by Emil Heidkamp, founder and senior learning strategist at Sonata Digital
When an organization first implements a system like SharePoint, Box, Google Drive or M-Files, they will often have their team spend a tremendous amount of time and effort uploading and tagging files in the new platform. Unfortunately, this approach ignores two important facts:
- 40% of files uploaded to official file repositories are only accesed once and 50% are never accessed at all.
- Typically only 10-20% of organizational knowledge is ever documented in a digital format to begin with.
But while these numbers might cause knowledge managers and SharePoint administrators to despair, a better response is to think beyond files and find ways to locate, tag and share the many other valuable sources of knowledge available to your organization.
Here are three commonly overlooked sources of organizational knowledge and specific tips for managing them in Microsoft SharePoint:
External Links: Many organizations recognize the version control and find-ability issues that arise when staff share critical files as email attachments, and will encourage people to keep files in an online repository and share links, instead. But what if a colleague shares a link to a helpful outside website that people might want to reference later? How can you make it easy for people – even those who weren’t cc’d on the initial email conversation or Teams/Slack chat – to find that link in the future?
When it comes to Microsoft SharePoint, users forget that you can include web links in SharePoint libraries alongside your PDFs, Word or Excel files and tag them with metadata for search and filtering, just like a document. So if a colleague forwards a helpful article from an outside website, let them know they should add it and tag it in the library where you keep documents on the same topic.
Human Expertise: As mentioned earlier, 80% of organizational knowledge is “tacit” information that team members know, but never document. And while it’s good to incentivize experts to capture their most critical knowledge for future reference, no busy expert has time to write everything down.
Acknowledging this, organizations should put at least as much effort into helping people connect with human experts as they do uploading and tagging files. For SharePoint, there are a few ways you can build an “expert directory” to track who knows what and how to reach them.
The first is to have team members list their own areas of expertise on a Microsoft Delve profile, though people might not be the best judge of their own knowledge (there’s a well known principle of psychology known as the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” where people with little knowledge of a subject tend to overestimate their expertise while those with more knowledge underestimate). For a more objective catalog, you can have HR conduct an assessment or issue a survey asking people to nominate peers as experts, then create a directory of SharePoint users tagged by skills. This could take the form of a nicely formatted Microsoft List or else you could try one of the many expert directory add-ins on the AppSource market.
Just make sure that anyone you publicly designate as an expert is aware of it, and willing/able to field questions from colleagues related to their domain.
Context: When most organizations think of file/data management, they tend to think in terms of individual files or dashboards. But this overlooks the fact that reading an old project document or viewing one metric outside of its larger context can sometimes lead people to the wrong conclusions. For instance, a team member might search for information on a country’s pharmaceutical market and find a whitepaper describing a shortage of antibiotics in the country five years ago, but not realize that the whitepaper was uploaded as research for a study explaining why the market was subsequently flooded with cheap drugs.
While you can say that people should know better and do their due diligence, we’ve all been in situations where we needed a fast answer and ended up working with faulty information. And the good news is there are several ways organizations can provide context along with the files and data.
In SharePoint, you can use Document Sets to keep related assets together. Document sets are collections of files that behave like folders in some respects, but can be tagged, moved around and used in automated workflows just like files. You can also create a custom “welcome” page for a document set providing more information about its contents. While it takes a bit of tedious setup to make document sets available as a content type, it’s usually worth the effort.
Another strategy to provide context in SharePoint is to not rely on search alone and let users find items by navigating to topic-specific pages or sites. While this creates a risk of fragmentation or duplication, you can keep things orderly by creating a single, shared document library then embedding filtered views of it on different pages and sites. So, for example, you might have a library with information on different types of investments, but provide a page with a filtered view of the main library, showing only items tagged “Real Estate”.
Obviously, this list is not exhaustive, but hopefully it offered some useful ideas for tracking valuable knowledge in SharePoint beyond file tagging.