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Intraspect Knowledge Server 2.0: built to do knowledge management

This article appears in the issue April 1999 [Volume 8, Issue 4]

Within the past year or two, we have seen plenty of products that call themselves "knowledge management," but that provide vastly different capabilities and perform widely differing functions. That is part of the reason that KM has been slow to transition from a buzzword to a meaningful part of the IT vocabulary.

One vendor that deserves credit for providing real meaning to the KM term is Intraspect (www.intraspect.com). From the beginning, the company developed its product as a KM solution, with a singular focus on providing a collaborative environment for collecting, finding and reusing information within an organization.

What sets Intraspect apart from some other KM products is its user-driven model. The system is designed for wide participation in an organization and allows any user to contribute information to the group memory. For organizations whose users are sufficiently disciplined to systematically contribute information as part of their everyday work functions, Intraspect provides a powerful group memory.

Intraspect is an intranet-based system that allows users to contribute and find information in the group memory right from their Web browsers or desktop clients. Unlike systems in which an administrator or "knowledge manager" creates the hierarchies and adds the content, Intraspect puts that power in the hands of the knowledge workers. With proper permissions, users can create their own organizational hierarchy within the group memory and add whatever content they deem appropriate.

That allows users to add their own business intelligence or context to an item in the group memory. For example, a competitor’s sales report might be used by an internal sales group for competitive information and forecasting, while the marketing group uses it to generate ideas for collaterals and presentation. With Intraspect, both types of users can add their context and easily see the context of the business decisions in which others have used specific pieces of information.

Intraspect also allows context to be established at the group level, or to restrict contribution from certain users or groups. With that flexibility, it can address a range of KM applications, from centrally controlled catalog servers to highly distributed group memories that capture the ongoing work of a community of practice.

An innovative component of the Intraspect system is the freedom available to users for contribution to the group memory. For example, users can drag and drop items into the group memory from Windows Explorer. They can drag in a URL right from a browser. They can use the Windows client or browser-based client to specify the location of the information to be added. They can even E-mail information into an Intraspect folder or to a collection bin for later categorization. Such flexibility increases the likelihood that relevant information is captured systematically.

When users add information to the group memory, an upload template automatically captures the author’s name and the document creation date. The template also prompts the user for specific profile information, such as title, description and any custom properties that the organization uses. Each item’s profile is tracked and appended over time, showing the complete history for each item. Users can browse for information within the group memory or search for specific information and quickly see each item’s history.

A major business application is the collaborative corporate portal, a personalized interface to the information used by people in an organization, organized by its context of use. Users can subscribe to information they need and collaboratively work around that information. In a typical portal application, users subscribe to enterprise reports and to the business decisions based on those reports. That makes the portal the logical jumping-off point for additional research or the commencement of a collaborative business process.

Knowledge Server architecture

The core of the system is the Intraspect Knowledge Server, which provides collaboration and KM services for both client-server and Web environments. It also supports E-mail network protocols and leverages the pervasiveness of E-mail within its core design: Every Intraspect component has a corresponding URL and E-mail address, allowing users to simply "mail in" their contributions to the group memory.

Intraspect uses Objectivity (www.objectivity.com) as its object database and as the store for all metadata and pointers to document URLs. Content can also be stored on the server itself, which is helpful if the documents are not stored and managed in some other type of repository, or if all users do not have access to the document’s source. Intraspect uses the Verity (www.verity.com) engine to index all information added to the group memory for both content and metadata, and to allow users to search for information in a variety of ways. The object database and search engine are completely embedded and require no separate administration.

The Intraspect server itself runs on Windows NT as an NT service. A Web interface allows the administrator to set scheduling and other configuration parameters remotely via a browser. Intraspect provides its own Web server as part of its product bundle.

Room for improvement

Although Intraspect provides an innovative solution, there is always room for improvement. For example, Intraspect does not fully leverage operating system services, administration utilities or directories that might already exist within the organization. Such integration can help lower administrative effort and cost of ownership. Intraspect plans to provide LDAP integration in the next minor release.

In addition, Intraspect is somewhat limited in terms of information viewing and access. Although information in any format can be added to the group memory, Web users must have the right native applications installed on their workstations to view documents in their original formats. The system provides no document viewer and does not currently offer integrated HTML renditioning out of the box.

Finally, the value of the Intraspect solution largely hinges on people. Users must follow sound KM practices and make information contribution a standard part of their work processes. Allowing users to enter information in an undisciplined fashion could result in an unwieldy hierarchical structure. Fortunately, Intraspect also provides for administrator control over contribution.

Overall, Intraspect offers a solid, all-around solution that delivers on the major goal of KM: making the whole greater than the sum of its parts by allowing users to contribute to a powerful group memory that all users can leverage for business value. The Intraspect product was designed with that goal in mind from the beginning and does an admirable job of translating it into software.

Spot Check

Overview

Intraspect is an out-of-the-box, turnkey solution for KM. The system is designed to integrate with users’ business practices, enabling them to capture knowledge in context. The system also makes sense for building collaborative portal solutions that give people a single place to find corporate information and communications from employees, suppliers and customers.

Platform support

The Intraspect Knowledge Server runs on any client with a Web browser, including Windows 95/98/NT, Macintosh, Unix and the Palm OS. No external Web server or database is required.

Strategic value to organizations

Intraspect Knowledge Server combines collaboration, organization, search and subscription capabilities, enabling organizations to create their own corporate group memory. The packaged application provides organizations with an easy way to access, track and share enterprise data, including reports from business intelligence, ERP, data warehouse and customer relationship management systems, as well as word processing, spreadsheet and E-mail documents, and Web-based information.


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