The Role of Social Collaboration in Knowledge & Document Management


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In my career so far, I have come across a lot of confusion about the terms Knowledge Management, Document Management and now Social Collaboration. Of these the latter is of course the newest, but the other two are still essential disciplines for any organisation to get a grip of if it intends to become smarter, leverage its staff better and unlock the competitive potential it has.

There are many definitions of these terms out there on the internet and in published literature and I am not about to argue with any of them. Suffice to say, that Document Management has been with us since we started scratching stuff on tablets of stone. Knowledge Management is a much more cerebral pursuit where the organisation seeks to control and access the information held in the data their document management system provides them with. Oh, and the social collaboration thing? Well, that’s just Facebook and the likes, isn’t it? No.

To my thinking, I see the three disciplines like this:

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Traditionally Document Management, Knowledge Management and Enterprise Social Networking solutions are designed for their purpose and for nothing else. Document Management might well support commenting on documents. Knowledge Management might well let you upload a file and so on. What’s been missing from these disciplines is the kind of engagement in the content which we are becoming used to when we use a collaborative network in our organisations:

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But what does “Social Collaboration” mean and what does it bring to our business information systems?

The Role of Social Collaboration in Knowledge & Document Management

Document Management solutions are designed to provide a level of control over complex or important documents. They are often employed to house large volumes of data and provide access to these via a business process or through search. For the most part they do their jobs well, and they are a very mature business.

Often Document Management Libraries become limited by the fact that you need to know where to look in order to find something.

One of the downsides to a Document Management solution is that it is a Library of data. It’s not easy to share thoughts, insights and work together on getting the document produced. Very often a Document Management system is embedded into an intranet to provide a context for the Library itself. Unless the Library is maintained well it soon just becomes a place where people now put stuff instead of saving it on their hard disks. Often Document Management Libraries become limited by the fact that you need to know where to look in order to find something. If you don’t know a document exists in the first place then your options are therefore quite limited.

The wikipedia definition of Knowledge Management is

“the process of capturing, developing, sharing and effectively using organisational knowledge”.

This means it can relate to the collecting of paper, tablets of stone, electronic documents, wiki pages, or anything that has “organisational knowledge”. The key with Knowledge Management is to “effectively use” that knowledge to the benefit of the organisation. So, Knowledge Management is not a “thing”, it’s a practice.

Enterprise Social Networking is the use of social networking technologies like networks of people based on proximity, knowledge, department, etc to leverage information to better effect. Its a form of unstructured Information Management where apparently random information put out into the network by its participants become of value to others. It offers a collaborative structure to work together on a “thing” to get a job done – that “thing” being a document, a business process, or whatever.

Social Collaboration fits into the model by enabling the Knowledge Management and Document Management to have a context to the business of the organization. Looked at in the cold light of day, a document or other piece of knowledge may have a completely different appearance than when it was produced in the flow of a business process, or as part of a decision-making system. Thus, I would propose that the role of Social Collaboration fits as shown in the diagram below:

Knowledge Management

The diagram aims to show that all organizations have information silos and many have some sort of knowledge and document management processes, however ad-hoc in nature. Social Collaboration (in purple) brings the management of these sources of information together with less formal forms of documentation and knowledge. Status updates, recommendations, feedback and likes are all such examples – implicit expressions of experience and knowledge turned into explicit and merged with more formal means of documentation.

As well as augmenting traditional approaches to business information management, Social Collaboration can bring an exciting additional aspect to unlock the experience and expertise in your organization. Connecting Expertise Location – i.e. providing a mechanism to find people based on their contributions to the corporate body of knowledge together with Expertise Sharing Practices allows the organization to truly become self-educating. If done properly the socially-collaborating organization can begin to unlock the experience in the heads and hearts of its people and bring that together with the explicit knowledge and documents being collected using business processes. It’s for this reason that I show it at the top of my diagram. It’s the pinnacle of knowledge management and is as far abstracted from word processor documents and faxes as you can get.

In my next article I’ll look more closely at the concepts of Expertise Location and Expertise Sharing Practices to delve more deeply into how your organization could become self-learning.

In the meantime, please get in touch or post your thoughts in the comments below.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Alan Hamilton
I believe social business is a new way for organizations of all sizes to form stronger working relationships within themselves and with their customers and partners. By demonstrating how any organization can become more open, responsible, compassionate and flexible I can show that staff and customer satisfaction increases, morale improves and better business results come.


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