The importance of taking a holistic view of information and knowledge management.

Information and knowledge are crucial organisational assets, and like any other assets (people, property etc.) need to be considered and managed from a holistic point of view. This means that there needs to be a strategy which addresses all content across the organisation and which is driven by the over-arching organisational vision and strategy and closely linked to strategies for technology and HR.

Corporate information strategy documents often make statements such as:
• ‘Information’ covers documents, data, images, sound, video and social media;
• Information is treated as a valued asset;
• Information can be trusted;
• There is one version of the truth;
• Information openness is the norm (duty to share, rather than need to know);
• Information management will be embedded into the culture.

In order to turn these ideals into reality, the organisation needs to start by understanding its current information environment, and to create a collections model for the future environment. Understanding the current environment means investigating the content of all repositories such as shared drives, document management systems, paper stores, databases, websites, intranet, blogs, wikis, and so on. Only by understanding the form and nature of current corporate information can you create a future information architecture which will support all of the statements in an information strategy. This sort of discovery work needs to be completed at least at a high level in order to understand the current landscape as a whole and start to map out what the future collections model – essentially what goes where and how it’s categorised and related – should look like in order to maximise these assets.

Unless you take this holistic view there will continue to be duplicated content, confusion for staff as to what goes where, important content that just gets lost, or cumbersome processes in making sure that staff get the information they need. For example, many organisations separate out their intranet for corporate content (i.e. mainly information that the organisation wishes to highlight for its staff, such as policies and procedures or news) from the main document management system (DMS). How do the policies on the intranet relate to the policies in the DMS? How do staff know which one is the latest version? How do the policy creators publish the latest version to the intranet? Are there then two copies of the latest version: one on the intranet and on in the DMS? If we are publishing procedures on the intranet, are they all procedures for all departments, or just the ones HR consider to be key? Where are the others? You may also have specific repositories for managing projects or cases: how do these tie in with the DMS? How does the content of internal social networks relate to other content? There might be valuable insights stored in social networks: how is this captured and managed?

The key is to design your future collections model for the whole organisation to ensure that content of all kinds is grouped in the most logical way to support business requirements. This can be implemented piece by piece, but must be designed at the outset. The collections model is underpinned by an enterprise metadata scheme and data model, both of which are supported by the ontology, which also supports intelligent search.

The discovery work is the fundamental first step. Once you know what you have, you know what you can discard, either by destruction or by archiving. You can create the structures and classifications which determine what lives where, how it is connected and how it is found and used.

Pause for thought

Managing your information, and implementing a system to do it, is a complex task with many knots that need to be unravelled and it takes time to get it right.

All too often the focus of a project implementing such a solution is on getting it done rather than doing it right. Too much effort is spent moving the projects through various gateways rather than spending time on actually thinking through what needs to be done.

Information management systems such as SharePoint too often founder and ultimately fail to deliver the desired benefits because of this. Typically a system is rolled out successfully (i.e. on time) but it quickly degrades and information chaos ensues leaving users frustrated, information difficult to find and impossible to manage. In all likelihood you’ll end up with another project to put it right in a couple of years.

This situation can been avoided.

Proper thought must be given to understanding where you are and what you information landscape looks like. How can you build a system to manage your information if you don’t know what you’re intending to manage?

You must develop an information strategy so you know what you want to achieve and how you are going to go about it.

You must take time to design an information architecture that meets the needs of your users. This is vital to enable you to organise, describe and link information and the key to the efficient and effective use and management of your information.

And don’t forget about putting in place governance – without support, oversight and nurturing your nice new system will quickly end up a chaotic mess.

Remember that rolling out a system that meets a deadline doesn’t mean that you have a successful solution.

Think, plan, design – don’t just ‘do’.