The next big thing: Virtual workplaces

The next big thing: Virtual workplaces

Intranet and email on the way out are just some of the key trends discussed at the recent KM World conference.

In November, 1,500 international knowledge management experts converged on Washington DC for the world’s premier conference in this field, KM World 2010, giving attendees a glimpse into the future. Information Leadership’s Grant Margison was there as a speaker, and shares key insights on trends emerging from the conference. 2.0 – it’s not just for teenagers any more. Most organisations are now thinking of, or have systems for, managing content and allowing for project collaboration. Case studies showed how organisations have extended this effectively to include social and networking functionality. Networking lets people find expertise and sound out who can help, while the social side provides a means of informally commenting on and finding content as well as building relationships. A parallel trend is the expectation that these combinations of tools are available 24/7, at any location, on a range of desktop and mobile platforms.

Intranets out, email down, virtual workplaces in. A natural extension of this extended functionality is a fundamental challenge to what an intranet “is” and do we need one anymore. Case studies showed intranets successfully morphing into being part of virtual workplaces. This change is being driven by organisations zeroing in on the key business solutions they need, and wedding together intranet, document and process management, social 2.0 tools and expertise locators. This is in stark contrast to the disparate approaches most organisations take for these disciplines and toolsets.

While traditional intranets allow people to find expertise and content, they don’t necessarily use it unless they “trust” the author. Social tools, like tagging and rating what people like, blogs, discussions, and disclosing what people have worked on and with who, help build this trust.

Examples included precedent management at a large law firm, expert and project subject matter locators at a large not-for-profit consultancy and integrated keep-it-simple content and process management within large scale military operations.

Email – down at last? Presenters talked about how virtual workplaces move people away from effectively working alone “their way” and using email as the primary information sharing conduit. In this virtual work place approach, email’s role moves to alerts and pointers to content, as opposed to a primary content store.

Platforms – time to get less precious? No real platform trend emerged, with some organisations configuring integrated platforms while others are utilising best of breed social 2.0 platforms to extend what they needed. Case studies showed that organisations that were less precious about staying with their preferred technology platform for everything, got excellent results. The decision point for organisations arose from dealing with the tension between the importance of a coherent interface (that might be harder to use, because the tools aren’t as user friendly) versus best usability and functionality (but harder to connect with other systems being used).

SharePoint is everywhere but you have to get it right. Most organisations appear to suffer from a “learned helplessness”, where they have allowed the technology to spread, thus just substituting the chaos of a file share with its own form of mess. Counterpoints to this included case studies of solid large scale implementations, underpinned by well thought through information architecture, governance and a switched on team leading the implementation. Successes included dramatically reducing email and reshaping it to be about alerts and not directly transferring content.

Enterprise Search remains a mixed bag, with some successes in organisations with deep pockets and needs, such as Nasa’s Langley facility. What appears to work better for many organisations is when a combination of search tools is implemented so that intuitively people know where to search for what. Many talks showed the emergence of faceted search as a key way of differentiating business related content, so that a user could quickly move to what was of interest to them.

Knowledge Management focus is shifting away from “managing knowledge”, to one of orchestrating and coaxing teams into developing ways of doing this that work for them and are owned by them. An example was a lower emphasis on the crafted content normally seen on intranets, but not used much and more emphasis on the raw war stories and two way dialogue about these.

In sum, isolation is out and collaboration is in. New Zealand organisations that put themselves at the front of this trend, and are willing to innovate and work hard, will realise real dividends.

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Tags social mediaCIO rolesocial networkingWeb 2.0knowledge managementTech trendsinfromation leadershipgrant margison

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