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ERP vendors embrace knowledge management

This article appears in the issue June 2000 [Volume 9, Issue 5]

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have been implemented to support the most critical business processes in global corporations. Much of the human capital in the enterprise resides in the current users of ERP systems; they are the people who enjoy the overview and insight offered by ERP and who know what makes those places hum.

This article takes a look at the KM offerings of the big ERP vendors, including SAP, PeopleSoft, Baan, Oracle, J.D. Edwards, Informix and IBM.

As might be expected in a survey of industrial software vendors, who have to keep their eye on the ball (i.e. ERP systems), knowledge management does not appear on most of the vendor home pages. But KM topics are just a click away on all of them, demonstrating that KM is no longer just an emerging market, but a burgeoning tributary of the mainstream.

J.D. Edwards is the only one of those major ERP vendors to feature knowledge management on its home page. And it has by far the coolest/hottest Web presentation of any ERP vendor. Check it out at J.D. Edwards.

J.D. Edwards promises to deliver and exploit a competitive edge for its customers with Active Knowledge Management. In that KM approach, business advantage is honed by highly dynamic interaction with ERP systems. The key benefit to users is the most efficient access to business-critical data derived from business transaction systems.

SAP Knowledge Warehouse provides the infrastructure for enterprise knowledge management initiatives and builds on the proven R3 system, which is already solidly pervasive in many global corporations. Web users have their own LaunchPad in mySAP.com Workplace, which customizes the screen to present useful online tools. SAP offers the software configured for specific roles, or SAP consultants can design it. Bold users can also design the presentation of their favorite components themselves. Those mass customization features allow access to corporate data with optimized delivery for individual tasks and job functions.

SAP Knowledge Warehouse offers a wide suite of document/content management and information retrieval capabilities. Its particularly robust file storage discipline ensures that a document is stored only once, no matter how often it is cached by dispersed users. SAP refers to that process as managing information objects, and any object can be generated in multiple formats to meet the needs of each user. Knowledge Warehouse 5.0 is due out this summer, and will enable users to create and edit content over the Web, opening the door for flexible collaboration on enterprise SAP R3 systems.

PeopleSoft offers knowledge management in its Interactive Business Technology services. Specific offerings include business intelligence, computer-based training, custom search engines, instructional management and classic call center support. PeopleSoft KM practices understandably emphasize the fundamental goal of improving business process efficiency.

At first it seems that PeopleSoft is not playing up KM, but all of the above services are KM-related. The corporate focus is clearly on delivering in the company's areas of core competency, but it is just as clearly defining KM as an established practice for its clients.

Baan Knowledge Factory (go to Baan to register for Passport to Baan.com) addresses the demand for training and support requirements of its ERP systems, which comprise a significant, ongoing cost in every ERP initiative. Last year, IBM and Baan made a joint announcement of their cooperative offering of Baan Education online. Baan's strategic approach to dynamic instruction addresses the critical need to ease implementation and support of ERP systems. Baan positions those knowledge offerings as critical components of the lifetime value of investment in ERP.

BaanFrontOffice integrates MS Office 2000 applications to Baan applications to help and empower knowledge workers. That tight integration with the predominant business desktop gives users the ability to easily apply the data analysis capabilities of MS Office on their own ERP systems data. That integration also subsumes classic document/content management functions within the MS Office environment, which coincidentally enables collaboration across the enterprise. Once again, Baan emphasizes the efficiency potential of easily supportable solutions, addressing the high-cost human elements of the KM equation, including installation, training and support.

Oracle is the backbone for most of today's e-business on the Web. In fact, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is in the running to overtake Bill Gates as the richest American. The company must be doing something right!

Almost all Fortune 1000 companies have invested in data warehouses. In that most mechanical of all KM approaches, Oracle users will enjoy access to perhaps the most widely deployed ERP environment. Oracle is a leading booster of the Common Warehouse Metadata Interchange to standardize business language in XML. That standardization of access and classification of ERP data will provide efficient inter-enterprise sharing because it will be weightless to users once it is accepted.

If we can all agree a duck is a duck, and we all put "duck" in the XML metadata, we can all share a common B2B data language. While that is a techy issue, it's undeniably key to all future evolution of Internet KM implementation. By sharing common classification terms, we will enjoy the equivalent of the public library card catalog--and it will work across the infinitely expanding World Wide Web. The benefits of sharing metadata across all data warehouses are particularly obvious in such KM endeavors as business intelligence, internal/external customer support, user education and CRM.

Informix Software in May released Ardent DataStage 4.0, a data transformation and integration solution supporting e-business, data warehousing, enterprise portal and business intelligence applications. The package includes ClickPack for clickstream analysis of Web and e-commerce traffic, as well as the first XML DTD for extraction, transformation and transport (ETT) metadata.

Informix also made a joint announcement with OmniBus Systems to provide digital asset management for broadcasters, including intelligent management of video and audio media. The solution is specifically designed to reduce the manual effort required to handle the material and to increase efficiency in managing those digital assets.

When you search for "knowledge management" on the major ERP vendors' Web sites, the number of hits ranges from huge to only a few. One site offered only one hit, but it was the unified link for all the company's relevant info. In information retrieval terms, that is cool because it's 100% efficiency in relevancy and recall. Somebody, most likely a person and not a program, has tweaked the system to give the user the best access to the specific topic they are researching, a clear example of good KM practice.

That one site with a dedicated focus on knowledge management is IBM. In specific content and deployable resources, IBM offers by far the most advanced offerings of ERP vendors. Of course, IBM is not primarily an ERP vendor, and perhaps doesn't belong in a review of the market players in the narrowly defined field.

You can read a good article on the people aspects of knowledge management in Carol Hildebrand's interview of Larry Prusak, director of IBM's Institute for KM. Prusak says it's a real battle among "those companies that have an overly technical focus on KM and those that think it's all just talking and cultural issues."

The common theme among all of the approaches is that the current business systems architecture, ERP, enables easy and efficient KM enhancements for untold numbers of enterprise users across national and global corporations. Each offering provides an easy, Webby user interface combined with automated access to core business process data. In today's ever more demanding information environment, where lookup and response time is crucial, the major ERP vendors are responding with powerful KM features, functions and services that everybody already knows how to use.


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