How to Unite Knowledge and Workers: Closing the Information Access Gap

By Phil Green  |  Posted 2010-09-28

How to Unite Knowledge and Workers: Closing the Information Access Gap

The term "knowledge worker" was coined by management consultant Peter Drucker in 1959. Despite decades of knowledge management practices and technology advancement, most knowledge workers still spend more time searching for knowledge than capitalizing on it.

Generations of KM systems have promised to help workers capitalize on information bottled up in the IT systems that power global organizations. But the technology has not lived up to its promise.

Consider that most companies have myriad systems in place to capture, house, find and share enterprise knowledge. Many companies use blogs and microblogs (WordPress, Yammer, etc.), cloud-based document repositories (Google Docs, Zoho Docs, etc.), content management systems (CMSes), corporate library management systems (LMSes), digital asset management (DAM) systems and document management systems (DMSes).

Many other companies have systems in place such as e-mail, enterprise content management (ECM) systems (for example, SharePoint), enterprise message boards, enterprise portals, enterprise search engines, enterprise social networking (ESN), KM systems, shared network drives, wikis and Websites.

All this smart technology-and businesses still struggle to find, organize and distribute knowledge to the right people at the right time.

Ending the Age of Siloed Knowledge

Ending the age of siloed knowledge

Different departments and different teams use different systems. Technology and techniques used to create, manage and extract content vary from team to team, duplicating and branching crucial knowledge assets and diluting skill sets. A knowledge worker from one team might not know how to manage information with another team. The end result is a classic IT problem: information silos-here, there and everywhere.

That hasn't stopped enterprise organizations from trying to end the age of siloed knowledge. The past few years have seen considerable investment in a new generation of tools that pair proven KM techniques with contemporary social media models. Here's a peek at the latest KM thinking and how it might be able to help you catalyze disparate organizational knowledge.

Closing the Information Access Gap

Closing the information access gap

At the low end of the information access spectrum are shared network drives and wikis. They require minimal technical knowledge and few IT resources. Business users like these environments because they give the user the ability to create, modify and manage the folder structure of a shared network drive or edit a wiki page without IT involvement. However, they offer limited functionality, weak structure and minimal security.

Shared drives and wikis can also be difficult to search. Some organizations have addressed this with search engines and portals. But search provides a diluted (flat) view of content. They behave as any Web search engine does, surfacing lots of results (that are essentially devoid of context) and various drafts or versions of a document. Which version to use is left to the user to decide and, without context, how do they know which one is the most appropriate? Remember, search engines deliver relevant content, not high-quality content.

Climbing up the evolutionary ladder, we come to enterprise platforms such as ECM systems, DAM systems and CMSes. These provide advanced content management functionality, workflows and security capabilities not possible with network drives and wikis. These systems provide more value than network drives and wikis but at a cost.

These systems are hard to implement, require significant IT resources and the time to value is long. Additionally, due to their technical nature, business users are more often than not beholden to the IT staff to make changes and enhancements in the system. This loss of control and often lack of agility is frustrating to business users.

Enterprise Social Networking Connects People

Enterprise social networking connects people

In response, some business users have turned to enterprise social networking (ESN) services such as LinkedIn to network, interact, share ideas and get information. Employees are also increasingly "going rogue," using services such as Google Docs, Twitter and Yammer to share information outside the bounds of corporate management.

ESN tools get a lot of buzz but, beyond personal and professional networking, are they helping the greater organization? The answer is usually no. ESN tools are primarily focused on creating communities that are not tied to the content created by members. Their value is limited, given their focus of connecting people to people rather than of connecting people to information.

Content consumers still need better ways to quickly tap high-quality, relevant information when they need it. The industry's response: integrate proven KM technologies and best practices with social publishing and social networking technologies. The result is a new approach referred to as social knowledge networks (SKNs).

Social Knowledge Networks Bridge the Divide

Social knowledge networks bridge the divide

A SKN bridges the divide between the shared drive and the ECM system by providing tools that enable business users to maintain control over their content and achieve rapid time to value. As with traditional ECM systems, SKNs also collect and organize most data (documents, presentations, photos, videos, audio recordings, etc.). This information forms the basis of an organization's core knowledge base. A SKN is able to access that content wherever it exists: on the network drive, in the enterprise CMS, in SharePoint or in external, paid subscription databases.

But SKNs take it one step further by adding social tools such as blogs, wikis, online ratings, discussions and social tags to tap the collective wisdom of the entire corporate community. In doing so, SKNs enhance and inform the content. SKNs provide a way to unleash this wisdom so employees can share knowledge and update and enrich core content. This creates a dynamic, living knowledge base where employees can gain access to reliable information and enhance the value of the knowledge base.

SKNs can also complement mainstream enterprise content repositories, including SharePoint. With SKNs, organizations can enhance their SharePoint environment with an off-the-shelf solution suited to their KM and collaboration needs.

Social Knowledge Networks Use Role-Based Security

Social knowledge networks use role-based security

SKNs use role-based security, so users can be granted access privileges based on factors such as seniority, expertise, functional role, location and more. Credentials are typically verified using single sign-on (SSO). This enables control over what, when and how contributions are made and avoids the information veracity problems that are typical in social media.


The fact of the matter is, one person does not have all of the knowledge. It exists in multiple places. By bringing together content, people and tools to support objectives within secure, virtual environments, SKNs allow organizations to supersede the siloed knowledge problem.

SKNs can bring it all together, creating a rich, relevant knowledge repository that organizations can use to rapidly solve problems and make better business decisions.

Phil Green is Chief Technology Office at Inmagic. Phil is responsible for the long-term technical and strategic direction of Inmagic's solutions. Prior to joining Inmagic in 1990 as president and CEO, Phil held a variety of management positions at Lotus Development Corporation, Communications Studies and Planning International, and was an independent consultant to Microsoft. Phil holds a Bachelor's degree in Economics from Harvard College and a Master's degree from Harvard Business School. He is a blogger at He can be e-mailed at

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