The new knowledge management landscape

The goals of knowledge management have not changed, but the software infrastructure that makes these initiatives work is now in...

The goals of knowledge management have not changed, but the software infrastructure that makes these initiatives work is now in place. Technologies such as instant messaging and advanced search are ready to help move employees to higher levels of collaboration.

Knowledge management is an unhelpful term that describes a broad range of software products and enterprise services. The term may not be useful, but the basic goals of knowledge management have not changed for more than a decade. Forrester originally defined knowledge management in 1997 as initiatives that:

Capture information and processes The first goal of any knowledge management product is to capture and store information with its context. Once this is accomplished, the information should be categorised so people can get it when they need it.

Disseminate this information in a relevant and timely way Products need to accommodate active and passive user behaviour. For example, in some situations employees will access information by searching for and retrieving data. In other situations knowledge management products must be intelligent enough to distribute information to the right people when it is needed.

What's new about knowledge management software?
While the idea of capturing and taking advantage of a firm's collective intelligence is not new, some important trends have made it possible for firms to get closer to this promise without fighting for enterprise buy-in for a single solution. What's changed?

Firms have deployed packaged applications Firms have automated many business processes with ERP systems, groupware applications, and outsourced application providers from vendors like Siebel and SAP. These deployments bring together disparate sources of data and provide rich directories of employee information.

Application infrastructure has proven scalability Firms invested heavily in servers and storage in the late 1990s to pave the way for stable intranet and groupware applications. Application servers from vendors like BEA Systems and Oracle provide the enterprise with scale to give all users secure access to data warehouses and content management systems where important information is stored.

Tools have become more advanced and open Groupware applications have turned into portal servers; document management systems have evolved to include mature Web content management functionality; and a single business intelligence software vendor like Business Objects or Cognos can now offer data mining, reporting, and analytics software. These tools also expose better APIs that allow developers and ISVs to build online collaborative project rooms and eLearning applications that take advantage of their directory information and document repositories.

New standards like Web services ease integration Integration standards like Web services have accelerated the way applications interact and users connect to knowledge resources. For example, Microsoft will use Web services to allow users to pull up a list of Web resources like content, catalogue data, or images from within Microsoft Word and Excel; users don't have to open a browser, search the corporate intranet, and copy the information into a document.

Where will the vendor innovation occur?
Firms already own many of the products necessary to build a powerful enterprise platform to make knowledge management initiatives more successful, but few have figured out how to weave these different technologies together. To help, startups and innovators will:

Offer advanced search to improve codification Just when search seemed to be old news, vendors like Netrics and ClearForest are challenging established approaches with techniques that will bring the ease and accuracy of Google to the enterprise. Firms will use these technologies, along with external search technology from specific applications, and accurately discover and categorize information wherever it lives.

Stabilise instant messaging to encourage contribution Instant messaging has proven to be much more than a chat room fad for teenagers. The success of these tools within companies has vendors like Lotus and Microsoft working to improve shortcomings like state management (how do users store and index their conversations?) and security (how do users securely communicate and contribute corporate information?).

Improve business process management tools to orchestrate dissemination Web services will accelerate application integration. As a result, new tools from vendors like Metastorm and Staffware that help business people model and execute processes that occur across those various applications will become critical for getting employees the information they need at the time they are making decisions.

Create enterprise Weblog tools to facilitate collaboration The Weblog phenomenon is sweeping high-tech journalism and spilling over into newspapers as reputable journalists use zero-cost tools to publish their ideas on personal Web sites. The impact is a dramatically accelerated public dialogue. Firms will tap the same behaviour to enable their experts to contribute their knowledge in internal Weblogs that are indexed and searched from a central collaboration platform. Look at for an early Weblog tool set.

Joshua Walker is a research director at Forrester Research

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