The biggest mistake people make when selecting a KM system is to choose a platform instead of an application. The business case is dazzlingly simple—yet many organizations overlook it.
Where the problem starts…
A platform is a tool used by software developers to build a KM application. SharePoint is an example of a platform. It can be used to develop a KM application.
A KM application is a tool used to manage knowledge. Inmagic Presto is an example of a KM application. There are literally hundreds of ready-to-use knowledge management applications.
If you want a quick solution to a KM problem:
Buy a KM application. Within 10 minutes of seeing a solution you’ll know if it is the right system for you – assuming you’ve figured out your business and functional requirements. Seriously, if it takes more of your time than that, it’s probably not the right KM application for your organization. In that case, either look for another vendor or insist they show you how to configure it to match your needs while you watch. Some systems are amazingly flexible. Best of all, the most powerful KM applications can be up and running within days.
Why not go with a platform and build the perfect solution?
Because it will take person-months if not person-years to get it right. Contrast this with the few weeks of vendor demonstrations you’ll go through to find the perfect application and you’ll see there really is no comparison. It’s the same reason we all buy clothes off the rack. Sure, some clothes require alteration—but who goes to the tailor these days for custom suits. Yes, they have the fabric, scissors and sewing machines, but do you have the time and money?
One other key point—excellent KM solutions can share data with other applications and platforms. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend buying one that can’t. This important capability ensures your knowledge assets are always accessible and portable too!
So, you already have a platform?
Sticking with the clothing analogy, it’s not the fabric that expensive, it’s the labor. This is easy to test. Just as you expect your KM application vendor to demonstrate a viable solution, ask your platform developer to show you what they can deliver right out of the box. Then ask them how long it will take to make the changes you need. Then, do the math. Consider your time plus your programmers’ time. Even if your IT department doesn’t charge back the hours they spend on your KM project, there is an organizational cost.
IT resources are never free:
KM projects that involve using a platform to develop an application will have to compete with all other projects in the organization. Your KM project will always be competing with other IT demands because there will be continual updating and maintenance required, even after the initial development. Let’s be realistic, where does your KM project stack up on the IT department’s priority list?
Fast, efficient and risk free:
The argument in favor of an out-of-the-box KM application is clear. (And remember that SaaS solutions are ready to go, with no hardware to buy, no up-front license fees and continual maintenance and updates.) Best of all, there is nominal risk. You’ve already seen the solution, checked vendor references, and made your decision. Choose an application rather than a platform and you’ll be up and running in days—and delivering effective, relevant KM capabilities in a matter of weeks.
V. Mary Abraham is an author, consultant and facilitator who has been active in legal industry knowledge management since 1991.
Susan Hanley is one of the leading experts on using Office 365 and SharePoint for knowledge management and collaboration, emphasizing the people side
Heidi K. Gardner studies collaboration between highly autonomous, powerful knowledge workers such as partners in professional service firms…
KM thought leaders have proven strategies to share with knowledge managers implementing KM programs; read about ISO KM Standard 30401