Knowledge Management in Office 365

A few articles in the past few weeks, and some internal discussions, prompted some thinking around how Office 365 can support knowledge management (KM) – however that may be defined.

What is Knowledge Management?

According to many knowledge management sources online, knowledge management appeared around 1990, and paralleled the rise of document management. Both appear to have arisen as computers appeared (from the mid 1980s) and digital ways of capturing and managing information took hold, and records management was still primarily focused on the management of paper records.

An early (1994) definition for the term ‘knowledge management’ suggested that it was ‘… the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge’ (Davenport, 1994. Koenig, 2012)

Bryant Duhon expanded on this somewhat imprecise definition in his 1998 article ‘It’s All in our Heads’ (my emphasis):

‘Knowledge management is a discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise’s information assets. These assets may include databases, documents, policies, procedures, and previously un-captured expertise and experience in individual workers.’ (Duhon, 1998)

A key element was capturing the knowledge acquired by individuals.

Koenig (2012) noted that ‘Perhaps the most central thrust in KM is to capture and make available, so it can be used by others in the organization, the information and knowledge that is in people’s heads as it were, and that has never been explicitly set down.’

Explicit/implicit versus tacit knowledge

Generally speaking, there is a difference between explicit and implicit knowledge, the information that is recorded, and ‘the information and knowledge that is in people’s heads’ (and walks out doors when people leave).

The latter is defined generally as tacit knowledge. That is, information that is ‘understood or implied, without being stated’, from the Latin tacitus, the past participle of tacere ‘be silent’. (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/tacit)

I have worked with the issue of how to access and capture the knowledge in the heads of departing employees since around 1984, when I was first made aware that the departure of some very senior and/or long-term staff meant that we would lose access to the information they knew, gained not only from learned knowledge but also in many cases from many decades of personal experience.

At the time it was not my responsibility to worry about it, but I saw attempts to conduct interviews and document procedures and processes with departing (or already departed) employees.

This pre-digital era activity stuck in my head – was interviewing the departed employees the only way to get this information out of their heads?

(As a side note I learned that it was important to interview and talk to my ageing parents and their siblings about their memories and experiences before those memories were lost forever).

Enter the computer age

I consider myself lucky to have been witness over a generation to the change in working practices from paper to digital.

The start of the digital era from the mid 1980s and ubiquitous access to computers on desktops, person to person emails, network file shares and personal folders created another related dilemma – even if the information was created (or captured) by a user, how could it be accessed?

Users were encouraged to put this information in repositories – mostly document management systems – but the fact that email and information on file shares were stored in different servers meant that unless users would actively move emails to a document management system, that information remained hidden away.

What was needed was a way for users to create and store information – emails, documents – wherever they wanted to put it, and for that information to be accessible, restricted only by relevant security controls.

The only systems that seemed to really do this effectively were eDiscovery tools. Perhaps this was not surprising, as the survival (and financial viability) of a company might depend on the ability to find the information that was required.

The rise of smart phones and ubiquitous, always-on, digital communication within the past 10 years has only added to the types of knowledge available and the methods used to capture it.

In my opinion, traditional recordkeeping practices have not kept up and often remain rooted in the idea that knowledge can be stored in a single location or container. How does one capture instant messages sent via encrypted messaging services in a records container?

Microsoft Graph

Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Graph in 2015. The image below demonstrates how the Graph connects content created and stored through the Office 365 (and connected) environment/s.

microsoft_graph.png

The image above should resonate with most people who work in an office. We send emails, create documents or data, set tasks, make appointments, attend and record meetings, have digital conversations, send messages, connect with colleagues, maintaining personal profiles.

The Microsoft Graph collects and analyses this information and presents it to users based on their context. According to Microsoft:

‘Microsoft Graph is made up of resources connected by relationships. For example, a user can be connected to a group through a member of relationship, and to another user through a manager relationship. (The Graph) can traverse these relationships to access these connected resources and perform actions on them through the API. You can also get valuable insights and intelligence about the data from Microsoft Graph. For example, you can get the popular files trending around a particular user, or get the most relevant people around a user.’

(Source for image and text: https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/graph/docs)

According to Tony Redmond, Microsoft Graph’s REST-based APIs provide ‘… a common access approach to all manner of Office 365 data from Exchange and SharePoint to Teams and Planner’. The Graph Explorer, a newly introduced user interface, extends the ability to access information, wherever it lives. (https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/graph/graph-explorer)

How does a person access this knowledge?

In my opinion, two key points about tacit knowledge are that:

  • It can be captured easily, just as other digital applications capture information about us, including by what we click on or search for.
  • It can be accessed without a person necessarily having to search for it.

Most of us by now are familiar with the way Facebook, LinkedIn, eBay, Amazon and so on capture information about our interests and present suggestions for what we might like to do next. It does this by understanding our context

Organisational knowledge management should be the same. Users should go about their business using the various digital applications available to them and other users should be able to see that information or knowledge because they have an interest in the same subject matter, or need to know it to do their work.

Users should be presented with information (subject to any security restrictions) because it relates to their work context or interests. They should not have to go looking for knowledge (although that is an option, just as finding a friend in Facebook is an option), knowledge should come to them.

How does Office 365 do this?

Most Office 365 enterprise or business users will have one or two ways to access this information:

  • Delve (may require a higher licence such as E3 for enterprise clients)
  • The One Drive for Business ‘Discover’ option.

The ‘Discover’ option allows a user to explore further, to see what others are working on. The response I get to Discover is both positive and slightly startled – the latter because it will be possible to know what others are actually doing.

Why is this important?

The ability to access and ‘harness’ collective knowledge in this way is essential to modern day workplaces.

To quote Microsoft:

‘As the pace of work accelerates, it’s more important than ever that you tap into the collective knowledge of your organisation to find answers, inform decision making, re-purpose successes and learn from lessons of the past’. (Moneypenny, 2017)

Serendipitous discovery

In his 2007 book ‘Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder’, David Weinberger spoke about three types of order:

  • The first order is the order of physical things, like how books are lined up on shelves in a library.
  • The second order is the catalogue order. A catalogue typically refers to a physical order; it is still physical, but one can make several catalogs of the same physical order. Weinberger’s prime example is the card catalog of libraries.
  • The third order of order is the digital order, where there is no limit to the number of possible orderings. The digital order frees itself from physical reality, and in it, everything can be connected and related to everything else: Everything is miscellaneous.

The phrase ‘herding cats’ always comes to mind in relation to digital information. It resists order or compartmentalisation.

Further, your order is not my order, my way of browsing or searching may not correspond with your logic for storing or describing it (especially on network file shares!).

The internet pioneered serendipitous discovery. It is now completely taken for granted when, as noted above, we are are offered suggested friends in Facebook, jobs in LinkedIn, purchases on eBay and so on. We are presented this information because the application has collected information about what we clicked on, what jobs we do (or did), who our friends are, and what we like to search for.

The idea that our work environment can do the same thing and present information automatically based on our context (information finds us) is sometimes surprising for people used to the second order of things.

 

Davenport, Thomas H. (1994), Saving IT’s Soul: Human Centered Information Management.  Harvard Business Review,  March-April, 72 (2)pp. 119-131. Duhon, Bryant (1998), It’s All in our Heads. Inform, September, 12 (8). Quoted in Koenig (2012).

Duhon, Bryant (1998), It’s All in our Heads. Inform, September, 12 (8), pp. 8-13.

Koenig, Michael (4 May 2012), What is KM? Knowledge Management Explained, http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/Editorial/What-Is-…/What-is-KM-Knowledge-Management-Explained-82405.aspx, accessed 21 July 2017

Naomi Moneypenny (17 May 2017), Harnessing Collective Knowledge with SharePoint and Yammer, https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/SharePoint-Blog/Harnessing-Collective-Knowledge-with-SharePoint-and-Yammer/ba-p/70164, accessed 21 July 2017

Redmond, Tony (20 July 2017), Exploring Office 365 with the Graph Explorer, https://www.petri.com/exploring-office-365-graph-explorer, accessed 21 July 2017

Weinberger, David, (2007) ‘Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder’

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