Stake your claim in the knowledge management game

With Microsoft and Lotus revving up their knowledge management offerings, a question hangs over the role IT departments will play in the drive to share knowledge more effectively

Lotus' unveiling of Raven at Lotusphere last week signalled knowledge management's coming of age. But who should own it?

With Microsoft and Lotus revving up their knowledge management offerings this year, a question hangs over the role IT departments will play in the drive to share knowledge more effectively.

While IT departments will have to configure, implement and support the technology powering knowledge management, experts agree that it will be the culture of an organisation that determines the success of a project.

Lotus has announced that it will launch its Raven knowledge management portal this summer. The supplier promised that this technology, made up with Lotus Domino, IBM linguistic technology and an IBM database, will help businesses get more out of in-house expertise.

Raven will analyse how people use and edit documents, inferring a profile of their expertise and identifying tacit knowledge within an organisation - that intangible know-how that most people gain informally.

Microsoft is expected to present a range of knowledge management products this year. These will be based on Exchange 2000 with its Webstore technology and Windows 2000 Active Directory.

Like it or not, knowledge management is coming of age, said Ovum research analyst Eric Woods. "Some people are sick of the term, but you can't ignore the underlying issues," he said. "Finding expertise is difficult in any leading edge area. On the technology side, there is some hype, but the existence of the Internet and e-mail has been a driver to create more structured information."

Vertical markets, such as professional services and pharmaceuticals, will be first to take up knowledge management tools, said Woods. "Those that get it right will be able to surge ahead of the competition," he predicted.

Based on a study commissioned by Lotus, IDC found that knowledge management deficiencies and the time taken to find information can cost $5,000 per employee.

Although computer systems are now beginning to fulfil the promises of the knowledge management hype, specialists in this area still promote the mantra "this is not about technology".

Julie Zutz, knowledge management co-ordinator at IT services group Keane, which worked with Lotus to implement early versions of Raven in-house, calculates that knowledge management is 30% technology and 70% behavioural change. Keane found that developing proposals takes days instead of weeks with the new system.

Yet if knowledge management is not about technology, what role does this leave for IT departments?

"IT managers understand the possibilities better than the business people sometimes," said Woods. "There is an option of getting much more involved with the business - which could mean good career opportunities."

Those who are keen to be leaders in knowledge management should network with people in departments that recognise the importance of the subject and have the power and influence to make things happen, said Woods.

IT has been here before, he warned. The introduction of e-mail and the Internet meant IT took flack for anything from libellous e-mail to pornographic Web sites. The same mistakes must not be made again if knowledge management is to be successful. "The worst position to be in is to take responsibility for a system that you do not have power over," he said.

So, despite corporate culture being key to knowledge management, it is essential for IT to play a role. "Some people like to keep the technology out of this," said Woods. "But every organisational issue is also a technical issue. Technology is the tool businesses use today."

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