Friday, June 17, 2005

Email your way to managed knowledge

Knowledge Management is link management, but how do you manage these links? With messages.

Messages create links. They link the sender, the recipients, a point in time and a set of keywords. Sometimes they also link a document via an attachment.

Messages are a valuable way to manage knowledge because they are easy and cheap to send, they embody a security and confidentiality model based on the sender and receivers and they can be easily indexed and searched.

A quick win to manage group or corporate knowledge comes from seeing messages as a rich, up to date and integrated knowledge repository. It is easy to create, store and search message archives and exploit the links implied by the messages.

Emails can be created at the desktop and on the move with a plethora of tools. Storage is cheap, although not free, especially if you have an old Microsoft Exchange server and need to upgrade. Index and search is supported at the enterprise and desktop levels, thanks to X1, Lookout, Google Desktop and MSN Desktop, the last three of which are free of charge at the desktop.

A quick knowledge management win is to index your own email and any public folders you can find.

Want to know who knows what? Enter a few keywords against an email search. Pick the person whose name appears most often in the results.

If you share your win with others, they might see the value of using messages to create links and send some more of their own to shared email addresses. Sharing messages like this not only creates a store of knowledge, but also gives people the chance to promote their interests and capabilities, increasing their value.

An email group around a project becomes a store of knowledge. It makes it easier to answer the question "here's a new person on the team - how can I get them up to speed quickly"? "Where's that email about X?"

Email can even be used to version-control documents. Send a message with an attached document and you have created a snapshot of a version of a document, probably with an annotation about the document in the body of the message. When you created the distribution list you also made an implicit statement about confidentiality.

Using an email store as a file store like this also makes it easy to answer the question "where's the latest version of X?" without troubling others busy on the work, especially valuable if the others are unavailable and you want the answer quickly.