The session abstract promised that “We will discuss how knowledge communities can have a positive impact across global teams and how to start, grow and sustain a knowledge community.” This 200-level session (#SPC240) followed the keynote on the opening day of the SharePoint Conference held last week in Anaheim, so the room was packed, expectations were high, and the stage was set…

The session was presented by Jim Kane, Associate Director for Collaboration and Knowledge Management for Paragon Solutions. Jim kicked off in a traditional style with a brief run through of his extensive experience with knowledge communities. “SharePoint 2010 changes the game a little bit,” he claimed in his introduction.

Knowledge is Key for Businesses

The problem, Jim claimed, is that people want knowledge but at the same time are reluctant to share their own knowledge, which he referred to as “knowledge hoarding.” He described two perspectives. Firstly, that of the user who wants information right now, and secondly, the business which in the past hasn’t had the tools for the job. In an amusing aside he told us how his friend’s grandmother had friended him on Facebook and he hadn’t known how to respond!

Knowledge capture is a key goal for businesses Jim explained. He described two types of knowledge: tacit knowledge, which is based on experience and is in people’s heads; and explicit knowledge, which can be written down or described. “Knowledge communities,” we were told, “are environments in which members share common objectives and goals… They are highly collaborative and can impact specific business processes.” Jim gave some examples of typical community functions, including:

  • Discussions
  • Wikis
  • Documents
  • Profiles

Knowledge communities can have a number of different perspectives, including:

  • Practice-centric
  • Topic-centric
  • Project-centric

Real World Examples

Throughout the presentation, Jim told real world stories to help illustrate how organizations have benefited from knowledge communities. For example, a Fortune 500 company which used a knowledge community to significantly improve its proposal writing process for multi-million dollar projects, and a life sciences organization that posts specific problems in knowledge community areas where community members post replies and discuss the problem to formulate a collective solution before an administrator moves the solution to a corporate wiki.

Management Support is Critical

Jim stated that technology alone cannot support innovation, knowledge sharing, collaboration and communication. Management commitment, he told us, is critical to success. He went on to emphasize that behavior change by individuals is key to knowledge capture, innovation and community success.

SharePoint has always been an enabling technology for knowledge communities, and SharePoint 2010 extends these capabilities for even great support. “Microsoft has tied together the pieces…SharePoint provides the unique connections,” Jim told us.

Governance

No discussion about SharePoint in the past few years seems to be complete without a reference to one of my favorite topics, governance. Jim didn’t let us down in this respect. “Governance of communities must tie in to the existing information and personal conduct policies…,” we learned.

Demonstrating the Features

Jim wrapped up his presentation with a video demonstration of a knowledge community site. He demonstrated features, including:

  • Colleagues lists
  • Document ratings
  • Enterprise keywords

He particularly emphasized the use of SharePoint 2010’s social bookmarking or tagging features and repeatedly drove home the message that creating a site template is NOT the same as enabling knowledge communities.

His final tips were that behavior change should be supported by incentives, and that we should target evangelists in the business to drive adoption.

Final Thoughts

From my perspective, I think that it is highly encouraging to see these types of knowledge management focused sessions here at a Microsoft conference. Obviously, you can’t make SharePoint a success without the IT guys and girls, but the technology is the easiest part of SharePoint.

Knowing what it is, how to use it, and what benefits can be gained is key, and for that you need content, collaboration and knowledge management professionals. Are you happy with the return on your SharePoint investment? No? Have you got these types of professionals on your team or have access to them through your partners and suppliers? No? Well just maybe there’s a connection?

Well done Microsoft for bringing in people with this perspective, and well done and thank you to Jim for a well delivered and thought provoking session.

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