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Major vendors pushing KM infrastructures

This article appears in the issue October 1998 [Volume 7, Issue 11]

By now, you've figured out that knowledge management is not a product you can buy, but a set of business practices that focus on the intelligent capture and reuse of information and knowledge held by employees. Once organizations can create a climate that fosters KM practices, technology is the catalyst that magnifies the impact of those practices.

But who is providing KM technology solutions? There are essentially two classes of vendors in the KM space: those providing KM applications and those providing KM infrastructures.

The first KM applications appeared on the market more than a year ago. Different applications provide different strengths. For example, Fulcrum (www.fulcrum.com) and Verity (www.verity.com) provide search-oriented KM solutions. BackWeb Technologies (www.backweb.com) and DataChannel (www.datachannel.com) provide solutions that focus on delivery of relevant information to users' desktops via channels. Intraspect Software (www.intraspect.com) and GrapeVine Technologies (www.grapevine.com) provide solutions that facilitate information capture and reuse in a way that mirrors the way users are accustomed to working.

Those technologies are helpful and will provide value to a wide variety of organizations. But many organizations want to tailor their custom solutions and create KM systems that are part of their existing infrastructure. That means turning to the large systems infrastructure vendors like Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) and Lotus (www.lotus.com).

Lotus

Through its years of experience with Notes, which actually helped develop the concepts behind knowledge management, Lotus has taken a step back to look at the overall picture of KM. It has discovered four basic goals that businesses strive to achieve with a KM solution: innovation, responsiveness, productivity and competency. It has built its KM strategy using frameworks and toolkits to create applications on top of Notes/Domino to achieve those four goals. That strategy resembles a building-block approach with Domino at the base and the tools and frameworks built upward from the base.

Various tools will be added to the Notes/Domino environment to enhance its knowledge management offering. Those tools include: Extended Search, Content Mapping, Linguistic Analysis, People Profiling, Personalization & Notification and Management Tools (Metrics). The Domino Extended Search product was released in July for searching across multiple Notes Domains, relational databases, text retrieval engines and Internet search sites from within the Domino environment.

Lotus is not planning to create specific KM applications. Rather it is looking to its partners and IT groups to build applications on top of the frameworks, or templates, that it will provide over time. Two of those Lotus frameworks are currently available for consumers. The first, TeamRoom, is a teamware application that will be rolled into Notes 5.0 for monitoring teams, their missions, discussions, brainstorming and tasks. The second, Domino.doc, is a document management system for managing content in various forms. In addition, Lotus is targeting other frameworks such as SolutionSpace, a collaborative project environment due next year, and LearningSpace, which is a project for long-distance learning.

Lotus product strategy: a building-block approach to knowledge management

Overall, Lotus has developed a strong strategy regarding the tools it's planning to deliver for knowledge management. And with its experience in Notes, Lotus provides a solid KM solution and infrastructure on which to build. However, because only a limited number of those tools are available today, the challenge for Lotus lies in delivering on that strategy.

Microsoft

Whereas Lotus' strategy is to focus on collaboration and knowledge management, Microsoft's strategy is to focus on the Internet and E-commerce. That focus led to the creation of Site Server, which-due to its wealth of products and functionality that facilitate knowledge management-falls into the KM segment.

Microsoft's strategy for Site Server was to develop a product that indexes and searches for information from a variety of sources, profiles information and users, and offers targeted delivery of information to provide maximum value. However, Site Server is limited now to Microsoft products, by requiring IIS V 4.0 and NT V 4.0.

Microsoft's product strategy aims to provide indexing, searching, profiling and targeted delivery.

Site Server V 3.0 is strategically designed as a Web site management and transaction system offering three main functions: publish, deliver and search. The publishing feature offers a common schema for profiling people and data. For information delivery, Site Server uses channels. The search function is like the index server on steroids-the index server's search capabilities are enhanced by capturing users' searches and behaviors (which have been tracked through visualization tools) and analyzing them for trends.

Site Server V 3.0-Commerce Edition provides additional functionality of engage, transact and analyze. It enables organizations to make information available to users, push targeted information to users, conduct transactions, and discover and analyze users' behaviors. While Microsoft provides a solid, functional platform, Site Server requires substantial development through custom scripting in Active Server Pages or other development tools.

Microsoft is not touting knowledge management as a core product focus, but Site Server certainly offers a great deal of functionality, which can enhance an organization's knowledge management solution.

What about the others?

With more organizations taking a serious look at knowledge management and its impact on the bottom line, you may be wondering what the other large infrastructure vendors are doing. To date, Netscape (www.netscape.com), Oracle (www.oracle.com) and Sun (www.sun.com) have not announced knowledge management strategies. Yet they still can play a role in an enterprise KM solution as the organization looks to integrate line-of-business applications, ERP systems, electronic management systems and KM applications with its infrastructure.

While Netscape has been reviewing its strategies, other vendors are building KM applications on top of their products. An example is one of GrapeVine's applications, GrapeVine for Netscape Compass Server. The product's functionality has been tightly integrated into Compass Server where users can receive information that has been filtered, based on topics and their ranked importance according to individual user profiles. GrapeVine also offers a collaborative feature in which users can share their opinions and assign importance rankings on specific information through a comment feature.

While the KM vendors have not formally announced partnerships with Oracle and Sun for the sole purpose of providing knowledge management solutions, those organizations are moving in directions that do play a role in KM. For example, Oracle is focusing on document management and workflow; its workflow is part of Oracle Financials. Sun has also recently acquired NetDynamics (www.netdynamics.com) to strengthen its application strategy for the Web.

The competitive landscape

The introduction of new and enhanced products into the knowledge management space by the infrastructure vendors brings up a variety of questions for vendors and users alike. How will vendors position themselves? Where do the small KM applications fit in with the large infrastructure vendors? If your organization wants to buy KM products, what are your options? The following options for users also depict how vendors may choose to position themselves.

The first option is for users to purchase KM functionality from the infrastructure vendors. That option may only provide 50% or less of your organization's KM system needs due to the current functionality offered by the infrastructure vendors.

A second option is for users to purchase a KM system in which KM application vendors build on top of the infrastructure vendors' KM offerings. That option can be achieved in two ways: A KM application vendor can integrate enhanced KM functionality with the infrastructure vendor as a general application (such as GrapeVine for Compass Server) or as a specific application (such as competitive intelligence, product launch, RD&E Notebook, etc.). The second alternative has the opportunity to meet 80% to 90% of your KM system needs.

The third option is to buy a comprehensive KM system built by vendors to compete against the infrastructure vendors. That choice will likely include integrating a number of KM applications together to meet 80% to 90% of your organization's KM strategy.

Lotus and Microsoft are answering the call for knowledge management products with very different strategies. The downside is that every single organization has a unique set of knowledge management needs. And the available products have a long way to go before they can even begin to fulfill such a broad spectrum of needs. The upside, however, is that simply by having KM strategies and beginning to deliver on them, Lotus and Microsoft have created significant interest and additional stability in the knowledge management segment for the infrastructure and KM applications.


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