You’re busy. Probably too busy. And the last thing you want to do is waste valuable time looking for the right information in your messy internal file-sharing system. But as more and more organizations move to shared drives, like SharePoint and Google Drive, that’s exactly what you get.
What you don’t need is another place to upload files, but an intuitive system that helps you manage and organize your team’s knowledge. You need a knowledge management system (KMS).
For some of you, the questions are already swirling.
What’s a knowledge management system? Do we really need one? How do I choose one or set it up? Will it actually fix anything?
A knowledge management system is, in its simplest form, a platform or tool for collecting, organizing, and sharing institutional knowledge, including documents, resources, news, internal thought leadership, and any other sort of information that internal (and often external) stakeholders would need to know while doing their jobs. For some organizations, this might be simply a shared drive or an internal blog. But for many others, we find that a more robust system with the features that a true knowledge management system delivers—including search, version control, taxonomy, granular security access, cross team collaboration, and more—is needed.
At Tesla Government, we have found there are many factors to consider in finding the right knowledge system to fit your needs and scenarios when it is time to use one. Here is some of what we’ve come across.
Maze of Misplaced Materials
Do you have shared drives filled with layers upon layers of inconsistently named folders? How about 20 documents with the same name and poor versioning control? The answer, to some extent, is probably yes, and it’s eating up your team’s time.
The truth is, you simply don’t have the time to waste looking for a particular piece of information, whether because you have other tasks on your plate or because retrieving that information is time-critical.
If you feel like you’re lost in a maze every time you’re looking for information, it’s probably time to set up a knowledge management system.
Poor Collaboration Among Other Agencies and Partners
There are many situations where multiple agencies are working to tackle the same issue or work on a shared project. They need access to the same documents but aren’t working in the same space together. Even if each individual agency has a great knowledge management system, they really need to have a single shared space to collaborate effectively.
Imagine if you and your friends decided to play baseball together – each of you plays your position well in theory, but you’re all playing on separate fields. The game wouldn’t go very well! Collaborating with other agencies in separate knowledge management systems can have the same effect. You need to get everyone on the same field.
Stuck in the Dark Ages
This may sound crazy, but we’ve actually run into agencies that are still keeping important documents in filing cabinets with scraps of paper and sticky notes. If you’re not sure why that’s a bad idea, here are a few reasons:
- Inability to search through content quickly. Even if you keep your physical folders organized, what happens if someone misfiles a document? Do you really want to hand-search through thousands of documents to find the one that was misplaced? With an electronic system, labeling is simpler and searching for a mislabelled document takes seconds instead of days.
- Poor security and access controls. Can you imagine if your files were kept in a locked room and you needed access to a document but didn’t have a key? What if that information was time-sensitive? Or what if your files are stored in one physical location, but you have teams scattered in different parts of the world? Controlling access to your information through a knowledge management system means everyone who needs access can get it, and those who shouldn’t have access don’t.
- Lack of community. Part of good knowledge management is community building—not just collaborating with your own internal teams, but with a greater network of supporting agencies and organizations. This is another scenario where having physical files in cabinets severely reduces your ability to collaborate with anyone else not in the same immediate space.
- Organizational chaos. With a good knowledge management system, you can categorize and cluster similar content. With sticky notes? Not so much. There is simply no amount of alphabetizing, color-coding, and rearranging of physical documents that can give you the same at-a-glance organization you need.
There are a myriad of reasons why keeping filing cabinets of documents can be harmful to your organization—and we could probably write an entire post just about that. So if that’s you, you definitely need a knowledge management system.
The Big Picture: A Tool for Greater Collaboration, Knowledge Sharing, and Clarity
The goal of a knowledge management system is to make information findable and usable, which isn’t possible in any of the above situations.
However, you don’t need to wait until you’re drowning to set up a knowledge management system. In fact, the earlier you set a way to collect, share and use your organization’s information and knowledge, the easier things will be in the long run. This is especially true if you have high turnover rates of personnel or institutional knowledge.
But just setting up a knowledge management system isn’t enough – you need other processes to support that database and leverage it to its full potential. At Tesla Government, we also offer the following data solutions:
- Open Source Research: Once your data is organized in a system, you can see gaps more clearly. In situations where you don’t have enough data for the goals you’re trying to accomplish, you may want to conduct open-source research. Open-source research can bolster the data you already have, and once completed, you can add it to your established data in your knowledge management system for future use as well.
- Data Visualization: Maybe you have lots of well-organized data in your system, but not everyone you work with is an expert at interpreting data. By translating data into an easier-to-understand format such as a map or another visual report, you can ensure everyone using your knowledge management system is on the same page at the same time.
- Community Building: In many situations, others in your field may have already collected key data that you need to advance your mission. Rather than waste time trying to research and build your own version, you could save time, money, and stress by connecting with other agencies and organizations. Having a community of data sharers, all using knowledge management systems, can save you from potential headaches associated with not having the resources you need when you need them.
Adding open-source research, data visualization, and community building to your data processes can all help ensure that your mission is successful. But setting up a knowledge management system is a great first step towards that ultimate goal.
Wondering if a knowledge management system is right for you?
From misplaced files to real-time collaboration, we specialize in helping organizations leverage institutional knowledge for mission success.