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Helping e-business take flight

By Gregory Dyer

IDC defines an online community as "a group of people (e.g., employees, partners, suppliers or clients) with shared objectives, interests or purposes that interact and build relationships with each other in an online environment across time and space." As a result, people can make decisions, solve problems, learn and innovate faster and more easily. The more participation that occurs in the community, the greater the value that is created for the members.

Communities development

The importance of communities, content management and collaboration has evolved with the growth of the knowledge management (KM) market. From a KM perspective, companies are trying to create environments to parallel the face-to-face interactions that customers, employees, partners and suppliers have traditionally experienced. To do so, organizations must provide effective content management and collaboration, the underlying components of effective KM.

Communities and e-business

Communities to support e-business have gained attention because of the importance of developing usage of portal environments. The importance of efficient knowledge access has placed a great deal of emphasis on enterprise information portals (EIPs), which integrate access to data or information and present it to the user in a useful format. Advanced search capabilities, intellectual capital management and process capture and definition are also knowledge access applications.

Going forward, e-business will continue to have a major impact on KM as companies attempt to create dynamic interactive environments. A primary tactic in achieving that goal is to develop communities in order to drive usage of information systems and promote collaboration by users. Effective collaboration will result in the development of valuable content that will feed the knowledgebase and make the user experience more valuable.

Collaborative services

The purpose of collaborative services is to design, implement and foster a technology environment in which largely project-based work can be conducted. As a result, the services must be based not only on technology needs only but also on an organization's people and business process needs. Descriptions of service opportunities around each of those categories follow.

People services include the following:

  • Culture and social assessment. This service evaluates an organization's culture, social makeup and its ability to be a sharing organization. It will identify key players and challenges that need to be formally addressed in the design of a solution. ;

  • Training. Based on the collaborative atmosphere in a company, training programs must be available to introduce and train users on collaborative behavior, techniques and tools. ;

  • Collaboration management. After a collaborative solution is in place, usage does not happen immediately. Users must continually be motivated and given incentives to participate. To drive usage, community management services with a focus on collaboration can differentiate a vendor. ;

Business process services include the following:

  • Customer relationship management (CRM). If an e-business initiative includes customer contact through e-commerce or other offerings, an effective CRM solution is critical to achieve effective collaboration between a business and its clients. Therefore, a services vendor that can design and implement a collaborative CRM process in an e-business project will provide additional value to the customer, above and beyond traditional transactional processing applications. ;

  • Workflow evaluation and design. Companies that develop e-business initiatives must have online collaborative processes that parallel the offline processes. To ensure that this parallelism occurs, vendors need to provide services that include knowledge mapping, which analyzes the flow of information through a company, and business rules design/redesign, which will increase the efficiency of information that is moving through an organization. ;

  • Measurement. Being able to measure the success of an e-business initiative is critical. When focusing on communities and collaboration, the ability of a vendor to develop a measurement system that shows the effectiveness of collaboration in driving usage and/or sales to a client's Web site will be of tremendous value. Measurement services can be a component of collaborative management. ;

Technology services include the following:

  • Systems. When dealing with e-business and collaboration, reliable and effective technology that meets the needs of the client is critical. Vendor services should include assessment, design and implementation around messaging, project management, expert tracking (profiling), language and workspace technologies.;

Content management services

The purpose of content management services is to design and implement solutions that ensure that information (i.e., content) in an online environment is of value to the users. As in collaboration, technology has largely been the focus of vendors seeking to provide this value, but the people and business processes used to manage content are of tremendous importance. Descriptions of service opportunities around people, processes and technology follow.

People services include the following:

  • Resource management. A common problem in managing content is the lack of people to effectively manage the content in a KM system. Companies need assistance in addressing that problem. The solution may range from having a full-time staff to a rotating schedule in which experts monitor their particular area for a fixed period of time. ;

  • Performance evaluation. The ability to evaluate the performance of a content management staff is also a challenge for companies. Because those individuals are responsible for managing content, they need to be experts in the functional areas in order to know when to pull or add information. The ability to measure the level of someone's expertise is difficult, particularly when the information changes rapidly. ;

Business process services include the following:

  • Content submittal and access. Services in this category focus on how content is entered into the system and the flow of the entered information through the organization. For content submittal, formal procedures need to be designed and implemented that define how information is entered (e.g., templates), why it is being entered (e.g., project-specific vs. general), who gets to enter it, where it is entered and when it is entered. Similar procedures need to be developed around access. Some content may be team-specific, while other information may be of a sensitive nature and therefore for upper management's eyes only .;

  • Quality control. These services focus on the design and implementation of quality control standards that will monitor the value of the content in relation to the needs of the users. Formal evaluation processes must be in place that not only measure the age and usage of existing content but also determine if new content is adequate to replace outdated information, or if it is contributing to a content bucket that is underrepresented. ;

  • Content removal. Based on the result of the quality control system, content will have to be routinely removed from the system. As in the submittal process, processes need to be in place that define how information is removed, why it is being removed, who gets to remove it, where it is removed and when it is removed. ;

Technology services include the following:

  • Security. Security is a major concern for companies that want to protect their proprietary information and privacy. In looking at pharmaceutical, financial and manufacturing firms, each has customer and R&D information that must remain secure when placed in a technological environment. Combining security technology and the access processes discussed above is a logical service offering that would be of significant value to clients.;

  • Taxonomy. With the current business environment that is heavily focused on mergers and acquisitions and globalization, clients need the ability to develop a common taxonomy across their organizations. As a result, taxonomy development represents an opportunity for vendors. ;

  • Database management. This service entails not only developing new databases but also the very challenging task of linking multiple legacy databases that are not traditionally compatible.;

Companies deploying e-business initiatives must incorporate KM functionality to improve the return on their investments, but technology issues are not enough to ensure successful execution of knowledge-enhanced business processes. Vendors must offer clients a broader range of services, including collaborative process implementation and content management—each with technology, people-related and business process service components.

Gregory Dyer is a senior analyst with Knowledge Management Services at IDC (idc.com), e-mail gdyer@idc.com.

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