Journal of Knowledge Management Practice, Vol. 9, No. 2, June 2008

Exploiting The Potential Of Intranets For Managing Knowledge In Organisations

Abdus Sattar Chaudhry, Nor Ainah Ali, Damayanti Iman Abadi, Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Singapore

ABSTRACT:

Intranet has been embraced by many organisations to support their knowledge management. The use of knowledge resources available through intranets, however, seems to be fairly low chiefly due to employees’ difficulties in finding relevant information. This paper reviews the use of intranets for knowledge management focusing on the experience of the stakeholders in relation to the use of intranet in a public sector organization in Singapore. The study examines the status of knowledge organisation and content management on the selected intranet and proposes strategies for enhancing the intellectual infrastructure for leveraging intranet for knowledge management.

Keywords: Knowledge management, Intranets, Knowledge organisation, Content management


1. Introduction

Today, intranet also prevails as an organisational knowledge base. It has advantages over prior digital knowledge bases in that it facilitates the capturing and handling of unstructured and implicit knowledge, in comparison to database management systems that require very structured schemas to be effective.  Intranets that are networked across organisational boundaries are seen as user-friendly and cost effective ways of achieving the goal of facilitating knowledge sharing (Skyrme, 1997). This is an important factor from the knowledge management (KM) perspective since it enables the organisation more freedom in sharing information not intended for competitors (Stenmark, 2002). Intranet can also be seen as an infrastructure that allows collaborative KM systems to grow and adapt to changing organisational needs.

Capitalizing on an intranet as a KM tool is indeed a complex task that involves making a myriad of choices and decisions that can directly affect the ultimate success of the venture. Because knowledge can be fluid and ephemeral, organisations can only communicate and collaborate effectively through the intranets and exploit their competitive advantage of sharing if specific techniques and processes are adequately put in place. Firstly, information that is placed on the intranet must be carefully selected, organised and structured according to a consistent policy (Rowley, 2000). This should be aided with mechanisms that facilitate navigation for effective search (Delphi Group, 2002a & 2002b). The crux of the issue for almost every aspect of the intranet, however, is the core consideration that knowledge is made readily accessible. Everything should serve the main goal of enabling users to find what they need (Futterman, 2001).

There have been very few specific studies on how knowledge should be organised and content should be managed on the intranet. It is worth noting, however, that there are two clashing paradigms over the issues of control in intranet management. One paradigm asserted that centrality of control is the key to effectively manageable intranets (Ciborra, 2000; Curry and Stancich, 2000; Damsgaard and Scheepers, 2000). Another paradigm rejected such centralised control, for instance, Stenmark (2003) argued that innovation and knowledge creation in the intranet should not be limited to a certain group of people only. He also believed that all information should be made accessible for all employees, supporting Malhotra’s (2000) assertion that nobody could safely decide what information is relevant to whom in today’s volatile environment.

We conducted a study of the intranet of a local organisation focusing in particular on knowledge organisation and content management. We reviewed the salient features of the intranet, the use of intranet as a preferred source of organisational knowledge, the relevance of the knowledge provided on the intranet in the context of work, the organisation and presentation of knowledge resources to facilitate information discovery and management of contents with respect to their currency, authority and reliability. We also gathered users’ suggestions to optimise and exploit the use of the intranet as a KM tool. This paper reports the results of this study. The name of the organisation is not mentioned on the request of the organisation. This organisation was selected as a case study mainly because of the researchers’ exposure to the use of the site. It was also considered appropriate as most of the staff had access to the intranet. The intranet structure was similar to other public sector organisations.

2. Methodology

The study was carried out in two phases. The first phase focused on collecting information about the site using a checklist. The checklist was used to collect crucial information on the main features of the intranet pertaining to knowledge organisation and content management. These include questions pertaining to searching and browsing capabilities, the classification system, issues of metadata, resource selection, and authority control and documents life cycle parameters. The following steps were taken to populate the information on the checklist: browsing through the intranet, random interviews on informal basis to a few stakeholders, interview with the IT consultant in-charge of the intranet. The stakeholders’ interaction with the intranet was observed in the context of their work and working environment.

The second phase focused on a survey to obtain stakeholders’ feedback on the use of the intranet. The questions asked were generated from the informal interviews and the literature reviewed. The questionnaire is given in Appendix B. The second phase focused on a survey to obtain stakeholders feedback on the use of the intranet. The questions asked were generated from the informal interviews and the literature reviewed. Questionnaires were sent along with a cover letter that described the objectives of the survey and assured the respondents that the information provided would remain confidential and would only be used for research purposes in an aggregated manner. A list of potential survey respondents was obtained from the Human Resource Department in the organisation. Questionnaires were sent to 72 officers. They were briefed during a management meeting on the purpose of the survey. The final response rate was 48 percent.

3. Findings

Initial findings from the observations and informal discussions with the employees about the intranet suggested the following points:

      The intranet was gaining popularity as a tool for knowledge dissemination and sharing.

      The information on the intranet was growing at an exponential rate as the organisation grew in size to meet the increasing need of the stakeholders.

      It was becoming increasingly difficult and time consuming to access information on the intranet with the rapid growth of information which were not adequately organised.

The above findings formed a catalyst to the formulation of the checklist and the survey questionnaires used for data collection. Dated collected on the usage using the two instruments were reflected in an aggregated manner as the results sought to provide the overall trends in the use of the intranet as a tool to facilitate KM.

The findings are discussed in two parts. Part 1 delves in discussing the salient features of the intranet based on the checklist, while Part 2 discusses the use of the intranet based on the survey questionnaire. A summary of features related to browsing and searching capabilities provided are given in Table 1.

Table 1: Salient Features Of The Intranet

Information Organization

Status

Yes

No

Provision of searching and browsing capabilities

 

Provision of a system for classification, e.g. controlled vocabulary

 

Structuring of subject categories to reflect professional vocabularies

 

Use of metadata to organize resources

 

Inclusion of thesaurus browser

 

Use of taxonomy software

 

Compliance with interface usability heuristics

 

Content Management

Status

Yes

No

Availability and enforcement of enterprise-wide standards for content management in the organization’s Intranet

 

Availability of standard policies and guidelines

 

Institution of standard procedures for formally reviewing and validating mission critical Intranet content before publication

 

Content could be tracked according to date of creation or last update

 

Automatic routing of outdated content to reviewers for validation or retirement

 

Availability of explicit rules for the retirement or validation of resources that are older than preset expiration dates, if any

 

It was also noted that there was no specific person who was put in-charge to monitor the use of the intranet although an IT intranet manager was around to assist with the technical problems. The onus of the authenticity, integrity and validity of contents rests on the shoulders of the content providers.

The findings from the survey revealed that the intranet was becoming more prevalent and there was a growing recognition of its use in relation to information sharing and discovery. The general observation made was that the intranet was not being exploited to its fullest potential and that knowledge was not well-organised and contents were not sufficiently managed to facilitate knowledge sharing and discovery. These might impede the effective use of the intranet as a KM tool.

3.1. The Use Of Intranet As A KM Tool

All employees in the organisation were asked about the frequency of intranet use in their day-to-day work (see Figure 1 for details).

Figure 1: Frequency Of Intranet Use On Daily Basis

As evident from Figure 1, more than 50 percent of the respondents accessed the intranet daily, which is indicative of its important role as a source of organisational knowledge. The frequently used categories on the intranet are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Frequently Accessed Categories

In order to assess users’ needs, respondents were asked to suggest additional categories which they felt should be included on the intranet. Seven respondents indicated that the precedent database should be included, 10 respondents indicated personnel database, 14 respondents indicated the bulletin board and eight respondents indicated the creative corner. Precedent database, for example encourages knowledge re-use, bulletin board encourages the exchange of tacit knowledge while the personal database functions as a knowledge map, which can assist in the location of expert knowledge within the organisation.

When asked to appraise the current information organisation on the intranet, the majority (56 percent) responded with “reasonably effective”, while 8 percent said “very effective”, 3 percent said “not effective”, and the remaining 33 percent stated “not very much effective”. The findings implied that although information organisation on the intranet was fairly acceptable for more than half of users, improvements were considered necessary.

With regard to how useful the intranet for finding work related tasks, most respondents (88 percent) found intranet helpful as it provided key information and pointers to valuable information, while 9 percent of respondents felt that intranet did not help them much when they needed to do work-related tasks and only 3 percent of respondents neither agreed nor disagreed. It appeared that the content of intranet is practically useful for most users.

3.2. Perception On The Organisation’s Intranet

All employees were asked about their perception of the intranet. Table 2 shows the distribution of respondents’ perception on the organisation’s intranet. An important factor to consider as regards to whether or not an intranet functions well a KM tool depends on how easy and fast the organisational knowledge can be accessed. The results of this study revealed that many of the employees were of the opinion that this function was fulfilled by the organisation’s intranet. In addition to facilitate information discovery, information has to be well-structured and organised.

Table 2: Respondents’ Perception On The Organisation’s Intranet

Statement

Strongly

agree

Agree

Neutral

Disagree

Strongly disagree

Intranet provides important sources of organisational information

3

59

38

-

-

Access to the right information is easy and fast

6

35

38

15

6

Information is well structured and organised

3

26

44

24

3

Information is very current and up-to-date

6

15

47

32

-

Expired information is systemically deleted or archived

-

12

47

38

3

The general layout, look and feel of the intranet are great

3

12

64

21

-

The interface is user-friendly to facilitate searching and information retrieval

-

21

76

3

-

Enables departments to share information within their departments

3

59

38

-

-

Enables departments to share their information with other departments

6

32

62

-

-

An important channel for finding about changes to company policies, processes or systems

6

38

53

3

-

 

3.3. Problems In Using The Organisation’s Intranet

The respondents identified a number of problems that they encountered when using the intranet. The problems varied from navigation and usability issues to content organisation of the intranet (see Figure 3 for details).

Figure 3: Problems In Using The Intranet

As shown in Figure 3, “information not well-organised” and “contents not systematically managed” emerged as the top two problems, among others, on the use of intranet. These findings suggested that content organisation of the intranet requires serious improvements. Behind the top two problems, users’ lack of awareness on intranet contents came up as the next major problem. The lack of awareness might have happened due to poor socialisation and “marketing” efforts into the intranet culture. The finding implied that it is indispensable for organisations to promote the benefits of intranet and cultivate their interests for using intranet for day-to-day office duties. Although “information not well-organised” came up as the top problem in using intranet, most respondents were neutral about the content organisation (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Perception On The Intranet Content Organisation

3.4. The Practices Of Organising Emails As Regards To Information Organisation

Our survey also attempted to obtain a sense of respondents’ email organising behaviour as regards to organisation of information. An individual’s emails organisation can be mainly distinguished from (a) sorting and organising incoming mails (and attachments) in folders and subfolders after reading, or (b) printing the emails and attachments (if any), then after reading, file the print-outs into proper categories. It was revealed that only 45 percent of respondents (made up from 28 percent and 16 percent, see Figure 5) maintained these practices.

 

Figure 5: Practice In Relation To Emails

3.5. Suggestions For Intranet Improvements

We elicited respondents’ suggestions for improving the effectiveness of the intranet as described below:

      To redesign the user interface, with emphasis on fonts, icons and background colour;

      To conduct a “spring cleaning” of the intranet (there were many content pages that were duplicated) and to standardise information type as far as possible;

      To allow for more on-line transactions;

      To keep the information updated and to delete outdated information so that the information is not so cluttered;

      To allow for more precise keyword search; and

      To appoint an administrator or manager to be in-charge of the intranet, e.g. to look into information organisation and content management.

3.6. Information Portal

Respondents were further asked to comment if the intranet would become more helpful by transforming it into a portal. The question elicited responses from only 71 percent of respondents, with over 87 percent of the responses received was negative. The high rate of negative responses could be attributed to unfamiliarity with the concept of information portal, as reflected in some responses that stated “I have no idea” or sought clarification on the difference between an information portal and a corporate website.

4. Discussion

The main aim of this study was to address the organisation’s intention of exploiting the potential of the intranet for managing knowledge. While most of the employees indicated preference for online sources and verbal communication, they highlighted “information not well-organised” and “contents not systematically managed” as the two main problems that impede usability of the intranet. This is consistent with what has been implied by Rowley (2000) expressing concerns that the sheer enormity of information available and the corresponding lack of organisation of the information could create chaos.

As indicated in the tables and figures presented in the earlier section of the paper, intranet was seen by employees as an important source for obtaining organisational information and a tool that facilitates knowledge sharing within and across departments. But the low usage demonstrates that the organisation has not been able to leverage the potential. There dos not seem to be an emphasis in the organisation under study about the role of the intranet to create and share knowledge on a daily basis. The intranet should rest on an information perspective grounded in real user needs and based on actual user activities. From an awareness perspective, the intranet design should alert the users both of relevant information and of other knowledgeable users. The intranet should facilitate collaboration by applying a communication perspective that allows both ad hoc and well-defined groups and communities of practice to engage in dialogue.

A vital factor for an intranet to function as a KM tool is the ease and speed with which information could be accessed and retrieved. Unfortunately, only 21 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the organisation’s intranet had sufficiently fulfilled this function, while 38 percent responded “neutral” and 59 percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed. To facilitate easy and fast access, it is imperative that the information has to be well structured and organised. The information should also be current and up-to-date and the expired information should be systematically deleted or archived so that the intranet is not cluttered with information that is no longer needed nor useful. Additionally, the user interface must be user-friendly to facilitate searches and information retrieval as it affects the usability of the intranet.

Kelly (1999) had proposed the application of controlled vocabulary and metadata on the Weyerhaeuser intranet. While automatic indexing may be effective initially, she said that further enhancement by a taxonomy expert is still necessary for customizing the taxonomy to the users’ terminology, as well as other refinements. The Delphi Group (2002a, 2002b) highlighted the importance of the application of a thesaurus browser and a taxonomy structure to the intranet. (Coyne, 2002) stressed on compliance with usability heuristics. It is imperative to note that accessibility and usability are closely related, as they both improve satisfaction, effectiveness, and efficiency of users.

At the user interface level, what could be done is to create a browsing environment using browser hierarchies, interchangeable mediating representations and knowledge maps. The objective of such an environment is to leverage the human mental model to make inferences about knowledge, rather than relying on the machine to make those inferences. Browser hierarchies can allow the user to rapidly navigate knowledge. Graphical and outline mediating representations can allow the user to visualise and easily manipulate knowledge. Knowledge maps work together so that the user can extract knowledge that fulfils the criteria specified.

To avoid labour intensive approaches, it is also recommended that the organisation develop a content management system, which is a critical element of any good KM strategy. Sound content management will ensure that organisational memory information is captured, retained, and made accessible, and that information is deleted before the volume becomes burdensome.

5. Conclusion

The fast changing working environment has increased the need to review the use and role of the intranet as a KM tool to ensure its fullest potential to meet new demands and requirements. The review of features and survey of the employees’ current usage patterns was helpful in providing insights into the factors that inhibit its effective use. The two main drawbacks, as observed, were that knowledge was not well-organised and that content was not sufficiently managed to facilitate knowledge sharing and discovery. In order for the intranet to be effective as a KM tool, these two pertinent problems need to be solved and contents re-packaged to improve usability and usefulness. This indicates that while technological infrastructure is important to implement an intranet, an intellectual infrastructure is needed to maximise the use of knowledge resources available on the intranet. This requires use of taxonomies, metadata, and browsing structures to organise information and manage content to facilitate resource discovery.

6. References

Ciborra, C. (2000). A critical review of the literature on the management of corporate information infrastructure. In C. Ciborra et al. (eds), From Control to Drift. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Curry, A., and Stancich, L. (2000) The intranet – an intrinsic component of strategic information management? International Journal of Information Management, 20, 249-268.

Coyne, K.P. (2002). BellSouth: A Winning Intranet. Available from: http://www.intranetjournal.com/articles/200211/ij_11_04_02a.html (last access 4 April 2008).

Damsgaard, J., and Scheepers, R. (2000). Managing the crises in intranet implementation: a stage model. Information Systems Journal, 10(2), 131-149.

Delphi Group (2002a). Taxonomy & Content Classification: Market Milestone.

Available from: http:// durbinwebdev.net/JG-WebPC/Mike's-JG-WebPC-Backup/All%20Saxotech%20stuff/WP_2002_TAXONOMY.PDF (last access 4 April 2008).

Delphi Group (2002b). Taxonomy & Content Classification: Market Milestone Report for LingoMotors. Available from: http://lsdis.cs.uga.edu/SemanticEnterprise/Delphi_LingoMotorfinal.pdf (last access 4 April 2008).

Futterman, D. (2001). Making content findable: how to help your Intranet search engine do a better job. Online Magazine, 25(3), 36.

Kelly, D. (1999). Metadata for a corporate intranet. Online Magazine, 23(1), 42-50.

Malhotra, Y. (2000). Knowledge management for e-business performance: advancing information strategy to ‘Internet time’. Information Strategy: The Executive’s Journal, 8, 241-253.

Rowley, J. (2000). Knowledge organisation for a new millennium: principles and processes, Journal of KM, 4(3). 217-223.

Skyrme, D. (1997). Intranets: sharing organisational knowledge. Available from http://www.skyrme.com/insights/25intra.htm (last access 4 April 2008).

Stenmark, D. (2002). Designing the new intranet. Gothenburg Studies in Informatics, Report 21. Available from: http://www.viktoria.se/~dixi/thesis/index.htm (last access 4 April 2008).

Stenmark, D. (2003). Knowledge creation and the web: factors indicating why some intranets succeed while other fail. Knowledge and Process Management, 10(3), 207-216.

APPENDICES

Appendix A: Checklists

 

Knowledge Organisation and Presentation

Status

Yes

No

Does the Intranet allow both searching and browsing capabilities?

 

 

Does the Intranet provide a system for classifying the information, such as controlled vocabulary for the content providers to work with when classifying the information?

 

 

Are subject categories structured in order to reflect professional vocabularies and the different ways to access information?

 

 

Is metadata being used to organise resources?

 

 

Does the Intranet include a thesaurus browser that assists users by highlighting unexpectedly related and relevant information?

 

 

Is anyone at working with taxonomy software currently?

 

 

Do the design standards comply with usability heuristics?

 

 

1.       How is information presented for users to navigate?

 

Content Management

Status

Yes

No

Is the KM/Corporate Center setting and enforcing enterprise-wide standards for content management in the organisation’s Intranet?

 

 

Are the six types of policies, namely, content, design, administrative, legal, security and usage that are needed for an Intranet are in place?

 

 

Have the organisation instituted procedures for formally reviewing and validating mission-critical Intranet content before it is published?

 

 

Can the organisation track Intranet content according to date of creation or last update?

 

 

Is outdated content automatically routed to reviewers for validation or retirement?

 

 

Does the organisation have explicit rules for the retirement or validation of resources that are older than preset expiration dates?

 

 

How is technical and creative excess and content overload avoided?

What about access control?

2.        What about authority and quality control?

3.        What is the organisation’s official document publishing process and policy?

4.        What are the life cycle parameters?

How are the resources selected?

Is there anyone who is monitoring the use?

How do categories get updated and expanded?

What is the diversity of the documents?


Appendix B

Questionnaire

1.        1. Which of the following is the main channel that you prefer to use to obtain information?

q       Colleagues

q       Information resources within the department

q       Intranet

q       Internet

q       Information services, such as Lexis-Nexis & LawNet (please specify): _______________

q       Libraries (please specify): ___________________________________________________

q       Others (please specify): _____________________________________________________

2. 2. What is the primary reason for your preference for that particular channel?

q       They are easily accessible

q       The information they have is relevant

q       The information they have is of high quality

q       Others (please specify): _____________________________________________________

3. How many times, on the average do you access the Intranet each day?

1 1 time 1 - 5 times 1 6 – 10 times 1 more than 10 times

4. How do you normally conduct information searching on the Intranet?

q       Keyword search

q       Phrase search

q       Browsing using categories

q       Others (please specify): _____________________________________________________

 

5. Which of the following categories do you frequently use from the Intranet in the course of your work?

1 Announcements 1 Management 1 Copyright/Integrated Circuit

1 Industrial Designs 1 Patents 1 Trademarks

1 Hearings and Mediation 1 Computerisation 1 Corporate Development

1 Finance and Administration 1 Human Resource 1 Business development

1 IP portal 1 KM 1 Resource Centre

1 Customer & Corporate Communications

 

6. Please suggest other categories that you feel should be included on the Intranet.

1 Precedent database 1 Bulletin board 1 Creative corner

1 Personnel database 1 other (please specify): ______________

 

       Precedent database is a database containing selected prior work, such as tender documents, proposals, project plans and contracts which can be re-used or modified.

       Bulletin board refers to a notice board.

       Creative corner means a category which allows staff to post their creative work to share with others.

       Personnel database is a database providing a detailed directory of staff in various departments

7. What is your assessment of the current information organisation on the Intranet?

1 Not effective 1 Not very effective 1 reasonably effective

1 Very effective 1 extremely effective

8. 8. How helpful is the Intranet to find work related tasks?

q       Provides comprehensive information

q       Gives me pointers to useful sources

q       Provides some lead information

q       It is not very helpful

q       It is wastage of time

q       Others (please specify)

9. Please indicate your impression on the following statements about subject organisation’s Intranet.

 

Strongly

disagree

Disagree

Neutral

Agree

Strongly

agree

Provides important sources of organisational information

 

 

 

 

 

Access to the right information is easy and fast

 

 

 

 

 

Information is well structured and organised

 

 

 

 

 

Information is very current and up to date

 

 

 

 

 

Expired information is systemically deleted or archived

 

 

 

 

 

The general layout, look and feel of the Intranet is great

 

 

 

 

 

The interface is user-friendly to facilitate searches and information retrieval

 

 

 

 

 

It enables departments to share information within their departments

 

 

 

 

 

It enables departments to share their information with other departments

 

 

 

 

 

An important channel for finding about changes to company policies, processes or systems

 

 

 

 

 

10. What issues or problems are preventing you from greater use of the Intranet?

q       Lack of awareness on the contents due to poor marketing

q       Contents are not systematically managed

q       Information is not well-organised

q       Navigation and usability problems

q       Lack of staff access to some of the information

q       Lack of staff skills and training to facilitate effective information search

q       Problems with creating content pages

q       Not enough resources

q       Information on the Intranet changes frequently

q       Lack of strategic vision, direction

q       Network problems, for e.g. speed of retrieval

q       Others (please specify): ________________________________

 

11. You can also access emails from the Intranet. What do you do upon receiving an email?

q       Delete the email after reading

q       Scan for viruses before downloading any attachment

q       Print the email and attachment, if any, and file the print out categorically after reading

q       Sort and organise incoming mails (& attachment) in folders and subfolders after reading

q       Delete unnecessary emails (& attachments) and archive the remaining emails to the corporate server

q       Others (please specify) ___________________________________________________________

 

12. Which of the following categories do you use to sort and organise your emails into folders and sub-folders?

q       Sender

q       Subject/topic

q       Date

q       Others (please specify) ___________________________________________________________

 

13.     What other changes would you like to propose to make the current Intranet more effective?

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

13.     The current Intranet focuses more on internal information. If changed to an enterprise portal, it can serve a single source for internal and external information and other applications. Do you think that the organisation’s Intranet should be converted to an Enterprise Information Portal?

 

1 Yes 1 No

 

If yes, can you suggest some reasons for changing the Intranet to a portal?

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Personal particulars:

Name: _________________________________ Contact No. : ___________________

Department: ____________________________ Position/Title: ___________________


Contact the Authors:

Abdus Sattar Chaudhry, Head, Division of Information Studies, Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; He can be reached at: Nanyang Technological University, # 04-08 Wee Kim Wee SCI Building, 31 Nanyang Link, Singapore 637718; E-mail: aschaudhry@ntu.edu.sg

Nor Ainah Ali and Damayanti Iman Abadi received MSc. (Information Studies) from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; Email: dama0002@pmail.ntu.edu.sg