marsteller developed an employee Web site that enabled the company to
quickly and effectively convey key messages and increase its dialogue with
internal audiences. The company emerged from the crisis stronger than ever,
with employees demonstrating new levels of confidence and trust. Sales in
some divisions increased an unprecedented 181 percent over projected goals.
An effective knowledge-sharing system improves productivity, supports a
culture of teamwork, facilitates learning through the sharing of best
practices and provides easy access to information. This may be
straightforward in theory, but making it work is the challenge. Perhaps
surprisingly, the main stumbling blocks on the road to success are often not
technology-related, but can be found in the areas of communications and
change management. We hope that this point of view provides insights and
strategies that can make your intranet successful.
Andrew Sarnoff is a senior knowledge specialist at Burson-Marsteller, Inc.,
with expertise in developing resources and innovative training programs that
enhance organizational knowledge-sharing capabilities. He was instrumental
in creating the firm's award-winning intranet and global Knowledge Champions
Thomas Wimmer is a director at Burson-Marsteller Inc. and holds worldwide
responsibilities for knowledge-sharing systems, processes and initiatives.
He has many years of experience as a senior consultant in
Burson-Marsteller's Public Affairs and Corporate Communications Practices.
Regards and Thanks
T S Prasanna
Librarian, Intel Technology India Pvt Ltd.
136, Airport Road,
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