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Vendors, consortiums scramble to define standards for KM

This article appears in the issue February 1999 [Volume 8, Issue 2]

In an effort to give the growing knowledge management systems market stability, a number of consortiums, standards groups and "institutes" are being formed by increasingly well-known supporters.

Most recently, IBM (www .ibm.com) and Lotus Development (www.lotus.com) have formed the Institute for Knowledge Management (IKM), which, along with several notable academic groups, will conduct applied research on the creation and deployment of successful KM systems. IBM's involvement will build awareness of its E-business strategy, which places its DB2 Universal Database (DB2 UDB) and Lotus Notes as the structural foundation for knowledge management applications and KM's supporting business practices.

"We're helping customers transform to E-business," said Janet Perna, general manager of database management for IBM's software solutions division. "DB2 UDB is the foundation of IBM's E-business strategy," she said.

The IKM is co-directed by Chris Newell of the Lotus Institute (Lotus' R&D group, which focuses on developing customer solutions) and draws from existing think tanks including the Thomas Watson Labs and the IBM Advanced Business Institute. In addtion to knowledge management, the Lotus Institute initially focused on three other areas impacting an organization's performance and competitive advantage--enabling effective teams, distributed learning and developing the extended enterprise.

"In the emerging economy, a firm's only sustainable advantage is its ability to leverage and utilize its knowledge," said IKM co-director Laurence Prusak, a managing principal of IBM Consulting Group. "But there has been a distinct shortage of KM research and resources available."

The initial IKM research will focus on identifying ways of encouraging innovation, customer knowledge and management experience. Once successful approaches and technologies for knowledge management are identified, they will be shared with those organizations that have invested as much as $75,000 per year for membership.

In addition to IBM/Lotus, initial IKM members include General Motors, Xerox, Buckman Laboratories and The World Bank. Research will also be shared with Boston University, Stanford, The Wharton School, Brookings Institute, University of Texas and Theseus (France).

Similarly, the Customer Support Consortium (www.customersupport.org) and the Knowledge Management Consortium (www.km.org) have been working on developing a common understanding of knowledge management.

The CSC is a non-profit alliance of technical support organizations dedicated to developing innovative strategies, business models and standards for customer support organizations. Members include Compaq, HP, Intel, Lucent, Microsoft and Unisys.

According to Greg Oxton, executive director, the CSC recognizes the challenges that face the industry--rapidly rising costs, increasing complexity, a shortage of skills and lack of support standards. The consortium sponsors will collaborate to develop effective support models, methodologies and standards across organizational boundaries.

In late March, the CSC is expected to announce the implementation of its Solution-Centered Support knowledge management methodology in four member companies. Geared for the capture and reuse of support information, it enables support organizations to increase effectiveness by deriving value from their primary asset--knowledge.

Likewise, the Knowledge Management Consortium professes a mission to develop a common understanding of knowledge management, integrate academic research related to knowledge management and help organizations exploit their own knowledge capital.

The KMC is collaborating with AIIM International (www.aiim.org) to develop standards through the ANSI/ISO process about KM.

Ed Swanstrom, the KMC's elected president is quick to make distinctions between the KMC and the IBM/Lotus-sponsored IKM.

"We're a consortium," he said. "We're not similar in any way. We're the ANSI/ISO standards body; they're vendor driven."

Swanstrom said that he sees the KMC as an organization supported by careful scientific assessment of knowledge transfer techniques, whereas he envisions the IKM as supported by the profit motives of vendors.

"IBM/Lotus is not scientific in the least sense of the word," Swanstrom said. "They are never going to be accepted by the scientific community. We're developing a computational model that works."

The KMC further distinguishes itself as a user-based organization. "We made a deliberate shift," said Swanstrom. "The board must have a majority of users." KMC board members include Phil Perkins, director of knowledge management at Pillsbury (Minneapolis) and Bill Braddy, director of knowledge services with Schneider National (Green Bay, WI).


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