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Bringing Structure to the Unstructured — Total Knowledge Management

This article is part of the Best Practices White Paper Enterprise Knowledge Management [November 2004]


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Winning in the competitive global marketplace requires agility in order to leverage content dispersed across the enterprise, enhance service delivery, improve efficiency and reduce risk. Managing enterprise content within an organization and using it to its full potential is critical to success. This means managing both “structured” and “unstructured” content, business processes, line-of-business solutions, all while maintaining the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO).

The ability to systematically capture, create, manage, access, review, distribute, publish, store and preserve all business content—from ERP/CRM systems, databases, e-mails, documents, file systems and external information systems—and leverage this information to its full potential represents the concept of Total Knowledge Management.

We refer to total knowledge as having complete insight gained through 100% utilization of “organizational information assets”—both structured and unstructured business content across an enterprise.

What is Driving Total Knowledge Management?

Today, fierce competition is forcing companies to be smarter—to leverage all enterprise content assets, uncover valuable information hidden in multiple systems and from structured and unstructured sources. In the past, reporting on and analyzing structured information was only utilized to understand the business environment, customers, suppliers and other key business views. Tactical and strategic decisions were made based on structured information found in relational databases, legacy data stores and various reporting systems. Structured information only represents 20% of a company’s enterprise information assets. The remaining 80% of valuable information is in uncover form dispersed across the enterprise—in e-mail, document management systems, file systems, instant messaging systems, records management systems, knowledge management systems and other stored documents. This 80% of unstructured information is often overlooked as a key information source for tactical and strategic decision making. Search engines and classification technologies have been the tools of choice for accessing unstructured information, but their related metadata is not used the same way as structured resources.

Many organizations choose to manage each stage of the content lifecycle independently, with disparate processes, systems, repositories and technologies. Today, with directives to increase efficiencies while simultaneously improve accountability, an integrated system for the management of the entire content lifecycle is crucial.

At the most basic level, one of the current business drivers in information management is to improve organizational efficiency and reduce costs. The next step in the progression is to increase business value, including that which knowledge management yields from an organization’s information stores. Lastly, once these goals are achieved, organizations move to increase their focus on managing risk with elements such as records management initiatives. This includes managing content assets to keep what is important or mandatory for legal, compliance, historical and knowledge management needs, and retiring or disposing of information no longer useful or relevant as its value has expired.

Organizations need to leverage technology to meet business continuity and corporate governance requirements, for making business content traceable secure and auditable, at the same time they invest in aligning business processes and content to optimize performance and reduce risk exposure.

Today, many organizations are managing each stage of the content lifecycle independently, with disparate processes, systems, repositories and technologies. This results in the following issues:

  • Incomplete, inaccurate and limited information;

  • Time wasted locating the right information;

  • Poor collaboration between groups;

  • Difficulty getting fast access to the full picture;

  • Maintenance of disparate systems;

  • Difficulty keeping systems consistent;

  • Difficulty delivering the right information to the right people;

  • Poor asset management—information is not used to its full potential; and

  • Weak compliance—compliancy with regulatory rules is difficult to ensure.

Making Total Knowledge Management a Strategic Advantage

Content assets are the foundation upon which corporations build new business opportunities and competitive advantage—and upon which governments build accountability practices and ways to better serve their constituents. Leveraging the business value of content while simultaneously protecting that content with an applied records management strategy is not a new concept; however, the conventional means of addressing these tandem needs is changing.

Today, total knowledge management is driven by the need for organizations to have a unified access and view to all business content across an enterprise. Business content needs to be linked, referenced and integrated to get a complete picture. This brings context to all content being accessed, searched, reported on, collaborated on and analyzed.

The Total Knowledge Management Architecture

A total knowledge management architecture is a blueprint that provides the essential functionality to manage information and knowledge though its lifecycle, from inception to destruction, while enabling organizations to use assets to their full potential and maximize their return on investment. Getting at the mountains of raw data generated by most modern organizations from a variety of different hardware platforms, systems and applications is a difficult task. Organizations that want to gain a key competitive advantage need to thoroughly implement a comprehensive solution that will help them manage their content asset lifecycle. This means that decision makers are able to efficiently and securely get access to any structured and unstructured information they require at the time they need it.

A single interface allows users to access, search, report, collaborate, analyze, track and audit against both structured and unstructured enterprise content. To ensure a thorough lifecycle management of this asset, organizations need to implement a comprehensive solution that helps them managing those multiple stages.

  • Business process management and workflow touches the entire enterprise content lifecycle. The first aspect of the total knowledge management solution is to implement a business process management (BPM) element. BPM ensures automated and controlled process implementation, integration of various enterprise content components, capturing of the different events of the enterprise content lifecycle and streamlined maintenance.

  • Data management is the second aspect of this comprehensive solution. Organizations need to distill, consolidate, organize and classify huge amounts of data and dynamically transform it into accurate, consistent and timely information. During this process, this vast amount of structured data and unstructured data is enriched and gradually converted into a smaller amount of meaningful content. This corresponds to the data management aspect of this comprehensive solution. This data management aspect encompasses document management, data integration, knowledge management, collaboration, record management and reporting.

  • Knowledge management and information retrieval technologies are critical to managing unstructured as well as structured information. It is imperative to capture best practices, expertise and information. Proper tool

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