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Using Office 365 to Support Knowledge Management

FireOak Strategies Case Studies

The Client’s Situation

A large, global organization with unique business needs developed its own in-house platform to support their operations. The platform itself worked well, but managing the information and knowledge about the platform was a different story. Over the years, the platform itself evolved tremendously through several major releases, an expanded scope, new features, and the type of enhancements that naturally occur over a decade or more of adoption. 

Behind the scenes, it was becoming increasingly challenging for the product owners to find old release notes, information security reviews, change orders, enhancement and new feature requests, or information about past decisions such as why a particular feature was added to a development cycle or moved into the backlog. Much of this information was confidential, which made many of the product owners reluctant to or unsure of how to share it with their team.

At the same time, the small team responsible for supporting the platform was becoming inundated with questions as the user base grew. While the platform was initially released to a small group, it had been rolled out to thousands of organizational users worldwide by the time we were called to help. 

Over the years, the product owners, developers, and support team had tried to address these problems by collecting and sharing information using the tools at hand — SharePoint sites, folders in shared drives, blogs, email lists, and more. But these efforts were disjointed, short-lived, and eventually abandoned, leaving a trail of partially-developed, outdated, and not-terribly-useful resources in their wake. 

“I have no idea where to look for information about the platform.”

When the organization started to transition many of their systems to Office 365, the product team realized that they had an opportunity to solve this problem. They wanted to get a handle on the situation and come up with a better way to manage the information and knowledge about their product so they didn’t replicate their past mistakes. They knew they had hit the limit of what they were able to do on their own and realized that knowledge management experts could help, so they reached out to FireOak Strategies. Our team was engaged to develop and implement a sustainable, scalable, and secure approach to managing information and knowledge about this platform. 

A New Perspective & New Insights

Before jumping into solutions, we started out by talking to key stakeholders to get their input. In this case, that meant talking to the product team, but also platform users, representatives from the internal information security team, product developers, help desk support reps, members of the in-house organizational development and training team, and others. Managers from offices outside of HQ had very different things to say than staff working on-site at HQ. Staff working at the same location as the product team tended to ask questions face-to-face or were more inclined to pick up the phone or send an email to a product team member they knew. On the other hand, managers from different locations were responsible for putting together their own training guides, tips and tricks, and resources for staff to use to learn how to use the system. Added to this was another layer of complexity: even though all staff members should be using the system in the same way, we discovered there was a wide variety of local best practices. 

“A lot of knowledge about the platform is in our heads.”

Users had some general-purpose help documentation, but it was overly complex and difficult to use to quickly find answers. Staff in some locations had access to other help guides or resources a local team member created and shared — however these types of resources were restricted by location, so a staff member in one city wouldn’t be able to find, discover, access, or use something written by a manager from another location. 

Throughout the discovery process it became clear that there was no shortage of information, data, and knowledge about the platform. But it was stored in disconnected and, in some cases, hidden pockets. Even the product owners were surprised to learn of some of the resources and materials prepared for users by members of other departments and by managers in various locations.

In addition to getting input from staff, we closely examined all the different ways in which and places where information, data, and knowledge were being managed. We identified over 20 different systems where such information was stored. Having information, data, and knowledge stored in inconsistent ways across so many systems made it challenging for the support team to be able to answer basic questions easily or consistently. The small team responsible for providing support relied on its own email and some informal notes in Word that they could copy/paste into email. Unsurprisingly, the support team was experiencing a high degree of help desk fatigue and was ready for a change. 

During this phase of work, one of the key members of the product support team left the organization, taking with him years of knowledge that was stored only in his head. Having one critical person leave highlighted just how much the team was relying on tacit knowledge and how vulnerable they were to having institutional memory walk out the door. 

Unique Approach, Transformative Results

With all of these pain points, the product team was eager to rethink how it was managing information and knowledge. They were seeking a true transformation, not just incremental changes in how they were capturing, organizing, and sharing product-related knowledge. 

Based on what we uncovered during the discovery process, we recommended a multi-pronged, holistic strategy and roadmap for transformation, focusing on people, processes, and technology. 

Technology alone is not the answer.

In partnership with the product owner and core members of the product team, we agreed upon the vision for the future, long-term goals and objectives, and how we would define and measure success.

To start, we formed a new steering group that was designed to bring together key groups involved in owning, developing, and supporting the platform. The group focuses on strategic alignment, coordination, and internal governance, making data-driven decisions, and bringing users’ voices directly into the planning process. The group has been influential in offering input as we develop new resources to support users’ experience with the platform. These resources include a getting started guide for new users, onboarding and training checklists for specific types of users, webinar topics, and more. 

Another tactic in the new strategy is a curated portal in the organization’s new Office 365 ecosystem. This portal serves as a single point of entry for users to access the platform and the wealth of materials about the platform. The portal includes expert-curated, high-quality materials, feedback mechanisms, and much more. 

The first phase of development focused on outcomes for users, specifically, making information and knowledge about the platform more easily findable and discoverable through search, a consistently-applied taxonomy, a validated knowledge base for frequently asked questions, a video library, and other resources. An additional goal for Phase 1 was to spark engagement with platform users, so several social elements and multi-directional feedback loops were incorporated into the portal. 

Phase 2 included the development of dashboards and other data visualization tools to display various platform-related health metrics and usage data about the portal itself. These resources are designed for the steering group, the product owners, and the product support team. 

Phase 3 incorporated additional materials earmarked for the development team and product owners — release notes, historical development documentation, calendars with development deadlines and milestones, and other behind-the-scenes artifacts. 

As the portal was being developed, we partnered with the product team to formalize curation practices. In the past, once a help guide was produced, it was rarely updated so it wasn’t trusted. Now, processes are in place to ensure that information is routinely reviewed, updated, and maintained. 

Building a platform is just the first step. Driving and sustaining adoption, growing the knowledge base while maintaining quality, and adopting sustainable practices all take continued effort and course correction along the way. A change management and communications plan was put in place as part of the rollout strategy to help the product team scale and sustain these new knowledge management initiatives. 

As our implementation work continues, the product team benefits from our partnership through continued support, expertise, and technical knowledge. The product team has taken over day-to-day operations, but our understanding of the organization’s culture, the platform, the knowledge management portal, the steering group, and all the new ways of working introduced through this initiative allow us to continue to collaborate with and serve as a sounding board for the product team. 

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