Knowledge management in the company
How can a tool help a service company organize its own knowledge?
In this case study we explain how we built a tool for internal knowledge management with gempex.
"As a know-how-driven company, we - like many others - struggle with the topic of knowledge management. Since there was no software on the market that served our purposes, I looked for other solutions and came across SIDESTREAM. Not only did I find a super dynamic, lively team that was very familiar with modern tools, but also the first solution that was quickly usable for us. The collaboration was a lot of fun and therefore we will also tackle our next projects with SIDESTREAM."
The initial situation
Every service company focuses 100% on its customers. Accordingly, the concentration is always completely on the ongoing projects. What is often neglected in the daily project routine is to conserve knowledge in a meaningful way and make it accessible for the future.
Smart knowledge management avoids having to start from scratch for every project. In addition, the know-how is not only stored in the heads of individual employees, but can be accessed by the entire organization. Ralf Gengenbach, Managing Director of gempex, has recognized this problem and developed the “Toolbox” together with SIDESTREAM. It is intended to make knowledge within gempex more accessible.
Other information management solutions were also tested, but they did not meet the challenge. With the established, SharePoint-based file system, for example, it was difficult to ensure the context of the documents (project assignment, topic assignment) and quick findability. In addition, documents should be able to be stored quickly in the tool on the one hand and converted into high-quality templates later on on the other. In this way, the entire lifecycle of a document is covered.
The solution approach
The knowledge at gempex is in the form of documents. There are no uniform templates for these documents. The aim is therefore to provide the documents as templates or samples. In order to transfer the knowledge from one project to the company's knowledge database and then to another project, the correct abstractions must be formed. Instead of the direct elaboration of professional templates, a two-stage process should therefore be introduced in which, after the end of the project, valuable documents created by gempex are first collected, neutralized and keyworded before they are reworked into templates in a further process.
For the implementation, it was important to get a usable version up and running as quickly as possible. In this way, the internal acceptance as well as the benefit of the tool could be validated before time was spent on further development. It was ensured that this version would be secure and user-friendly from the start, despite the agile iteration. A version that was too lean would have had a negative impact on user acceptance. We also invoked collaborative feature engineering to do this: because gempex knows the subject matter best, but at the same time we were able to suggest valuable features from our experience in software development. For example, an important feature is a multi-document upload, because many documents from the same project are uploaded and share most keywords. Sometimes 1-2 such features are enough to make the application a success.
After an overall analysis of digital potentials at gempex, the topic of knowledge management was identified as a useful potential. Subsequently, the requirements were worked out together. The first version was then implemented in two sprints. This happened within short iterations with gempex. However, we always kept in mind to get into production as quickly as possible and let the users decide what was needed.
Technology Deep Dive
The “Toolbox” is designed as a modern, container-based web application. For the first version, 6 Docker containers were hosted on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud in Frankfurt am Main. Hosting in the cloud allows gempex’s employees to access the “Toolbox” from anywhere. This is very important, as consultants often work at the customer's site. Although this would also be possible with gempex's on-site servers, the effort required to ensure mobile access with the same security standards as with AWS would be significantly higher. The “Toolbox” has its own user management system to be independent from the rest of the gempex system. In situations like this, it's always important to keep the overhead for these "hidden" features to a minimum while not sacrificing security and convenience. The choice here was a combination of Keycloak and Oathkeeper. Besides the fast integration as separate Docker containers, the already existing administrator user interface is a USP of these solutions. Now the “Toolbox” can be operated completely without dedicated IT support, as most issues can be solved via the admin interface. The actual web application was implemented with VueJS and Typescript and refined with Ant Design.