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Sopheon KnowledgeAgents 2.5 provides community knowledge portal

This article appears in the issue May 2000 [Volume 9, Issue 4]

By John Balla, Linda Andrews and Joshua Shehab

Even as KM products mature in their ability to provide substantive solutions, information-intensive industries have a distinct need that has largely gone unrecognized. Knowledge workers within different professions may use different highly specialized vocabularies, yet need to collaborate with one another because they share similar problems.

Sopheon has addressed that need with its KnowledgeAgents 2.5. By attending to the collaborative aspects of inter-community relationships, Sopheon raises the bar on the portal market by providing community capabilities designed for interaction both within and outside the organization.

KM for communities

KnowledgeAgents 2.5 is a community knowledge portal solution built on top of Sopheon's Agents technology. KnowledgeAgents provides the ability to gather, filter and disseminate information from internal and external sources, while profiling that information for distribution to individual users.

The client interface presents users with one of three "views." The personal view provides a personalized slice of the knowledge repository, which can include content from file and groupware systems, Web sites and news feeds. The corporate view is essentially a company's intranet home page containing information relating to company events, news, human resources, etc. Finally, the community view is designed for trading partners and customers, allowing them to participate in one or many communities of interest.

Those views are driven by profiles. KnowledgeAgents allows a user to create a profile on a subject that is critical to their work, defining a vocabulary of interest--which may include areas of interest shared by others. Using that vocabulary, the software hunts through the corporate knowledgebase to identify and deliver pertinent information to the user's desktop via e-mail or a special Internet page. That enables users in the same community to access the same information.

KnowledgeAgents offers a wide range of other knowledge management capabilities that are conducive to collaboration. For example, the product allows users to leverage pre-existing workflows (or create their own) to better manage their tasks and interactions with other users or groups. KnowledgeAgents can compile data on other users' skills, and users can then search for experts just as they would search for content. Other strong KM features include alerting, profiling, mapping, visualization and summarization.

Even with all those features, KnowledgeAgents is still easy to set up. No programming or client software is required, and installing the server takes only a few minutes. Configuring a simple application, creating communities, adding users and engaging in basic collaboration can be accomplished in as little as half an hour.

IT platform and architecture

Architecturally, KnowledgeAgents is a three-tier, thin-client system. All components are built to open standards to support the Windows NT and Unix platforms. The product itself is written in both C++ and Java, with most server functions written in C++ for optimum performance and most user functions written in Java, for both flexibility and rapid application development. APIs are currently limited to C++. We would like to have seen more object-level APIs, such as COM or CORBA.

As for the core client-server interface, KnowledgeAgents uses the HTTP protocol for all communications between all physical and virtual devices. Security is managed at the object level, which is critical for extranet applications, in which organizations may grant partial access to trading partners and customers. In addition, the system can authenticate users against Windows NT security, and it can import LDAP schema from Unix servers. The product is also ODBC-compliant and ISO-9000 certified. However, it does not currently support POP3 and SMTP mail protocols.

KnowledgeAgents uses Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle as its database and Verity or IBM Text Miner as its search engine. Current legacy integration is limited to Microsoft Exchange public folders and Lotus Notes databases, although custom modules can be written for other legacy systems, such as enterprise resource planning and mainframe systems.

What's next?

KnowledgeAgents does not currently provide an engine for automatic categorization, although Sopheon plans to add that functionality in the next year. It also lacks basic content management integration with PolyDoc's KnowledgeCap product, which allows the capture of content from a variety of media, including paper, fax, e-mail and standard desktop applications. Finally, while the KnowledgeAgents' unique use of annotations furnishes basic asynchronous collaboration between users and communities, it falls short of true discussion threads capability.

As a company, Sopheon has an excellent vision for how its technology can be used to increase knowledge worker creativity and foster collaboration and innovation. That vision is manifested in KnowledgeAgents 2.5: The product is a good portal application with good searching and collaborative KM features, and it is easy to deploy and scalable to the enterprise. For organizations that want a portal that can handle KM from both an enterprise and extraprise perspective, KnowledgeAgents makes good sense.

John Balla is a senior analyst and Linda Andrews and Joshua Shehab are technical writers with Doculabs, 312-433-7793, e-mail info@doculabs.com.

Spot Check

Overview

KnowledgeAgents, a portal application suite directed at both corporate and extraprise environments, provides the ability to gather, filter and disseminate information from internal and external sources, while also automatically profiling that information for distribution to individual users. The system is designed to provide a central corporate knowledgebase that can act as both the repository and the "broker" for information stored within the corporate memory.

Platform support

KnowledgeAgents is a three-tier, multithreaded thin-client-server system that leverages Web application server integration for high performance and scalability. The product is designed to sit above the enterprise system architecture, thereby enabling it to integrate seamlessly within a company's existing IT architecture. All components are built to open standards to support the Windows NT and Unix platforms.

Strategic value to organizations

KnowledgeAgents 2.5 is designed to address the collaborative aspects of inter-community relationships. Easy implementation and use, scalability and a wide array of KM capabilities make KnowledgeAgents an attractive solution to organizations looking for a portal that serves enterprise and extraprise constituencies


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