Last night I attended a presentation by Simon Trussler and Anna Gilpatric from Health Dialog on the subject "Getting the most KM bang-for-your-(Information Technology) Bucks. They discussed and demo-ed their use of out-of-box SharePoint as a knowledge management system ("Health Dialog University"), and true to their presentation's title they have really leveraged MOSS 2007 for their needs without investment in third-party tools or custom code.
From their talk and screenshots, I saw quite a few reasons for their KM system's success, mostly based on human time and effort:
- a great-looking interface with graphical elements and usability emphasis
- a dedicated knowledge broker resource to populate the system and review metadata
- active promotion and training
- use of metrics, tracking, and KPIs
- development of workflows and content types to automate processes and make file types more consistent
Trussler summed up the presentation with his three keys to success: promotion, reliability, and usability. I wanted to focus on the "reliability" factor because I feel it's not typically emphasized for the end-user experience of SharePoint implementations as often as the other two concepts.
Some of these points will overlap with usability, but I think it's useful to look at them in the light of reliability - can your end-users depend on the system, and know they will get the same result each time they use it?
1. Are your files and metadata consistent and standardized? Health Dialog University's dedicated knowledge broker reviews the metadata of every document subitted to the knowledge library. Pick lists help standardize the choices, and content types are used, in Trussler's words,"to simplify data entry and hide complexity from the user." There is continuous quality control and quality review of the material.
2. Is your material up-to-date? When files are uploaded to the HDU system, they are automatically assigned an expiration date which lets the knowledge broker know when they need to be reviewed. Different kinds of material have different expiration dates - e.g. quarterly vs. yearly.
3. Can users find what they need? Although SharePoint's out-of-box search capability can be used to find material in the system, HDU also offers a browse-based navigation based on document metadata, in addition to featuring different views of the knowledge library. Some of these topics and views are a direct response to user requests.
4. Do users receive timely feedback? When end-users submit a document to the HDU system's pending area, they receive an immediate feedback email (generated by a SharePoint Designer workflow), and are also notified when their document has been approved and moved to the knowledge library, with a path to the new location.
5. How is the response time for approvals? For HDU, the knowledge manager relies on a system of workflows and alerts, and can act quickly to review and approve pending documents.
6. Do links take the user where they expect to go? Beyond the issue of broken links, do links behave in a consistent manner (e.g. either all links open in a new window, or none do), and do users know what they're going to get when they click on a file (i.e. will they know they're opening a Word document, a PDF, or a web page)? (This one's firmly in the "usability" realm but a bad experience could cause the user to feel the system is less reliable.)
7. Where can the end-user turn for help? On many of the HDU pages, Gilpatric has included a graphical link to a brief training screencast on how to use the features on that page. This seems to be a really effective way to provide more specific on-the-spot training than the generic "help" link that SharePoint provides out-of-box.
8. How is the overall performance of the system? Entire books have been written on this subject, and there are many factors to consider which are out of the scope of this post, but Trussler and Gilpatric mentioned that their KM system has experienced no crashes and very little, if any, downtime, and this certainly contributes to a feeling of trust for the end-user.
Some additional reading on SharePoint reliability (There are thousands of pages of material out there on this subject - please drop me a comment if you know a particularly good resource!):Microsoft Best Practices Analyzer for Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 and the 2007 Microsoft Office System