Is Email your Knowledge Management System?

2009 Jed Cawthorne

(c) 2009 Jed Cawthorne

Like a lot of things, Knowledge Management (KM) can be exercised at either end of the; cost, ROI, and elaborateness spectrum. At the high end, very elaborate and costly systems can be built so that knowledge workers can share and collaborate among themselves, with the rest of the company, and with the outside world. The ideal system is a robust many-to-many system that allows for both structured and unstructured information, and that is easy to use, flexible, and secure. This ideal system manages company-maintained information ensuring its security and integrity as it is entered and edited as well as when it is consumed.

These systems function best when they are reasonably easy to use and everyone in the company buys in to it. When these systems are perceived as unreasonable and people don’t buy into it, users improvise workarounds and end up using other systems such as their email systems as their default KM systems (KMS).

Knowledge Paths

Ideally, information flows from the knowledge worker, perhaps through an editor or publisher to the Knowledge Management System (KMS). The consumer retrieves the info from the KMS. This sounds simple. Building, securing, communicating, encouraging, and enforcing such a system is another matter.

What happens in the real world is often quite a bit messier.

  1. Someone suggests that something be documented (because no one really planned for documentation at the outset)
  2. Meetings and email fly
  3. Drafts are passed around via email
  4. Someone may accidentally save a draft to SharePoint or a similar platform
  5. Document is finalized and published, perhaps to the Intranet, or SharePoint… and then forgotten about
  6. Instead of updating the document that’s published, contributors make changes to internal (non-published) copies
  7. Repeat all steps above when revisions are required

The result of this inefficient process is that bits and pieces (artifacts) of the information, and the process to create it, are spread around in peoples heads, in meeting minutes, on note paper, in email, in drafts, on shared drives, or even in collaboration platforms (mostly by accident). As you can imagine, most of this information is easy to lose.

Email KM for Everyone

An easy cheat, or workaround, to an elaborate KMS, is simply to keep your knowledge in your email system. Associates are pretty much forced to do this if they don’t have a KMS, or what they perceive as a  reasonable KMS.

They’ll also do this if  instead of publishing to a KMS, many people simply save all, or most of their email. They may move it around, categorize it, and create folders and sub-folders. But, they’re essentially just saving all of their email. When they want to know something, they search their email. This is obviously not a many-to-many scenario. Each person controls the information in his/her mail box. And can delete it.

Email KM is not efficient, but that’s what is most common in the real world.

Four User Assistance Publishing Platform Types

User Assistance in the CloudBefore creating user assistance (user guides, articles, videos, online help, classes, courses, curricula, certifications, assessments, etc.), part of the process of planning it is understanding how, where, and by whom this information is used. When you understand this, you know what platform type is best for your situation. Here are the four general types of platforms to consider. Keep in mind that you can publish pretty much all types of user assistance (file types) to each of these. The differences are; how closely integrated the information is with your system, and how much control you have over access and editing. The four platforms are not listed in any particular order. There’s a fifth publishing type; printing hard copy. For the purposes of this article however, I won’t describe printing.

Learning Management System (LMS)

An LMS is traditionally where we publish learning events such as classes, courses, curricula, certifications, assessments, and documents. LMSs allow significant customization in look and feel, catalogs, categorization, curricula, notifications, and reporting. Here are some of the key characteristics.

  • generally controlled viewing access
  • integrate externally-authored courseware
  • roster management
  • scheduling (ILT, vILT, and eLearning)
  • generate and send custom notifications (email, text)
  • track completions and scores
  • standard and custom reports
  • integrate with your directory service, such as Active Directory, for single sign-on (SSO)
  • AICC, SCORM, Tin Can compatibility
  • both a push and a pull system

Learning Content Management System (LCMS)

An LCMS is similar to an LMS although an LCMS is generally geared more toward hosting documentation (user guides), than classes, courses, and curricula. Companies may use their intranet, SharePoint, Wiki, or other system to host and manage their LCMS.

  • generally controlled viewing access
  • check in, check out
  • scheduled publishing
  • authoring templates
  • integrate with your directory service, such as Active Directory, for single sign-on (SSO)
  • generally a pull system


This could be your company’s public web site or a whole host of Internet platforms such as social sites (facebook, Twitter, etc.), or video hosting sites (Vimeo, youtube, etc.). Companies may publish their more sensitive or proprietary information on a closed/access controlled system (LMS, LCMS), but also publish their more public information to sites that are accessible to the general public, and prospective clients.

  • open viewing access
  • marketing/business development purposes
  • wider audience targeting

Your System or Application

Your user assistance can be integrated and published with, and on the same platform as, your system or application. The authoring of the user assistance may be part of the process to create the system or application, and/or standard third-party authoring tools can be used. For example, your development team uses Visual Studio 2013 to build a system, while also integrating user assistance into the development/build process. In addition, instructional designers use other tools, for example RoboHelp or Camtasia, to create additional user assistance that is also integrated into the build/publishing process.

  • publishing sync’d with releases
  • content on same platform as system
  • context-sensitivity
  • content potentially closest to point of use

XML Viewer SharePoint Web Part, Open RSS Feed Article Links in New Tab

RSSFeedSharePointI publish several RSS feeds (including this blog) on my SharePoint Foundation 2010 site. To do this, I use the XML Viewer web part. In the custom XSL all I had to do was add target=”_blank” in the <a href> line to have the links open in a new tab instead of replacing my SharePoint site in the current browser tab. Here’s how that line looks in my custom XSL.

<a target=”_blank” href=”{$item_link}” title=”{$item_title}”>


I found the solution here:

Content Management System for Distributed and Mobile Teams

SharePointThe question is… how does your team draft, review, publish, share, and maintain content for your distributed and mobile work force while managing the flexibility, security, and cost of the system?


One answer may be to use SharePoint on the back end and a browser and mobile client on the front end. Out of the box SharePoint is a pretty decent platform for a group of content creators to organize, draft, and publish content for the team, or even the entire organization. SharePoint allows fairly sophisticated security so that only approved users have access. It allows routing and approval of drafts, archiving, libraries, custom lists, and a bunch more. SharePoint is a capable and secure many-to-many platform for internal communications, user assistance, sales info, proposals, video, audio, training, compliance, etc.

SharePoint on your Mobile Device

Content creators can create and consumers can consume anywhere, anytime using the Internet Explorer (IE) browser on the computer or even using an application on iOS or Android. On Android, I’m currently using SPConnect SharePoint Version 0.85 by AcquiredNotions Inc. SPConnect allows me to access my self-hosted SharePoint site without having to log in each time. I can open, edit and save changes to documents and other files. This app is available in the Google Play store.


Office 365

Other options in addition to hosting your own SharePoint servers in your own data centers is to have them hosted for you by a company that specializes in this sort of thing. You can subscribe directly with Microsoft or there are a number of companies offering hosted SharePoint. SharePoint Online can be integrated with Office 365. If you have a qualifying Office 365 subscription, you can use the Microsoft Office Mobile application.

For a small business, an Office 365 subscription may be the way to go the get email, office applications, and content management all in one package. This is the hassle-free solution. You don’t have to build or maintain it. You just log in and it works.