Julie Auletta, Director of Bamboo's Solutions Center, presented an early morning "breakfast and coffee talk" at SHARE today on the topic From Simple Search to Knowledge Management. Typically, one of the challenges Julie faces is how to transfer a known process into a SharePoint solution, and it's her job to bridge that gap on behalf of Bamboo's customers. Julie explained that prospective customers come to her with a problem, and wanting to know which Bamboo product will solve their problem. It often turns out that SharePoint out-of-the-box can ease their pain, and Julie's happy to give them the good news in such cases. In other cases, the solution (or product) that prospective customers initially sought may not end up being what's required in order to ease their pain, and that's why Bamboo's Solutions Center exists: to help customers solve SharePoint problems that neither SharePoint or existing Bamboo products can solve out-of-the-box.
Taking a cue from Dux Raymond Sy's Delivering Enterprise SharePoint Success at SHARE presentation on Monday, Julie referenced Dux's definition of SharePoint success as being when you empower the business, enable the business, and unify collaboration. From Julie's perspective as Director of Bamboo's Solutions Center, and particularly in the case of knowledge management, it's the first two that are most directly relevant.
Julie offered as a (simplified) definition of knowledge management that it's a way to manage information that today exists exclusively in people's heads, and needs to be put somewhere where others may access and benefit from it. In order to do so, such information needs to be collected from subject matter experts, published, made findable, kept relevant and up-to-date, and the knowledge repository needs to be continually expanded. As Julie noted, "these are all things that SharePoint can help you manage." Julie also pointed out that, "You never complete your knowledge base; it's always growing."
Julie provided a few customer examples, the first of which was the HR department of a large, multinational company, who were seeking a solution to provide answers to employee questions in a self-serve, relevant, accurate, and timely manner. The customer came to Bamboo looking for a workflow solution, but Julie quickly realized that in order to get the job done, they really needed a knowledge repository (containing "blessed" answers) first, and then a workflow solution on top of that. Julie's team developed a solution which elegantly leveraged SharePoint and extended it with Bamboo's KB Accelerator and Workflow Conductor products in conjunction with selected Bamboo Web Parts.
As other customers soon began requesting similar functionality (including internal customers in the form of the Bamboo Sales Team), a decision was made to formally offer the solution as a product in the Bamboo storefront.
Explaining the "Simple Search to Knowledge Management" journey, Julie referred to the first level, "simple search," as using SharePoint out-of-the-box for knowledge management. Some limitations of this approach include: there's not much structure; augmenting "self-service" is costly; satisfaction rates can be low; and there's no place for users to provide feedback, making it difficult to identify bottlenecks.
The second level involves extending the native capabilities of the SharePoint platform with a third-party product, such as Bamboo's own KB Solution Accelerator. Such an approach extends the out-of-the-box capabilities with preconfigured templates, Web Parts, comments, ratings, reports, charts, and more. Julie suggested that this is a good way to "jump start your KM by quickly getting the knowledge into SharePoint lists" where much can then be done with the data. And yet, with a solution such as this second-level approach, customers continue to call Julie seeking a more comprehensive knowledge management solution... which brings us to the third level.
With the third-level, we've arrived at a genuine knowledge management solution, and as you will likely have guessed, this is the very solution that our Solutions Center initially developed to suit the specific needs of one specific customer, and later became a formal product offering: the Bamboo Knowledge Management Suite. This combined solution leverages the appropriate subject matter experts and, via the introduction of Workflow Conductor, routes user questions to the experts for them to answer/address. Built-in dashboards also add accountability to the solution, which Julie then proceeded to demonstrate.
In her demo, Julie showed that all articles and related metadata exist in SharePoint lists, such as a Categories List, an Articles List, a Comments List, etc. Got items that you need to track that aren't already set up as default columns? No problem. Since this is SharePoint, just add the columns you need. Julie pointed out the Categories tree view, available for navigation purposes, and allowing users to browse by category. For your convenience, the Most Popular articles and Latest Additions to the repository are surfaced in Web Parts right next to the Categories tree view. Articles can show up in more than one category based on the relevant categories that have been assigned to the article. Upon opening an article, in addition to the article itself, users are provided with additional information and options including: Created On, Last Modified, Related Articles, Related External Links, Tags, Rating, and Feedback. With written feedback, behind-the-scenes alerts notify article authors that feedback on their content has been posted, and reminders are automatically sent to the author if the feedback/comments haven't been responded to by a given date/time.
Showing off the Article Search feature, Julie demonstrated how it allows users to drilldown into categories by sub-groups (columns), and search by Article Type, Title, Text, Keywords, and more. Searching by Tag Cloud is also available via the Tag Cloud Web Part, a particular bonus for users of SharePoint 2007, which doesn't offer an out-of-the-box tag cloud. Julie also demonstrated a form that's setup to allow users to ask questions, asking users to select the nature of their question by category. As with the comments feature, this form is tied to a workflow, and in this case a response is auto-generated, thanking the user for their question, telling them who it's been assigned to (if desired/applicable), and letting them know that an answer will be provided as soon as possible. Of course, an email is generated and sent to the assignee as well.
Julie concluded her demo with a brief tour of the Admin site, where subject matter experts can easily add keywords or categories to an article (if the solution to a comment or question is that simple, in that the answer exists but wasn't surfaced based on the user's chosen search method, in which case the content just needs to be reclassified appropriately), or create a new article to answer the question that's been posed. Adding to the existing Categories list is also easily accomplished in the Admin site. Dashboards, built using built-in Web Parts are also featured in the Admin site, visually surfacing information such as the number of questions answered per month, unanswered questions by category, and actions taken in response to questions. Of dashboards, Julie said that based on her experience, "when people ask for a workflow, I can almost guarantee that they also need a dashboard."
Julie noted that with user-provided feedback, articles are improved over time, and that by providing users with the ability to ask questions, content is kept updated as the knowledge base is added to, continuously increasing the stored knowledge.
In conclusion, Julie summarized what's most important in a successful knowledge management solution as:
- Make it easy to capture content
- Timely response to your users
- Continuously improve content using feedback loops
- Re-use proven solutions for other departments; minimizes training and support
Want to learn more about the Bamboo Knowledge Management Suite? Bamboo offers regularly scheduled free knowledge management webinars, as well as free online trials of the Knowledge Management Suite.
Apr 25 2012, 12:43 PM
John Anderson joined Bamboo Solutions as Manager of Content & Syndication in May of 2008 after a 12-year career at AOL. New to SharePoint at the time of his hiring, John was tasked with creating a new blog for the just-launched Bamboo Nation community in which he would document his daily SharePoint learning process. Thus was born the end user-centric SharePoint Blank, for which John authored 200 posts within a year, and which he continues to write today (albeit much more sporadically). Currently serving as Managing Editor, John sets the tone for Bamboo Nation as its lead blogger, and oversees content across Bamboo properties.