Using SharePoint as a Knowledge Management System: Pros and Cons

Can IT departments build a secure, compliant and usable knowledge management solution with Microsoft software? We’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of using Microsoft SharePoint as a knowledge management system and what can be done to enhance and extend the platform’s capabilities.

Advantages of SharePoint Knowledge Management

According to Microsoft, by 2011, 78 percent of Fortune 500 companies used SharePoint for their collaboration, document storage and content sharing needs, and one in every five knowledge workers had access to the platform.

Given SharePoint’s wide infrastructural presence and tight integration with essential enterprise tools like Microsoft Office 365, it makes sense that many companies would want to build their knowledge management systems on this base software. Employees who are already familiar with using SharePoint for their day-to-day document management and business processes will find it easier to transition to a full knowledge management solution set up in their existing environment.

Disadvantages of SharePoint Knowledge Management

However, using SharePoint for managing a knowledge base also has its challenges.

Limitations of Native Search

SharePoint offers a search feature that can be adequate for retrieving a small number of files using broad query parameters, but the functionality quickly breaks down in the face of large quantities of data and more refined search requirements. Though SharePoint search capabilities are improving with each new release, there are still some importation drawbacks:

  • The user search experience depends heavily upon how the feature was set up by administrators.
  • Search is limited to the site collection the user is working with.
  • Without additional customization, search results cannot be filtered by any category other than the age of the document.

As a result of these limitations, SharePoint’s out-of-the-box search functionality falls short in returning results that are timely, comprehensive and relevant.

Using Metadata to Improve Search

Using metadata can help improve the native search capabilities, but there are some limitations. SharePoint offers a flexible approach to metadata management: You can apply formal taxonomies with limited term sets configured by administrators, or you can allow for user-driven metadata to be applied with your SharePoint environment. However, in either case, applying metadata to content within SharePoint can only be done manually Therefore, the task of content classification is not scalable for organizations that have large quantities of files stored in SharePoint.

Moreover, the results are often inconsistent. Tagging an entire content repository, file by file, is an immense undertaking that will most likely require many knowledge workers sharing the responsibility. Even if the organization makes its best effort to develop and communicate guidelines, every individual will naturally develop his or her interpretation and system for assigning metadata. If you are using managed taxonomies, workers are likely to simply choose the first tag in the list that is provided. If you are using user-driven metadata, it can get even worse. For example, one employee might use the tag “communication” while another favors “communique.” These kinds of semantic variations can produce confusion and inconsistency in search results and undermine the goal of streamlining a company’s knowledge assets to make them more orderly and discoverable.

No Support for Automation

What SharePoint sorely lacks is a native way to assign metadata automatically to files based on a data taxonomy. A data taxonomy allows a company to design a sound information architecture by classifying and organizing content stored in its knowledge management system. By enforcing semantic and categorical consistency across an entire knowledge base, a taxonomy can help ensure that content stays in compliance with regulatory standards and that out-of-compliance content can be readily discovered and flagged.

To produce rapid, relevant and consistent search results, you need a data classification engine that can ingest the semantic and structural rules of a specific data taxonomy, and then bulk-process large numbers of files by intelligently tagging them with the right metadata according to taxonomic rules. Unfortunately, you can’t achieve either of these tasks with out-of-the-box SharePoint.

Limited Filtering of Search Results

Native SharePoint search is also limited in its ability to classify content according to criteria that can’t be captured using keywords. For example, knowledge workers and organizational leaders alike often find it necessary and useful to categorize documents based on their level of importance, so a search engine should be able to sort results with the most relevant and important findings at the top of the list.

Without additional configuration, SharePoint search lacks the ability to sort results by relevance, even if metadata has been diligently and consistently applied to the whole repository. This is because the keywords used in SharePoint metadata can’t adequately denote attributes such as data importance or sensitivity. Consequently, a search query based on keywords alone will return a range of results with varying degrees of importance, listed by age.

For example, a search for the keyword “financial services” might yield results that include a comprehensive report from the office of the CFO containing confidential fiscal data, as well as an internal employee memo that briefly mentions financial services along with a few other areas in passing. Out-of-the-box search treats both documents with equal weight in the search results, even though the CFO report clearly holds more authority and significance. This limitation makes it hard for knowledge workers to use shared content efficiently and productively.

Improving SharePoint Knowledge Management Capabilities

To turn SharePoint into an effective knowledge management solution, organizations need to integrate the platform with a data classification tool that extends the out-of-the-box capabilities of SharePoint with a more robust search, a true information architecture, and taxonomy and term management.

Netwrix Data Classification makes it possible for IT professionals to classify data swiftly and accurately, and create automated workflows that streamline tasks and protect sensitive information, both on premises and in the cloud. With intelligent automation driven by Netwrix Data Classification, one global consultancy firm can now discover and tag 1,000 files in its SharePoint system every 10 minutes.

Download a free trial or request a personalized demo to find out how you can integrate Netwrix platforms with your existing SharePoint environment to create a comprehensive knowledge management solution.

Product Evangelist at Netwrix Corporation, writer, and presenter. Ryan specializes in evangelizing cybersecurity and promoting the importance of visibility into IT changes and data access. As an author, Ryan focuses on IT security trends, surveys, and industry insights.