One sure thing about the oft-misunderstood concept of knowledge management is that it means different things to different people.
David Goldes, managing director of The Basex Group Inc., a New York-based research firm, defines knowledge management as the "classification, dissemination and categorization of information and people throughout an organization."
This has been accomplished through the use of e-mail and workflow and collaborative software such as Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes, but today's knowledge management solutions go much further.
A recent study conducted by research firm Cambridge Information Network, the San Francisco-based division of Cambridge Technology Partners Inc., found that 85 percent of chief information officers surveyed believe that managing knowledge creates a competitive advantage by fostering faster and better decision making. And 35 percent of chief information officers consider knowledge management a top priority.
Yet, the same study found that chief information officers face the problem of pushing knowledge management beyond the grassroots level because the concept of knowledge is not credible in the boardroom. The "bean counter" mentality typically wins over intuitive benefits and, in general, knowledge management solutions still are immature, according to the study.
In fact, only 3 percent of the companies polled said knowledge management was pervasive in their environments. Moreover, only 7 percent had a chief executive that is strongly pushing knowledge management, and 21 percent of the chief information officers polled believe knowledge management is a fad.
In terms of their own strategies, 35 percent of the respondents said they are in the beginning phases of implementing some sort of knowledge management, 32 percent said they were informally pursuing such a strategy, and 25 percent said they had planned a strategy but had not yet implemented it. Only 6 percent said they had a well-defined strategy, and only 2 percent said they had a controlled strategy.
However, 90 percent of the respondents said they plan to leverage key knowledge management tools such as intranets, data warehousing and document repositories by 2002.
In fact, Cambridge Information Network reports that every tool category the firm studied will achieve at least 20 percent adoption by 2002. Other knowledge management tools include XML tagging tools, best-practice repositories, database mining tools, workflow tools, workflow applications and online application-processing tools.
Doug Kalish, chief knowledge officer at Web integrator Scient Corp., San Francisco, said, "[Knowledge management] to us is the environment,people, processes and technology,which improves the performance of Scient as a company and our people as individuals."
Knowledge management tools have evolved from office-productivity applications such as word processing and database management, and they tend to be point solutions to problems such as collaboration and content management, Kalish said.
"Taken individually, these tools solve specific problems, but we have been disappointed by the lack of integration among the tools," Kalish said. "We have had to buy, build and integrate our solutions in order to provide an enterprisewide solution."
Scient has constructed a "hyperportal" that organizes knowledge across the entire enterprise and links it together at a very low level, Kalish said. "Starting with an enterprise data model, we have integrated information across people, projects, skills, clients, vendors and finance. All of our information is accessible with common tools for content management, search and collaboration," he said.
"Managing knowledge is a far more ambitious task than even trying to catalog all that is known," said Jonathan Spira, senior managing director at The Basex Group. "It is developing a culture and mechanisms which foster contributions of ideas and thoughts, in addition to having a system that is all-knowing about people, places and things."
Spira and others who follow the knowledge management space said Cambridge, Mass.-based Lotus is in the forefront of the arena, taking the concept beyond its successful Notes product.
"Lotus has embarked upon a strategy that takes [knowledge management] out of the theoretical," Spira said.
The company's upcoming Raven knowledge management suite puts all of the pieces of the puzzle together, Spira said.
Raven will integrate e-mail, a calendar, realtime chat and workgroup collaboration, along with tools for content tracking and analysis, user profiling and expertise location, and a knowledge portal to manage personal and other community information and activity. CRN
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