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Office 365 for Knowledge Management

Most organizations today are using Microsoft Office 365 or are in the process of migrating to it. Even though adoption of Office 365 is quite high, many organizations view it primarily as a way to shift major enterprise architecture and infrastructure components such as email and calendaring, telephony and video conferencing, and network/mapped drives for file storage from on premises servers to cloud-based platforms.  

Indeed, moving critical infrastructure components to the cloud can offer many benefits to organizations and can heavily impact IT operations. But this type of Office 365 deployment won’t transform business operations. The average staff member likely won’t notice the changes, and how they work won’t be transformed.  

Focusing only on the infrastructure aspects of Office 365 is a missed opportunity. Two broad areas where 365 can offer tremendous benefits to an organization are around knowledge management and information security — two pieces of the puzzle that can truly transform an organization, regardless of its sector, mission, purpose, structure, location, or even size.  

At the end of the day, for most organizations, it’s all about balancing security and sharing — making it as easy as possible for staff to easily, effectively, and efficiently collaborate, share information and knowledge, exchange ideas, build upon each other’s work — all in secure ways. Walking this tightrope between security and sharing is where Office 365 really shines.  

Office 365 for Knowledge Management 

When we’re talking about knowledge management, we’re referring to how individuals, departments, and teams: create, capture, secure, share, and re-use organizational information and knowledge. It’s about making information and knowledge more easily findable or discoverable – so people can find what they need when they need it or discover something new, more easily, effectively, and efficiently.  

In terms of knowledge management, Office 365 can:  

  • Break down silos between groups, departments, and divisions
  • Improve real-time collaboration 
  • Reduce the amount of time wasted looking for information and knowledge 
  • Improve productivity and minimize the amount of time staff spend downloading attachments, opening files, finding files, and moving between applications 
  • Reduce the number of emails sent/received internally and the amount of time wasted dealing with email 
  • Allow for document sharing with external partners in a secure, auditable, and controlled environment 
  • Increase knowledge re-use and reduce time wasted by reinventing the wheel when existing knowledge can’t easily be found or discovered 
  • Surface knowledge from throughout the organization 
  • Reduce the time it takes to get new employees up to speed 
  • Improve organizational transparency 

While Office 365 has the potential an organization in all of these ways, the reality is that each organization has a different journey based on which components are enabled, how components are configured, and – more than anything – the organization’s overall approach to implementation.  

Over the coming months, we’ll take a deeper look at many of these knowledge management goals and how Office 365 can be used to achieve them. In the meantime, here are 5 tips with some of our favorite ways to use Office 365 for knowledge management, with a particular emphasis on Teams.  

#1: Use Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel directly from Teams

Until recently, real-time collaboration in a word processing document was a less-than-ideal experience in Word. Sure, it had gotten better over the past year or so, but it was still a headache when two or more people were trying to write in the same document at the same time. Sync delays often led to crashes and then versioning issues and large blocks of text someone else was working on tended to come through in sporadic bursts, disrupting my train of thought altogether. The reality was that our team still preferred to use Google Docs over Office 365 for early drafts and collaborative writing.  

Fortunately, those days are over. Real-time collaboration – and asynchronous collaboration – now works well via Microsoft Teams. It’s now quite easy to use Word, PowerPoint, or Excel via Teams, either on your own or while others are working simultaneously in the same file. Sync delays are over, and you can watch your colleagues work in real-time.  

Office 365 for Knowledge Management -- Writing this article in Word via Teams
Writing this article in Word via Teams

Sure, there are a few advanced features that you still need to use in the Word, PowerPoint, and Excel clients — track changes, figure/table titles, cross references – all features I rely on, but don’t necessarily use daily. 

In any case, the time I spend waiting for Word, PowerPoint, and Excel to open; moving between applications; and transferring files from Google Docs to Word has all substantially decreased.  

#2: Quick Access to Files via Teams 

One of the benefits of the tight integration between Word/PowerPoint/Excel and Teams is the fast and easy access to files.  

On a daily basis, I’ve substantially reduced the amount of time I spend asking colleagues where a file is stored or answering that question, copying links to files stored in SharePoint document libraries to share with colleagues, downloading and opening files in email (which then creates unnecessary copies of files), and even navigating to my own files – even if I know exactly where they’re stored.  

In the Teams client, use the “Files” app on the left rail to see a list of recent files from across all of the SharePoint document libraries that are associated with the Teams you’re connected to. The search feature works as expected, and results that are displayed include a keyword-in-context view, highlighting search terms and indicating where files are stored.  

Where a file is stored is no longer an access issue, but it does matter if you want to be able to chat about a fileNavigate to the Team/Channel where a file is stored. Once there, you’ll be able to use Teams’ “Conversation” feature. Conversations — i.e., chat threads – are connected to files. From within a file, click “Conversation,” then type a message into the conversation pane that will appear on the right side of the screen.  

Conversation about a file posted to Word via Teams
Conversation about a file posted to Word via Teams

The messages will be displayed in the associated Teams Channel.  

Office 365 for Knowledge Management - Conversation in Teams about a Word File
Conversations about a file displaying in a Teams Channel

This feature is particularly useful and can cut down on a ton of email or other types of messaging. For instance, I can post a message via conversations to let my team know that a draft of a report is ready for them to review. The message will then appear in the Teams Channel, with a link directly to the file. Members of the team can post their questions, comments, or other notes to the same space, keeping connecting the conversation thread to the file.  

Previously, I’d have to send an email and include a link to the file via SharePoint. Then team members would have to go into the document, which was a bit more cumbersome from email to Word online, read/review, then go back to email to send a note to at least acknowledge that they’ve seen the file. The new workflow collectively has saved team members a substantial amount of time. Plus, it’s much easier to piece together thinking a few months later – instead of sifting through old emails, I can see the conversation about a file in a single place.  

#3: Closed Captioning and Transcripts for Meetings in Stream 

Stream is Office 365’s component for all-things video. Yes, it’s a video library. But from a knowledge management perspective, its ability to automatically generate captions from meetings held via Teams is particularly valuable.  

With this feature, department meetings, focus groups, town hall meetings, and other recorded meetings are all searchable. Users can skim through captions, pinpoint the part of the conversation they’re looking for, and listen to the that segment. Or, if you’re trying to remember in which meeting something specific was said, you can search the library and either identify the specific video or at least narrow down the options.  

Another use case: internal focus groups. Instead of trying to take copious notes, or – even worse – investing time and money transcribing these conversations – rough transcripts can be a huge time saver.  

It’s worth noting that Stream can generate captions and transcripts in several languages: English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish are all supported. For USGOV tenants, English and Spanish are both available.  

Creating captions for meetings, even if they’re not perfect, transforms video into something searchable, making the information and knowledge captured inside more easily findable and re-usable.  

#4: RSS Reader via Teams  

Shared RSS feeds have been a knowledge management headache for a while, but Teams has solved this problem. Add the RSS App to a channel and click “Set up a connector.”  

Office 365 for Knowledge Management - RSS Feeds
Add the RSS Reader App to Teams

From there, plug in the RSS address and select how often you want updates pushed to your channel.  

Office 365 for Knowledge Management - RSS Feed Details
Plug in details about the RSS feed and digest frequency

Our consulting team uses a channel for several RSS feeds that we all follow – our own blog, plus several sites with industry-related news. Once feeds have been posted to the channel, we can comment on specific items or have a discussion tied to an RSS post.  

Using Teams for this purpose has cut down on work for each of us to maintain our own set of RSS feeds, we all see the same information, and we don’t have to remember to go to one more website or other platform to check feeds on a daily basis.  

#5: Alerts for IoT Devices 

Similar to how we’re using Teams to notify us about new articles that have been published on sites of interest to us, we can also set up connectors to various Internet of Things (IoT) devices. We have our Acorn devices ping us on a regular basis with health checks.  

For several of our clients, we’ve transitioned email-based notifications and SMS-alerts over to Teams. For instance, one of our clients runs a gene bank and has several sub-zero freezers. In the past, these freezers had been configured to send an email whenever freezer temperatures started to get too warm. After a staff member left, they forgot to change the email address to another person, and specimens were lost after a freezer malfunctioned. Instead of having these alerts go to a specific person or get buried in email, we’ve reconfigured the device to send an alert to a Team where several people – and an outside monitoring firm — are immediately notified if an anomaly is occurring.  

Another client is using Ring doorbells at the entry suite to their office. The doorway is around a corner, making it hard for staff to see anyone at the front door or hear when the doorbell was ringing. Now, we’ve configured these ringers to send alerts to a specific Teams channel, making it easier for more people to be informed when someone is waiting to be let into the office. This small change has made a big difference!  

Teams and Knowledge Management 

Knowledge management is all about making it faster, easier, and more efficient for people to get the information and knowledge they need. Taking advantage of these features in Office 365 – and, in particular, within Teams – can make it easier to collaborate to create new knowledge; find information and knowledge in files, video, or digital conversations; and cut down on time wasted with unnecessary clicks, hunting for information, and moving between apps. These capabilities can help people to be more efficient throughout the workday and can alleviate a bunch of common information and knowledge management pain points. And that’s what KM is all about – making it easier for people to get the information and knowledge they need do their jobs effectively! 

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