Know how, intranets and SharePoint – where do we stand?

September 1, 2012

 For several years it seemed that SharePoint was the answer, regardless of the question. Now that a number of law firms have used SharePoint for different purposes the discussion at our September 2012 KM Forum (one of a regular series) focused on how SharePoint has or has not helped firms in managing knowledge. In particular we considered whether it has affected the relationships between the knowledge function and other support functions, especially in terms of responsibility for the intranet. This is a summary of a lively discussion involving about 20 of our KM Forum participants.

 

Common characteristics of people involved in knowledge management are that they like structure and they like to be in control. (Some of us would even confess to being control freaks.) These characteristics can be useful, especially where systems that benefit from control and governance are concerned. In our view, SharePoint is an example of such a system and its use as the platform for firms’ intranets is making this very obvious.

 

Historically, law firms’ intranets used to be implemented following a traditional requirements/buybuild decision/product selection process. The intranet was intended for clearly defined purposes, largely based on access to organisational information, internal communication and in some cases access to knowledge. It was either under the control of the knowledge function or the IT function or on occasions the internal communications function – either way it was usually possible to identify the function which ‘owned’ the intranet. In addition, the intranet was often based on a ‘product’ which came with inbuilt structure and content management controls.

 

More recently, SharePoint has become the default choice for firms’ intranets, and it is often the IT function which makes this choice. SharePoint, especially in its more recent incarnations, is a tool kit from which one can build almost anything. It can be extremely flexible. Moreover, firms now expect much more from their intranets– including providing a platform for social collaboration, and acting as a resource to support users in their day to day work, rather than just as a place to find information. Many firms are looking to their intranets to provide a dashboard incorporating financial and client information ‘at a glance’. In addition, as SharePoint is starting to be used for document management, this further blurs the role of SharePoint as a product, and the responsibility for managing it and adapting it to new requirements. As for managing knowledge, SharePoint can provide support in a number of ways: as a knowhow repository, as a platform for collaboration and sharing ‘soft information’, for publishing current awareness, or as an entry point for enterprise search.

 

Having in house SharePoint development capability (usually in IT) enables firms to move quickly and add sites and functionality over time. However, a number of firms have discovered that the flexibility of SharePoint comes with a disadvantage, namely that it is all too easy for it to grow and become disorganised, resulting in users finding it very difficult to find what they need. Even Microsoft, who until 2007 emphasised SharePoint’s flexibility and adaptability as a key benefit, now acknowledges in relation to SharePoint 2010 that structure, governance and metadata need to be thought about before implementation.

 

This is where the KM skill set can be crucial. Content profiling, fields and facets, global taxonomies, hierarchy, multi select, inherited metadata - all these aspects of information architecture, classification and metadata are the meat and drink of those who work in the knowledge field.

 

Furthermore, in many firms, the KM function is close to the business, and in a better position to understand lawyers’ needs and ways of working than other support functions.

 

So who now ‘owns’ the SharePoint intranet?There is of course a risk that it falls between several stools. Our view is that you’ll get the best out of an intranet if you draw upon several skill sets:

  • IT’s ability to configure and develop the product

  • KM’s user insight, and understanding of controlled content – profiles, metadata and taxonomies, and governance at system and enterprise level

  • Comms’ approach to content style and design in order for the intranet to succeed not just as a communications tool but as a place people will go to and use.

In some firms this poses challenges, where the support functions are used to managing their own projects and tools, without having to co-operate at this level of detail. Working together requires an understanding of the skills that the other functions have to offer, and an ability to let go of some issues. Ownership of the intranet is unlikely to revert to a single function, especially as the functions the intranet is expected to perform continue to grow.

 

3Kites Consulting, September 2012

3Kites Consulting is a limited company registered in England and Wales. Registered number: 5644909. Registered office: 1 High Street, Knaphill, Woking, Surrey, GU21 2PG. www.3kites.com

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