The problem with modern knowledge management and collaboration platforms is not that we fail to collect enough data. With the rapid decline in storage costs, and the realization that transactional data can help us better understand and measure the cost and value of each customer activity — the reality is that we’re probably not collecting and storing enough data. Instead, the problem is that we’re not yet sure what we should do with the data we have. Take SharePoint as an example: we capture and store countless documents, we build massive lists and dashboards, and we integrate it with our other line of business applications so that we can maintain one version of the truth….but we often can’t find the data we need, when we need it. The problem with knowledge management and collaboration is that we are unable to find, follow, and filter what matters.
Don’t Blame Search
Looking back at the history of SharePoint, the search capability was not always as robust as it is today with FAST Search capabilities now part of the native search experience. Concerns about search within SharePoint had more to do with people failing to closely manage their information assets. Something interesting happened with the release of SharePoint 2013 — many customers complained that search was returning results that should not have been visible to most employees, but what was really happening was that an improved search tool was surfacing poorly-managed content, highlighting shortcomings in security and permissions management, and an under-performing metadata strategy.
Setting search to simply crawl all of your content is not the answer. Instead, organizations need to spend much more time ensuring they know what content is out there, who should have access to it, and whether the right controls have been put in place. It needs to be a multi-faceted strategy that includes taxonomy development, automated classification and tagging, and a change in company culture.
The idea that we can simply dump our content into a knowledge base or repository and users will be able to auto-magically retrieve it again is a common mistake made by organizations around the world. Search requires metadata to work properly and effectively. We cannot escape the need to classify our content, but we can be smart in the way that we accomplish this task by tapping into the collective wisdom of the crowd.
Looking Beyond Document Collaboration
Most corporate knowledge no longer resides within documents, anyway. These days, information and tasks and events are captured within social networking sites and real-time collaboration tools, contextualizing the content we create and work with. We leverage the many different social building blocks to discover, distribute, and recover information. We follow activity streams to participate in conversations, we “like” and rate and share social objects, we consider social analytics and user profiles to identify expertise and ensure authenticity, and we leverage the social graph to help us connect-the-dots between the vast array of digital artifacts within our networks.
We can improve search through our social interactions.
One example I use in presentations is that of two documents of equal value and with similar names being uploaded into SharePoint at the same time and by the same author. As they are uploaded, standard taxonomy is applied, and if you did a search at this point, both documents would appear. However, what if the second document is immediately shared with a peer, including a personal note pointing to a project that peer is working on? The peer then responds by adding additional tags (metadata), “likes” the document, and then shares it again with other people within his or her team. As others “discover” this new document, they may have insights into its relevance and also tag it with metadata that the original author never considered. As they discuss it within their groups, all of this social activity — and their social profiles — become associated with the document, adding context and relevance. As a result, they make it more “findable” within the platform.
As SharePoint indexes all of this social activity, the second document becomes much more relevant within search results, not only helping it rise to the top of the result, but also causing all associated content, conversations, and user profiles also appear within the search results. Social collaboration has given it transparency, has increased its value through reuse, and improved its findability. Content and context that might not have otherwise been associated to the second document is now part of the search result….burying the first document deep within the results page.
Here’s why all of this matters:
- Providing transparency means improving the visibility of relevant content in context, and improving the communication of ideas.
- Increasing reuse means more focused conversations, adding folksonomy or user-generated keywords that make the content more visible, and encourages additional knowledge capture.
- Improving findability means that people are more able to get the information they need, when they need it.
But there is also danger here: you need to avoid making social yet another information silo. How does this happen? Social collaboration fails when it is disconnected social from your business activities. If your primary collaboration environment is SharePoint, then you want to ensure that your social activities happen within SharePoint.
The challenge for most companies is finding that balance between flexibility and control. Having a strategy in place for a growing, evolving collaboration environment should include details on how you will align social activities with your core business processes, how teams will access and use the platform, how various content types will be stored and classified as your content volume grows, and other considerations. But you also need to let people be social, and support the cultural standards of your end users as best you can. Much can be automated, for sure, but the mistake is thinking that some of the old ideas about taxonomy development, site structure and navigation, and governance (which includes community management) can run without much oversight.
Social collaboration is a powerful medium for finding new and relevant content, following people and ideas and content, and filtering your view of the massive volume of data being generated each and every day based on your needs and preferences. That’s why social collaboration is at the center of the Beezy solution for SharePoint and Office 365, extending and enhancing the out-of-the-box experience to provide teams with the advanced collaboration scenarios they need to help them better find, follow, and filter content.
If you want to learn more about how Beezy can make your collaboration efforts more effective, schedule a demo today.