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An introduction to the knowledge exchange software market

This article appears in the issue Nov/Dec 2002 [Volume 11, Issue 10]

By Brian McDonough and Julie Rahal

Knowledge exchange software (KES) manages and captures tacit knowledge, making that know-how accessible across the enterprise. Software offerings in this marketplace are not yet generating significant revenue for the vendors that compete in it. However, survey data suggests that services and software vendors will begin to educate the marketplace more aggressively on the benefits of KES and drive increased adoption of the application. Additional education will occur because the larger vendors whose software offerings are used to support knowledge exchange initiatives have a vested interest in driving broader adoption of KES suites.

The competitive landscape of the KES market consists of standalone KES suite vendors and supporting technologies that provide support to knowledge exchange functions, such as expertise profiling, search, knowledgebase management, and workflow design and implementation. Partnerships among vendors in the KES software ecosystem are occurring today. It will be essential for those vendors to extend their partnership efforts with additional portal vendors and leading systems integrators.

KES manages the routing and exchange of inquiries from knowledge seekers to the appropriate knowledge provider and captures the communication for future use.

KES contains the following functionality:

  • static and/or dynamic expertise profiling;;

  • matching of inquiries to experts based on business rules and expert profiles;;

  • inquiry routing based on workflow design and management;;

  • Q&A archiving into a knowledgebase; and;

  • search tools for appropriate inquiry responses across various content sources.;

Overview

Knowledge exchange software has emerged to address the need for improved knowledge sharing within the enterprise. Accessing tacit knowledge requires a combination of search and retrieval technologies, coupled with inquiry management functionality that is largely supported by a workflow that is user implemented and designed. Corporations can deliver improved decision support to the knowledge seeker by enabling business rule design and management to determine the way inquiries are routed and answered.

KES systems match an employee's inquiry with the most appropriate expert. Once an expert is identified, the software facilitates the communication process between the inquirer and the expert and then captures the question-and-answer session so that others can have access to it. The enterprise can determine the primary source of inquiry response, whether knowledgebase or expert, and route inquiries based on business rules.

In a recent IDC survey, readers of KM World were asked to identify the key business reasons that drive the adoption of a knowledge management solution. The top reason was "to enhance internal collaboration," followed closely by a desire "to capture and share best practices." In past surveys IDC has also determined that retaining the expertise of key personnel is a top priority for companies that undertake a knowledge management initiative. The core functionality of KES directly addresses those three primary business reasons for implementing a knowledge management initiative.

Business benefits

The business benefits associated with implementing KES are numerous across the enterprise. Post-deployment, KES customers that measure the return on their investment are realizing significant results. Returns on investments in KES products are generated when companies enhance internal collaboration, capture and share best practices, and retain the expertise of key personnel. When enhancing internal collaboration, KES products provide the following benefits:

  • They increase enterprisewide communication and collaboration by breaking down geographic barriers that preclude face-to-face meetings and prevent personal networks from developing.;

  • They increase visibility into the expertise located within geographically and functionally distributed workplaces by providing expertise profiling capabilities across the enterprise.;

  • They reduce the impact of time and resource constraints that employees face within an organization by enabling the identification, location and communication between employees and appropriate experts.;

  • They increase the productivity of sales force and service representatives by reducing the time spent searching for sales support information, allowing them more time to focus on customer needs.;

By capturing best practices for broader use, KES software provides the following benefits:

  • It improves process consistency and reduces training time for new full-time or contract labor via improved visibility into business processes. That is accomplished by enabling expertise and best practices to be shared across the enterprise.;

  • It facilitates decision-making processes by delivering expert-based decision support when and where it is needed.;

  • It enables companies to save time and money by reducing the risk that employees will recreate undiscoverable, existing knowledge;

    .

By retaining the expertise of key personnel, KES software provide the following benefits:

  • It enables the retention of expertise and the know-how of key personnel that is lost from natural attrition, or downsizing, by capturing their know-how as they collaborate with fellow employees.;

  • It enables companies to make useful knowledge more widely available by measuring, analyzing and managing internal expertise;

    .

Competitive landscape

The KES market is emerging, and there are only a handful of significant competitors. Several key success factors have been identified by IDC as being vital to the future success of KES vendors. This section presents a summary view of those factors.

  • Profiling—A KES product must appropriately match an inquiry with an expert. Employee profiles are created to facilitate this matching process through a variety of methods to facilitate the association of employees with the appropriate inquiries. Today, the most effective method of profiling is primarily an automated one that is continually updated without significant user or administrative support. A combination of dynamic and self-service profiling enables companies to automate most of the profiling activities, with the expert managing exceptions to their profile. The dynamic profile is created when the software crawls and analyzes information from a variety of sources to identify keywords or concepts associated with an individual.;

  • Rating systems—A KES offering may provide a system to rate the inquirer's satisfaction of a response and to establish a reference for future inquirers. The most effective rating systems consist of both quantitative and qualitative input.;

  • Incentive programs—Many times an incentive program is necessary in the first stages of a KES implementation, before the employees experience the inherent return on investment (ROI) associated with the use of the product. Most employees will begin to use the KES offering to improve their performance and effectiveness once those inherent benefits are recognized, rather than use it simply to pursue corporate incentives directly tied to its use.;

  • Reporting and tracking inquiry workflow—KES vendors offer multilevel reporting and tracking capabilities that enable management and administrators to monitor the use and effectiveness of the system for both the inquirers and the experts. KES systems also possess the reporting and tracking capabilities that provide the measurement needed for successful incentive programs.;

  • Customizable business rules and workflow—One of the most significant functionalities in a successful KES implementation is the ability to customize the business rules and workflow processes to meet each company's, or each department within a company's, needs and internal processes. Those business rules are vital because they directly affect the workflow that manages processes such as how the expert matching process occurs, how the experts are presented to the inquirer, how inquiries are routed and what processes occur once the inquiry is answered.;

  • Flexible options for access—Tight integration with an enterprise's existing processes and applications are important for a seamless KES product deployment. Portals and robust intranets are not as widely adopted and deployed as e-mail infrastructures. Furthermore, knowledge workers are familiar with communicating with their peers via e-mail. Therefore, most KES vendors rely on either e-mail or their own Web interface as the main communication vehicle.;

The KES software market is still in its infancy. However, the ability of KES vendors to provide a critical component to a successful knowledge management strategy will spur rapid growth within two years. Early adopters understand the implicit benefits of integrating people with decision-making processes, and KES has been shown to be a beneficial technology that can support that goal. Companies implementing a knowledge management initiative should consider the business benefits associated with KES offerings. Companies should seek a vendor that can provide features that will ensure widespread use among its employees for maximum benefit.

Brian McDonough is research manager of Knowledge Management Services for IDC (idc.com), e-mail bmcdonough@idc.com. Julie Rahal is a research analyst, Content Management Software, for IDC, e-mail jrahal@idc.com.


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