posted 15 Jun 2005 in Volume 8 Issue 9
Trend tracker: KM tools
By Chris Harris-Jones, research director, information management, Ovum
I am still regularly asked, ‘Which technologies do I need to implement in order to do knowledge management?’, even though the KM community has been pointing out for many years that the most important (and difficult) issue relating to KM is changing people’s behaviour to create an effective knowledge-focused environment. Technology is a valuable support tool, but it does not ‘do’ KM by itself. Having said that, however, it is very difficult to undertake a comprehensive, company-wide KM project without some sort of technology-based support.
Personally, I tend to favour web-based solutions. They have the advantage that they are accessible from just about anywhere, through a familiar user interface, and often on just about any device. Two families of technology that are particularly important for KM are content management and collaboration. An important feature of each of these is that many organisations already have related implementations in place somewhere in the organisation.
Content management (CM) provides organisations with a mechanism for storing knowledge and information in forms such as documents, images, audio and video. When implemented well, employees will be able to find any piece of information they need, either by browsing or using the usually built-in search tools. Users can be sure that the information they find is the most up-to-date version (though they may also, of course, retrieve older versions if needed), and can see at a glance if anyone else has the item ‘checked out’ and is working on it. Many organisations already use content-management software within individual departments, so it may be possible to take this software and expand its use into a more formal, company-wide role for managing knowledge.
Collaboration tools are rapidly evolving into comprehensive and sophisticated suites that deliver a dozen or more different functions. Important elements include the ability to set up workplaces, where groups of individuals can meet virtually, exchange documents, communicate through methods such as e-mail, instant messaging and, maybe, if the underlying technology is adequate, through voice-over IP and video conferencing. Multiple workplaces can be created for projects and topics, and may include links to all the information that is relevant.
These two technologies have a very important relationship. CM systems are principally about storage, so collaboration tools have an important role in supporting the creation and maintenance of content. Collaboration technologies require content management to manage the information they contain. Collaboration tools should not attempt to take on CM functions and store information themselves – they should simply allow users to create and use pointers into an underlying repository.
This ensures the integrity of the information and makes it available to others outside the collaboration environment. The CM system should also store all e-mails, IM sessions, discussion-group data and so on, so that users can retain a complete audit trail of activities.
But don’t forget, you also need to get the cultural issues right if KM is to succeed. Technology is a critical support tool, but remains only one part of the overall picture.