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How good are intranets as knowledge management tools?

Guest article from Sue Silcocks, discussing the KM aspects of intranets.


How far have intranets for knowledge management really moved on since 2010?

In 2010 I based my MSc on a study of best practices in knowledge management in large consultancies in the Architecture Engineering and Construction sector. I was also trying to explain the background and benefits of knowledge management tools and methods in the sector, and how they had come about.

It was fairly easy to see why KM was important to consultancies in the sector:

  • their work involves time-limited projects using multidisciplinary and temporary teams – so knowledge sharing and retention are essential to avoid wasting good knowledge;
  • the construction sector has a long established entrenched culture – which tends to build knowledge silos;
  • the consultancies in the sector essentially sell knowledge and expertise (as professional services companies).

If it wasn’t too difficult to see why KM was important, it was harder to find potentially useful KM techniques. And in 2010 it was harder to find evidence of how effective individual tools actually were!

Do you think the issues I identified then have changed? Or been resolved?

What makes intranets work best as a KM tool

From case studies and from information professionals I interviewed in the sector, these were the most important success factors in 2010:

  • the implementation of a thorough enterprise search system. Poor research facilities had been the biggest problem, but upgrading was usually too expensive.
  • an intuitive infrastructure;
  • comprehensive metadata;
  • effective processes for validating content;
  • good training for users.

Are these still the factors that make your intranet effective?  Or is that due to something else altogether?

The most effective KM tools hosted on intranets

It was clear that not enough time or money was being invested to make hosted tools universally successful in the sector, but these were the ones that worked best:

  • Organisation Knowledge Repositories;
  • Skills Networks / Communities of Practice / Discussion Groups;
  • Project Databases;
  • Post Project Reviews.

Even more important than time and money, were the participation of the consultancies’ hierarchies, and their encouragement to others. Just as for intranets themselves, metadata, validation and clear provenance were essential too.

Organisation knowledge versus people knowledge

This is where things may have changed most in the last five years. It was clear across the Architecture Engineering and Construction sector that the formal recording of knowledge in for example a project review was expected to be more useful because it was more dispassionate.

That’s not to say that people knowledge was hugely undervalued: as long as clear provenance and validation were shown, it was accepted that formal structures were less important. Blogs and wiki type platforms were becoming effective, and sharing people knowledge was beginning to be encouraged into as many types of interaction as possible.

What do you think?

Are the intranet success factors the same as they were in 2010? Do organisations still trust formal knowledge more than people knowledge? It would be really interesting to hear what has changed.

Please leave comments below, or get in touch with Sue Silcocks.


Sue SilcocksSue Silcocks is Information/ Knowledge Manager at AECOM and a member of UKeiG’s Management Committee. The UKeiG are gold sponsors of the Intranet Now conference.

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