Designing a Knowledge Management Intranet

November 1, 2001

An internal Web site – or intranet – can provide staff with a visually appealing and easy-to-use information resource. A recent survey of UK companies by PMP Research showed that the second highest application of Web technology, with 84% of respondents indicating this, is for internal information management (the highest at 100% being e-mail).

The intranet provides a gateway to databases, documents, internal Web content and external Web sites. It can also provide a forum for the capture of intellectual capital and staff experiences – ‘tacit’ knowledge – which is so vital in transforming data and information into knowledge. In effect the intranet becomes an electronic community with the purpose of sharing information and experiences; it is also a forum to help each other learn, act as a support network and publish examples of excellence.

The strategic benefits from implementing a corporate intranet are set out in the box below.

The competitive costs of underlying technology make the deployment of an intranet affordable even for smaller businesses.

This document focuses upon the features that can be made available within an intranet site in order to facilitate the capture, publication and discovery of reusable information and knowledge. It does not focus upon the technical components and delivery of an intranet site, although this is an area within my company’s area of expertise.

The aim is to provide a blueprint for specifying intranet content. This addresses two key questions: (i) What content should I have? and (ii) How should I profile this content to facilitate retrieval?


How much time is wasted in recreating existing solutions? How much is the quality of decision-making impaired by sources of information and experience remaining hidden?

Do you know where to go to find policies, references or publications? Do you know to whom to speak to get assistance? How much information exists as a single copy – is it always available? How available are training materials and manuals? Do you know if you have found the current version?

What are the costs to your business of printing and copying? What are the costs of recreating lost, damaged or destroyed paper originals?


The capture and distribution of reusable knowledge, including intellectual capital, to increase the effectiveness of decision making or problem solving.

The empowerment of staff by providing them with self-service facilities for information and e-learning tools; the communication of corporate policies and publications in a timely and up-to-date manner.

Reduction in the costs and risks of paper processing by creating a digital knowledge base.

What Content?

The principles behind the design and management of the site should be the same as those desired for an external Internet site: that it is attractive, easy to navigate, fresh, reliable, accurate and up-to-date. An intranet site is best organised in much the same way, with a Home Page providing a gateway to the available content. Fundamental to our ideas is that the intranet site should be database-driven and dynamic, rather than a hierarchy of manually maintained static pages. This facilitates the query, contribution and management of content.

Firstly, we propose that you identify the types of Content (or Items) that contain information and knowledge. We suggest a number of broad groupings below for clustering purposes:

  • News
  • Policies
  • Articles
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
  • Internet
  • People
  • Rolodex
  • Community

Ideas for each of these categories are provided below.

We also recommend that each item is ‘filed’ within a subject hierarchy (or ‘taxonomy’) reflecting business processes. You will probably wish to take advantage of people’s Internet navigational experience and offer hierarchical browsing, based upon the taxonomy, in addition to structured queries against the item profiles. An example of the highest level of the taxonomy might be:

  • Accounting & Fees
  • Administration
  • Client Relationships
  • Health & Safety
  • Information Technology
  • Marketing
  • Personnel & Benefits
  • Procurement
  • Services – eg, Company Commercial, Commercial Property, Residential Conveyancing, Criminal, Employment.
  • Quality Management
  • Social

Users should have a ‘Favourites’ area where they can bookmark or monitor categories, sub-categories or individual items, such as a discussion thread or story.

Procedures may require definition and implementation to ensure that new content contributions are reviewed and approved prior to publication. You might also wish automatically to archive types of item when they reach a certain age. A Content Management section would form part of the specification.

Every item of information included within the intranet should be organic – users should be allowed to add comments or reviews in order to contribute their views and experiences: in this way tacit knowledge is continually captured and the value of information is enhanced.

(i) News

News keeps employees informed and involved; it can also be used as a method for recognition and salutation. Typically this would include internal news advertising for example commercial successes, product/service announcements, marketing campaigns and social events. Within this area you could also publish press releases and newsletters.

You might also include externally sourced news, offering for example customer or market intelligence. This could be provided by an integrated ‘feed’ or even by scanned articles cut from newspapers or journals.

Users should be given the opportunity to add their own comments and updates, thus keeping news items fresh and facilitating the contribution of tacit knowledge.

(ii) Policies

An intranet site is a vehicle to propagate best practice.

The site can offer a corporate library of Internet text and hyperlinked documents summarising policies, business processes, methodologies, manuals, staff handbooks, standard operating procedures and work instructions.

The library could provide access to and explanations for the use of recommended office document templates.

(iii) Articles

An article is a document (Internet, office, PDF, image etc) that contains reusable knowledge for all users to access. The intranet should not become a document management application for customer, supplier, case, transaction etc filing. There are dedicated applications offering this functionality; although any transformation of the intranet to a business portal could involve integration with a document management solution. I see the intranet as a publication medium for those documents, irrespective of their place within a filing system, that contain such reusable knowledge.

Stories: Whilst a business will capture an audit trail of inputs and outputs relating to a decision, transaction, research project, solution etc this does not always form the fullest narrative of this activity, especially in capturing the decision logic and experiences. We are natural story-tellers and this is an excellent method of encouraging the voluntary contribution of experiences or knowledge. A story should be created for every challenge which is met that offers reusable value to others. This would provide a corporate memory of both best practice and lessons learned.

Ideas & Opinions: For example a (Dear Sir) letters to the editor format.

Notes: Where a user can add a brief note regarding a matter; for example, a summary of experiences following a conference visit.

References: Useful documents, such as project reports, proposals, electronic demos, presentations, maps and directions.

Publications: Sign-posting to the location of hard copy or physical materials that are not available in digital format: such as books, journals or audio/visual material.

Users should be allowed to append their comments or reviews to articles. In this way they can act as focal points for clustering further tacit knowledge.

(iv) FAQs

We all find ourselves at times asking or being asked the same question. Personal productivity can be improved by providing a library of the questions and answers. FAQs are not an alternative to Stories, which focus on a narrative history; rather they provide a quick reference for accessing ‘knowhow’ information.

(v) Internet

The Internet is now a fundamentally important tool for research. A library of useful links to Internet sites would form an important part of an intranet, allowing the sharing of links otherwise perhaps retained as individual favourites. Users can add their individual thoughts on the usefulness of a site. I propose classification into different types of site:

Companies: Links to the sites of your key clients, suppliers, transaction third parties etc.

Search Engines: Links to the search engines which users have found useful.

Directories: Links to the directory sites where your company is listed and/or which are useful for marketing, procurement or research etc.

Discussions/Portals: Links to forums that support your industry sector.

Reference: Links to timetables, airlines, weather or street-map sites etc.

(vi) People

Know who your colleagues are and what they do. In addition to providing employee directories and organisation structures, you can offer the function of locating expertise.

A key focus of implementing knowledge management is the ‘mobilisation of collective intelligence’. If you are seeking knowledge, as well as the content available to you, you may wish to find colleagues who have skills, expertise or relevant experiences. Upon locating them in the process of meeting a challenge, you can either make contact with them off-line from the intranet or invite them to join in discussion with you.

This may also be useful in knowing whether, for example, you have the skills available in-house to accept a certain type of client instruction.

The intranet site would allow staff to register and publish their function, resumé, areas of practice and interest, together with their contact preferences.

Users with relevant expertise may also find you – for example, if they are monitoring new discussions or stories within a given category.

(vii) Rolodex

I do not advocate that the intranet site is necessarily to be used as a contact management or CRM solution. There are dedicated business applications that provide rich functionality in this area, especially in organising and recording the history of a relationship. However, it is useful to provide a basic database of contact information as part of the knowledge set which can be returned during a search for, say, suppliers of certain goods/services, or partners who can provide advice. Where a contact/case/practice management or accounts system provides further information or dialogues, this can in turn be sign-posted.

(viii) Community

‘Knowledge is Power’ – this outlook unfortunately often leads to the perception that we should retain knowledge for our own security or future advantage. However, this does not assist the development of a reusable corporate memory. A spirit of collaboration must be fostered through the establishment of a sense of community, encouraging electronic conversation and supporting the social mechanics of a business.

Assistance is provided by the fact that today’s intelligent, creative and perceptive workforce (‘knowledge workers’) typically seek intangible benefits from their working experience. These include the opportunities for learning, personal development, collaboration and teaming. The intranet can become a forum where they can realise these goals.

Whilst story-telling and the ability to enhance the contributions of others with reviews or comments are fundamental to encouraging the voluntary contribution of knowledge, there are a number of other methods that can be used to facilitate community activity and collaboration.

  • Discussions: Discussion threads are a widely accepted method for gaining the contribution of tacit knowledge (intellectual capital). They can lead to the uncovering of experiences from across the corporate ‘mind’ and break down traditional barriers of communication. Discussions can also take place around lighter themes to attract users to use of the intranet. Discussions could be created in their own right or be stimulated (and therefore linked to) another knowledge item, such as an opinion or a story.
  • Interviews: Interviews are a fun way to facilitate the contribution of experiences and get to know what your colleagues have skills in or responsibility for. Remember that an interview can also be written to give deeper insight by recording the tone or emotional response with which an answer is given. Consider interviewing your clients and suppliers to find out what they think about your firm.
  • Polls: Polls and voting are a fun way of seeking opinions and helping to reach decisions.
  • Personal ads: There are many ways to attract users to using the intranet, by offering non-business features. These include the placing of personal advertisements.
  • Events: Both social events and key business dates (for example, product launches, training sessions and marketing events).

Profiling Content to Facilitate Retrieval?

Searching for Knowledge

As described above, the intranet is organised into a browseable hierarchy of subject matter – your taxonomy. Each item contributed is filed within a category, typically reflecting your internal and client-facing business processes. I also recommend that each knowledge item – document, discussion thread, employee description, Web site etc – is profiled with searchable properties within a knowledge management database. I advocate the definition of a universal template to allow users to execute structured searches across all your information and experiences.

Ask yourself how practically you would wish to find/filter knowledge to meet differing scenarios. You will need to think of the fields and default values to provide ‘getting started’ drop-down lists. A number of suggestions are made below.

Business or market sector: This should tie in with any classifications (text or code) used elsewhere within the business, such as the SIC definitions. You might also wish to classify items to a geographic region as applicable. Thus for example, in searching for estate agents within a particular area, you might get their contact details, stories of experience in working with them and any news items.

Company name: The item should be indexed against one or more companies referred to in its content, allowing someone to search for knowledge related to a particular organisation. This list might include key third parties, customers and suppliers, as well as the leading companies within your business sphere. You are advised to maintain a common naming policy across all applications where companies are recorded.

The references made regarding a company with news items, stories, discussion threads etc. will complement the codified data within a practice management system. If for example you about to begin a relationship with a new client, you will be able to broaden your knowledge from the experiences and opinions of your colleagues who may have had previous dealings.

Contact: The item should be indexed against any persons named within the content. This will for example enable you to cluster knowledge around people if they do not belong to a company or as they move between companies.

Relationship type: You might wish to locate all items relating to companies or contacts of a certain type:

  • Competitor
  • Contract Staff
  • Customer
  • Guru
  • Influencer
  • Media
  • Partner, etc

  • Expertise category (for people items): In addition to profiling their areas of practice and interest against the business-process subject categories established within the taxonomy, it might be applicable to add further levels of classification. This could include lower level specialisation or ‘softer’ skills such as languages spoken. This would allow them to indicate whether they were registering that this is an area of Practice or Interest; and indicators of the extent (in time) and currency (in age since last use) of their skills to assist other users in making a value judgement in relation to their challenge. It is worth conducting research into defining common understanding of meaning (or ‘ontology’) for the business terms selected for the taxonomy.
  • Matter Keyword: Whilst the taxonomy will allow you to associate items with types of matter, you may wish to establish keywords that define eg unusual/positive/negative case ‘characteristics’.
  • Place: This covers place names with which items might be associated. This might relate to an individual property, a venue, a hospital, a prison, a court building etc.
  • Product Name: The name of any in-house or third party product that the item might have reference to. This might be a service offered by a competitor or a specific practice management computer system.
  • Product Type: The type of product: for example, practice management system or residential conveyancing.
  • Date: The date of contribution so that a user can make a value judgement on its currency.
  • Author: The name of the internal or external person who contributed the item.

Each item would be attributed with the appropriate fields, with one or more values selected for each field. A query would again allow the user to select the appropriate fields, choosing one or more values per field as appropriate. Boolean logic can be included.

Each item has a unique description: as users become familiar with the items they most commonly refer to, they will include them within their Favourites, or find them directly via their name.

Browsing the taxonomy or using a structured query against the knowledge management database can be usefully complemented by text searching of the content. We would recommend the incorporation of third-party search engine technology to deliver this function, potentially incorporating features such as word, phrase, proximity, phonic, stemming, wildcard, fuzzy, concept, pattern, synonym, thesaurus etc search types. However, we would argue that content searches alone can lead to a glut of information and starvation of knowledge, thus debilitating the user experience and making the intranet less attractive.

Seeking Knowledge

Following a search, you may find that there is insufficient recorded knowledge to help you reach a decision, solve a problem or create a solution.

This is where it is so important to include staff expertise. The intranet facilitates knowledge sharing and creation; knowledge and even best practice is created through the interaction of its members, building on each others’ ideas, experiences and skills. The knowledge, skills and experiences engendered can then be applied in the creation of new outputs and knowledge items.

A colleague might have direct experience, access to useful references or knowledge of other people who can provide input. They can be located by their areas of practice or interest and then judged according to the length and currency of their expertise. You can also gain an understanding of who can assist you by reviewing who has contributed relevant items to the intranet.

We recommend that a new Story is created for each challenge where new knowledge is being sought, ‘advertising’ the fact you have a quest and encouraging the eventual recording of a solution. Upon profiling the story, colleagues with matching expertise can automatically be informed; colleagues monitoring this area of the taxonomy will also be notified. A Notice-board of new stories would ensure the widest exposure. You can communicate with these colleagues off-line or invite them to join in electronic discussion. Common profiling would later allow others to find both your solution within the story, plus inputs from others such as discussion threads and reference materials.

Reynold Leming is a Director of Mint Business Solutions, based in Bath. See, or e-mail or ring 01225 311993.