Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems, such as SharePoint and OpenText's Vignette, make it much easier for knowledge workers to publish and share information with their colleagues on an organization's intranet. Training end-users on how to use such a content management system effectively is an essential part of any KM programme roll-out. However, technology is only part of the solution. Here we consider the practical management aspects of managing content.
Managing Content Effectively
Managing content requires giving appropriate attention to the processes involved in the information/knowledge life cycle. One over-riding set of principles that is useful to bear in mind is that of the Willard IRM model which covers identification, ownership, cost and value, development and exploitation.
We cover below the key aspects of managing content that need particular attention:
- Quality content creation: is the information 'fit-for-purpose', relevant and easily assimible?
- Managing access: is it readily available to those who need it, within the contraints of security
- Development and enrichment: practices to ensure that the static resource is continually enhanced for the benefit of users
- End-of-life management: putting in place effective procedures to deal with information once it reaches the end of its useful shelf life.
Quality Content Creation
A good starting point is to find out what annoys information users about other people's content. A consistent set of issues comes out of responses given at our workshops. They are shown below with how to address them:
- Don't know that it exists or cannot find it: content needs relevant title and keyword tagging for faster retrieval
- Not sure of its applicability: spell out clearly early on the intended audience and how and where to use it
- Doesn't do "what it says on the tin": ensure that titles, headings, introductions and summaries reflect the actual content
- No abstract or summary for a long document: anything more than a few pages should have a contents list and abstract / executive summary
- Out of date or not sure whether this is the latest version: top level links and pointers should link to latest version; older versions should be archived
- Provenance not clear (credible sources, status within organization): use standard covering pages, provide links to author's profiles
- Poorly structured: think clearly about how the reader would expect to read it; use logical topic groupings or a chronological sequence; using standard 'templates' is a good way to start
- Poorly written (bad syntax, grammar): go back to school! (Or at least use the spellchecker, but have someone else review it).
Several of these issues, such as version control and retrieval, can be addressed by technology (e.g. a good content management system and search engine). Others, however, are up to the creator (writer). Good writing considers three key aspects:
- The audience - their prior knowledge and how they are expected to use the information
- The purpose of the information - e.g. is it background, instructional, a set process to follow
- The different types of information to be conveyed - e.g. concepts, facts, links, procedures, relationships.
Specialist organizations and trainers offer courses on writing skills. Even so, it is not uncommon for organizations to use 'knowledge editors' to ensure a degree of consistency for material sourced from different experts. Also every organization should have a set of 'editorial guidelines' and 'house style guides' for online publishing.
This covers the sections of the lifecycle concerned with organizing, storing, publishing, disseminating and sharing information. Some important considerations here are:
- Where should this information appear in the overall information architecture? It can, of course, appear in more than one place
- How should the content be described? What standards, e.g. metadata tags should be applied to make it easier to find?
- Is there an 'owner' or expert whom the reader can contact for further detail?
- Workflow - what procedures and review processes should be followed before 'publishing' (e.g. uploading to an intranet) this content?
- Status - is this a formal document, or even a business record to which special procedures apply?
- Security level - should this be widely accessible, or should access be restricted to certain groups of people?
Development and Enrichment
A document or piece of information that remains static loses its usefulness over time. There are several ways in which to enhance and maintain the value of content, including:
- Giving opportunities for feedback - as well as links to the creator, you could allow users to add comments, visible to all
- Providing links to related material - such as the See Also links in the right column of this page
- Having an associated online discussion forum
- Linking to the relevant section of an expertise database ('Yellow Page'), i.e. pointers to people who know about this subject
- Addition of multimedia material e.g. a visual demonstration of an entry, such as a team at work.
Over time, as feedback is gained, this should be analyzed and processed and the content updated, rather than simply requiring the reader to read the original and trawl through an unstructured list of comments.
A common bugbear amongst information managers is the amount of storage and oversight needed to cope with duplication and potentially obsolete material. A good information management strategy will require that a review date is added to every new piece of content. The owner can then be automatically flagged at review time. Some of the choices available are:
- Retain and Renew - updating the information so that it still has current value to the business.
- Automatic archiving - the material is automatically archived if no decision is provided (probably not a good choice in most circumstances).
- Intelligent archiving - archiving material which has little ongoing business value, but may need to be accessed in future, or may have historical significance; sometimes selecting a representative sample of a particular type of information is sufficient.
- Remove - the information is withdrawn; however, you need to be careful to inform those who might be affected and consider what to do with other content that provides inward links.
- Dispose - a variant of the above where perhaps an interested third party may be interested in taking over the information.
- Destroy - particularly for sensitive information, where no trace should be left on hard disk drives, even after content has been 'deleted'
All of these actions should be spelt out in a Review and Retention policy, which has schedules for reviewing different types of information. The time for review may depend on the speed of change within the business. Also, often there are legal requirements dictating the period for which certain documentation or records must be held. This aspect of managing content is often viewed as a chore, but the ramifications for not giving it attention could be serious, rather than just an inconvenience. For example, your organization could become the subject of a legal e-discovery challenge, which exposes information that should not have been kept, or even published in the first place! It's much better to do a bit of 'housekeeping' regularly, rather than waiting for such an 'incident'.
Last updated: 19th March 2011