Organizations seeking a broader range of functionality in their software solutions often turn first to new offerings from a vendor with an established presence in their organization. The possibility of being able to engage in more business activities using a familiar portal or application interface is attractive to organizations that want to provide a consistent electronic working environment for their employees and reduce the learning curve when new software is deployed. In addition, products originating from the same vendor are likely to work together better than a diverse contingent of best-of-breed products. Licensing arrangements may be more economical and less complex with a single vendor, and fewer working relationships need to be established.
Some vendors have responded with homegrown offerings that extend the capabilities of their flagship products, others have made strategic acquisitions (see sidebar - Applications get smarter, "suiter"), and a few have done both. The concept of the smart enterprise suite (SES) has taken hold, even if the phrase itself has not become widely used. Originally described by Gartner as a blend of content management, knowledge management and collaboration, the SES later was characterized as also encompassing portals, analytics and business process management (BPM). In essence, most of the enabling technologies for knowledge management are included in the concept.
To the extent that knowledge management thrives on synergy, an integrated suite provides the potential for raising it to new levels. If corporate reports can be easily drawn from a document management system into virtual workspaces, for example, users are able to collaborate using a foundation of current, reliable documents. Sometimes a customer's need for particular strength in an area such as business intelligence mandates a best-of-breed approach for that component. Still, many knowledge-intensive businesses stand to benefit substantially from being able to operate from within a suite with broad functionality.
Canadian business law firm Stikeman Elliott began using Hummingbird's suite in 2001, when it chose Hummingbird Enterprise Webtop as the portal framework for its corporate intranet. The intranet site, called STELLA, was designed to provide integrated access to all of Stikeman Elliott's intellectual capital and ensure seamless communication between its offices worldwide. The firm also uses Hummingbird DOCS Open for document management, Hummingbird Enterprise KM for knowledge management and Hummingbird Enterprise Collaboration for client extranets. The knowledge management application uses Hummingbird SearchServer, a full-text search engine, to provide search capability for the DM repository, internal legal and business content, and certain external resources.
From a two-person law firm founded in 1952, Stikeman Elliott has grown to an international firm with nine offices and more than 400 lawyers offering a full range of business services. Its growth has come entirely from organic expansion, rather than through acquisition, and it endorses a culture of initiative and high standards of performance.
Sharing knowledge is an important part of sustaining that culture, and STELLA was designed to capture and deliver corporate expertise in a value-added format. For example, STELLA provides all lawyers across the firm with easy access to important precedents.
"A lot of work goes into preparing these precedents to make them useful to the attorneys," says Andrea Alliston, director of knowledge management in Toronto. "Having a KM application such as STELLA allows us to leverage that effort across the firm. Our lawyers can access the legal resources they need at any time and from anywhere." The precedents are searchable through STELLA by practice area and other dimensions.
Collaboration is another key feature of STELLA, both within the firm and via an extranet that provides a secure Web site for clients to access their documents or transactions.
"We recently used the extranet capability of STELLA for a very large real estate transaction," says Venky Srinivasan, director of technology at Stikeman Elliott. "Over 100 people were accessing about 2,500 documents on the site. Since the site is completely integrated with the Hummingbird DM system, adding a document to a collaboration site is a very simple process; just click, and it uploads."
Stikeman Elliott takes a dedicated and persistent approach to capturing corporate knowledge. "We have a committed KM team consisting of lawyers, library staff and law clerks," Alliston explains. In addition to precedents, memos and other current awareness information, STELLA includes information derived from meeting notes.
"Members of the KM team attend practice group meetings specifically to listen to what our practicing lawyers are saying," Alliston says. "This information is very valuable--what makes a firm like ours successful and able to perform at the top of our game is tapping into the experience of our partners and sharing that experience with other lawyers in the firm, including junior lawyers." Lawyers who are listening to experienced partners are able to go back and access tacit knowledge, made explicit by the KM team note-takers at the meeting.
In many of the knowledge management initiatives, Stikeman Elliott has developed a balanced blend of human expertise and technology. Although the firm uses Hummingbird Enterprise KM, an information search and categorization tool that analyzes documents and clusters them on a contextualized content map, "we don't think this replaces a human who classifies and annotates content and specifies documents as best of breed," Alliston says.
The initial categorization is automated, and a subject matter expert conducts the final review. Although a method for automating the addition of content could also have been included in STELLA, a decision was made to maintain the human-centric model. "We really like to get out there and talk to the lawyers who are accessing the content," Alliston explains, "because it lets us stay close to the needs of the users."
STELLA includes an expertise database in which lawyers identify themselves as having proficiency in certain areas, but no implementation of a document-based expertise tool is planned. "We believe that automated, document-based tools for locating experts are likely to be less effective in a law firm," maintains Alliston. "Often the document is authored by an associate, but the real expert you want to speak with is the partner."
The firm is planning to add automated records management and will use the Hummingbird feature for that function, but is taking a careful and systematic approach. "Our sequence is people first, then process, then technology," says Alliston. "Moving from a paper-based system to an electronic system is a big step. People need to understand the reasons for the change, be a part of the change process and know how to use the system." In the long run, Stikeman Elliott will manage its content electronically from "start to finish," adds Srinivasan.
Members of the KM and technology teams are firmly convinced that the decision to go with a suite was a good one. "We like the idea of having an integrated suite rather than different suppliers for each different application," says Srinivasan, "Hummingbird is worrying about the integration when they do a new release--it's not our problem."
Acutely aware of the potential downside of choosing the alternative, Srinivasan adds, "If we had to do a new integration every time we upgraded, the appeal of an improved version would be offset by the prospect of diverting our resources toward making the components work together." Stikeman Elliott is reaping the benefits of its choice and will continue on that course in the future, he says.
Customers are expanding into the broader functionality offered by suites in order to solve specific business problems, rather than for the sake of technology.
"Clients may want to solve the anti-money laundering problem, for example," says Eric Stevens, director of research and strategy at Hummingbird, "which entails finding out all relevant information about an individual. This may require information that is internal, including documents and account information, and some that is external."
Users want one interface in which all the information can be collected, Stevens notes, and applications that support its integration. "Sometimes prospective customers don't fully understand the terminology of ECM or collaboration, but they do know what they want to do," he says.
The drive for corporate governance and transparency is also fueling the need for an integrated approach to content and process management. "When companies are required to provide information to their customers but are uncertain about what should go out, the solution should not be to send everything ‘just in case,' " Stevens says. "An agenda should be developed to send the right information and to document the process, proving the information went out to the right people in a timely fashion." To do so, several functions, including process control, document control and collaboration, must be integrated to provide smooth interactions and transitions required to achieve compliance.
KM vendors who strategically add to their capabilities are on the right track, but they should keep in mind their customers' need for easy integration and interoperability, and should be prepared to do the heavy lifting in that respect.
Applications get smarter, "suiter"
Over the past several years, a number of companies in the KM space have extended their product lines by acquiring complementary products. Among the leading strategic acquisitions are:
Centric Software--Adding to its innovation management software product, Centric purchased most of the assets of Framework Technologies (frametech.com), which offers project collaboration, product innovation and portfolio management. Together, the products are intended to help manufacturers make product decisions and then carry out the tasks to follow up on the decisions.
Documentum--In 2002, Documentum bought eRoom, a collaboration tool. The eRoom Enterprise product integrates with Documentum's enterprise content management solution, and a hosted version designed for small to midsize companies is also offered.
Knova Software ( the new name for the combined company formed from the merge of Kanisa and ServiceWare)--The merger between the two companies will combine ServiceWare's customer service and help desk capabilities with Kanisa's service resolution management technology. ServiceWare has a strong knowledge management system for customer support and service desks, and Kanisa brings a natural language search engine and business process engine.
LexisNexis--A research service company that supports the legal and professional services industry, LexisNexis acquired Interface Software, which offers client relationship management through its InterAction product. That purchase will allow LexisNexis customers to develop their business opportunities by discovering relationship intelligence within their organizations.
Open Text--With established offerings in enterprise content management (ECM), collaboration and KM, Open Text extended its reach by acquiring an e-mail management system through its purchase of IXOS and a digital asset management product through Artesia.
Siebel Systems—In January, the CRM giant acquired Edocs, which provides e-billing and customer self-service solutions. Siebel's goal is to strengthen its customer-facing applications to move customer support to Web, e-mail and interactive voice response systems.
SiteScape--Collaboration tools that allow virtual teams to interact, which were the basis of SiteScape's solution, have been augmented by the purchase of Zon, which includes audio conferencing, Web conferencing and instant messaging.
Verity --Its product groups include intelligent content services (search, analysis and classification of information) and content capture/process automation (capture and routing of image and electronic forms). The acquisition of Dralasoft, which develops Java-based technology for business process management (BPM) and business activity monitoring (BAM), is geared toward bringing together the capabilities of its two existing groups.
Judith Lamont is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail email@example.com.