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The Tools and Technologies Needed for Knowledge Management.

As we move into the 21st century, the need for rapid access to relevant knowledge has never been greater. The business world is increasingly competitive, and the demand for innovative products and services has yet to be satisfied. Governments and private sector organizations alike struggle with the need to respond to customers whose level of sophistication and awareness grows every day.

A recent article in Business Week reminds us that "The Darwinian struggle of daily business will be won by the people -- and the organizations -- that adapt most successfully to the new world that is unfolding." In the same article, the 'author suggests that "Attributes that made them [corporations] ideal for the 20th century could cripple them in the 21st century" (Coy 2000). In this century of creativity and ideas, the most valuable resources available to any organization are human skills, expertise, and relationships. Knowledge management (KM) is about capitalizing on these precious assets.

About Knowledge Management

We have determined that knowledge and information are not the same thing. However, this may be a moot point when discussing the differences between the management of knowledge and the management of information. The real differences lie in what happens during the process. Records and information management (RIM) primarily focuses on finding work-related objects and moving them around, while KM concerns itself with finding and moving work objects as well as with how they are created and used. One other key distinction is that the means of creating, capturing, and communicating in KM is very broad while the focus in RIM tends to be on electronic and paper-based information.

We have also established that KM is a process, albeit with many different variations in definition. One information technology research and publishing company defines KM as a formal process that engages an organization's people, processes, and technology in a solution that captures knowledge and delivers it to the right people at the right time. Arthur Andersen defines KM as "the discipline of enabling individuals in an organization to collectively acquire, share, and leverage knowledge to achieve business objectives" (Dyer and Hobson 2000). Whatever the variations in definition, KM reflects a set of principles that recognize the enormous value that human resources bring to an organization.

In recent years, the benefit of leveraging knowledge has been commonly discussed at numerous conferences. So why do we still find it so difficult to apply? Leveraging knowledge effectively requires us to overcome hierarchies and build environments in which knowledge sharing and collaboration become a routine way of doing business. It also requires a technology infrastructure that encourages collaboration and facilitates knowledge capture and access. As technology continues to advance the potential capabilities and value of KM, records and information managers and knowledge managers need to begin harnessing those technologies in order to develop KM programs that will not be ignored.

Knowledge Management Software

The recently published report Knowledge Management Software Market Forecast and Analysis, 2000-2004 estimated that the total KM software market will reach $5.4 billion by 2004 (McDonough 2000). But what does this mean? What is included in the KM software market; why is this important? The KM software market might be considered in terms of two major categories: KM infrastructure tools and technologies and KM access software.

Because they recognize the broader potential of KM, these categories are ideally suited to ongoing discussion in The Information Management Journal. New tools and technologies will be introduced and discussed as they emerge, with some discussion about specific products.

KM Infrastructure: Tools and Technologies

Infrastructure provides the base or platform upon which KM solutions are built. It consists of repositories for unstructured data (i.e., document and content management) and structured data (i.e., data warehousing, generation, and management). Groupware is also part of the infrastructure, as it supports the collaboration needed for knowledge sharing as well as e-mail and other forms of interpersonal communication required for the efficient, time-and location-independent exchange of information.

Data Warehousing Infrastructure

Data warehousing can be defined as a process that extracts data captured by multiple business applications and organizes it in a way that is meaningful to the business, supporting the need to inform decision-makers. Data warehousing products encompass tools and application software that support design, development, and implementation of these solutions.

There has been a steady and rapid growth in the adoption of data warehousing tools and technologies and continued advancement in their sophistication. This expansion is the result of an increasing focus on systems that support access to and analysis of data rather than on systems designed primarily for capturing transactions as seen in the early and mid-1990s.

Two types of data warehousing software are used extensively in support of KM initiatives:

* software that supports the transfer of operational data to the warehouse (i.e., data extraction, cleansing, transformation, loading, and administration)

* warehouse management (e.g., software that supports ongoing data management through the use of multi-user database server software)

KM initiatives are driving the need for further improvement in data warehousing tools and technologies. In particular, KM imposes the need for extraction of information from unstructured data and the ability to draw conclusions based on its relationship to more structured data.

An increasing need for software that supports information access (i.e., end user data access and analysis) and analytic applications (i.e., domain-specific applications that enable organizations to measure, evaluate, and optimize business performance) is also driving growth in the demand for data warehousing tools. Because information access tools and analytic applications have a scope that is much broader than KM, they are not included in the suite of KM specific tools and technologies.

Content Management Software

Content management software represents the convergence of full-text retrieval, document management, and publishing applications. It supports the unstructured data management requirements of KM initiatives through a process that involves capture, storage, access, selection, and document publication.

Content management tools enable users to organize information at an object level, rather than in binary large objects (BLOBS) or full documents. The information is broken down by topical area and usually tagged via extensible markup language (XML). Both capabilities dramatically increase the opportunity for reuse.

Content management allows information to be organized as fully linked corporate documents for publishing to intranets, extranets, Web servers, or the electronic document repository. As content management matures, it will provide the ability to process documents and create indexes based on concepts and context that will support much improved information retrieval.

Businessware Management Systems

Businessware management systems (BWMS) provide support for real-time application integration, event-driven processing, and business process automation. They are layered onto messaging middleware and support intelligent message routing, business rules that control information flow, security, and system management and administration.

BWMS, although transparent to the user, represent a small but rapidly growing portion of the KM infrastructure software market. Because BWMS support business process automation across a variety of applications, they enable knowledge capture and use to become an integral part of day-to-day business processes. Their characteristics will become increasingly important as application integration software and enterprise information portals begin to merge.

Collaborative Applications

Collaborative applications' core functions include e-mail, group calendaring and scheduling, shared folders/databases, threaded discussions, and custom application development. Collaborative applications provide the capabilities needed for identifying subject matter experts who can give answers to knowledge seekers. Profiling tools and techniques incorporated in collaborative technologies are used to support "unattended" identification of best information sources based on patterns emerging from use of and participation in collaborative activities.

Knowledge Management Access Software

Knowledge Management Software Market Forecast and Analysis, 2000-2004 suggests that "KM access software provides individual and group access to a knowledge base. It consists of enterprise information portals (EIPs), advanced searching and Web-based query to provide access to both structured and unstructured data, augmented by KM tools. Intellectual capital management (ICM) software builds and manages the employee competencies inventory; supports process improvement, definition, and capture; and monitors and measures processes. Other KM tools gain insight into how individuals and groups access information, then [they] monitor what information they create for the purpose of profiling sources of tacit knowledge" (McDonough, 2000).

The KM access software market comprises several segments:

* Enterprise information portals (EIP) integrate access to information and applications to enhance the decision support and productivity of the user for the user. EIP functionality ranges from access to structured data, to classifying and searching unstructured data, to supporting collaborative processes. Some expect that a more advanced type of EIP technology will emerge, one that provides strength in integrating access to information and applications within the context of a business process. EIP are poised to become the means for supporting KM information access and delivery. According to a recent article published in KMWorld, "the evolution of portals will lead to integrated access to heterogeneous types of data" (Morris, 2000). The article identifies three waves in the convergence of unstructured and structured data access:

1. 1998-2000 -- user interface-led integration (e.g., adapting consumer portals like Yahoo and Excite for corporate intranets)

2. 2000-2002 -- separate but equal access to structured and unstructured data, corporate portals with embedded advanced features (e.g., Viador [] bundling Infoseek's [] search engine with its reporting capabilities, or Hummingbird [] bundling its Andyne business intelligence technology with its PC DOCS technology)

3. 2002 to ??? -- unified structured and unstructured data access (e.g., further advances in text mining, concept extraction, and content management)

* End-user query and reporting tools are designed specifically to support ad hoc data access and report building by even the most novice users.

* Content retrieval technologies such as search engines are used to access unstructured information. Taxonomies or indexes created by content infrastructure software may be leveraged to better access this unstructured data.

* Intellectual capital management (ICM) software enables users to transfer know-how into corporate policy and procedure, thereby leveraging expertise by making it available to support business practices as needed. ICM software makes this possible by incorporating content that coaches knowledge workers through a decision process, usually in a collaborative environment. Since the capability to identify contributors that have the know-how required to define a process is important, skills inventory management and profiling technology are usually incorporated into or leveraged by ICM software. As organizations use ICM software to manage their intellectual capital proactively, total corporate value will increase. By capturing this human capital and making it a component of the firm's structural capital (i.e., repeatable business processes of an enterprise) and relationship capital, the organization's value expands (See Figure 1).

* Workforce management applications contribute to hiring, deploying, and retaining employees in ways that better support achievement of overall business objectives. Some level of workforce management functionality is present in nearly all business or enterprise applications, particularly the human resource application market. A skills inventory management application (a type of workforce management application) can be used to determine the location of corporate expertise in support of a KM initiative. When used in conjunction with the profiling functionality found in many of today's collaborative applications, this could become a very powerful KM tool.

Emerging KM Tools and Technologies

New KM tools, technologies, and capabilities continue to be developed. Increased sophistication will play a major role in furthering the growth of KM. Other technology advances include software called knowledge exchange platforms, which is used for buying and selling knowledge, software to manage corporate learning, knowledge workflow management software, and knowledge profiling technologies. These applications will advance structured and unstructured data access capabilities, enhance information retrieval, and improve subject matter expert identification.


The variety of KM access software offerings available and in development lead some to conclude that consolidation must occur for the myriad technologies to gain market adoption rapidly. In most instances, the infrastructure needed for KM is largely in place, but the need to support employee decisions more intelligently while improving productivity will create and sustain demand for KM access software.

Can we reasonably expect KM to continue to interest the organizations for which we work? The simple answer is that if these organizations don't continue to be interested and if they don t continue to pursue KM, their ability to leverage the most valuable resource -- their employees -- will become increasingly difficult.

Innovation and invention is incredibly expensive to support, but the issue is one of balance. Every organization needs to invest in its future and simultaneously keep an eye on current expenditures. Without the ability to capitalize fully on what it knows already and what it continues to learn from customers, employees, and suppliers, it will be difficult for an organization to cost-effectively design, develop, and produce the products and services its customers want.

The 21st century brings with it a new economy that requires us to become more productive without increasing the inflation rate. Potentially there are two key contributors to success in such an environment: people and technology. It is the combination of these two factors with new business processes and business models that will underpin success in the next decade. The importance of KM technology and the role it will play in organizational success cannot help but increase.


Coy, Peter. "The Creative Economy." BusinessWeek, 28 August 2000: 78-82.

Dyer, Greg and Paula Hobson. "Knowledge Management Profile Series: Arthur Andersen." IDC Bulletin, September 2000.

McDonough, Brian. "Knowledge Management Software Market Forecast and Analysis, 2000-2004." IDC Report, August 2000.

Morris, Henry. "Three Waves of Information Portals for Knowledge Management." KMWorld, July/August 2000: 8-9.

Jan Duffy is vice president, solutions research with IDC Canada, an information technology research and publishing company. She is a business improvement professional with a special interest in designing total systems -- people, processes, and technology -- to support knowledge work and knowledge workers. Duffy is a frequently published author and presenter on the topic of knowledge management. The author may be contacted at
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Publication:Information Management Journal
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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