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KM PAST AND FUTURE: Web 2.0 kicks it up a notch

In contrast to earlier generation BI systems, future systems will increasingly allow users to interact directly and in real time with back-end systems, and to add their own metadata. The Endeca (endeca.com) Information Access Platform lets users query corporate databases and other information stores from an interface that corresponds to key measures of interest to that individual. For example, salespeople can look for prospects likely to be most productive—which ones have the highest historical sales, which ones have warranties that are about to expire and so on. Results guide the user’s daily activities, allowing workers to make data-driven decisions.

The platform’s innovative architecture is "schema-flexible," which means that data can be analyzed and retrieved, regardless of source or structure, using a bottom-up approach that connects related records and documents.

"This flexibility lets the data be adapted to the user’s needs rather than vice versa," says Matt Kodama, senior product manager at Endeca. "A sophisticated algorithm links the information, even if the metadata is not identical."

Users who want to add tags can type in the beginning of a word and a list of options will be presented, or completely new ones can be incorporated. Searches bring up results not only from relational databases and other enterprise information stores but also from comparably tagged blog and wiki content.

Increasingly, organizations will be making good use of the volumes of unstructured data they collect (sidebar), integrating it with structured, quantitative information to gain insights into performance. The formerly separate functions of BI and BPM are also working more synergistically.

Visualization techniques that help users absorb and respond to critical data, such as key performance indicators (KPIs) presented in dashboards, are an important aspect of usability. Insight is an operational BI product from Altosoft that uses an AJAX-based Web 2.0 interface for dashboard visualization. Users personalize presentation of key performance indicators using a codeless, browser-based, drag-and-drop interface. Insight is geared toward providing real-time operational data.

"The great majority of BI implementations have a data latency of more than 24 hours," says Kevin Spurway, CMO of Altosoft. "We wanted to take BI out of the back room and use it to directly impact business operations. That requires much faster ‘time to data’ than traditional BI architectures allow. Our approach combines real-time data analysis with event processing capabilities in a complete, operational BI solution."

Behind the charts on the dashboards, Insight is running highly optimized queries on the data that has been selected for KPIs. The data does not need to be in a dedicated data warehouse; the algorithms used allow data from multiple sources to be joined and to persist locally, with updates as the source data changes.

"We can also deliver the analyses to Microsoft Office applications," adds Spurway. "One customer had been manually updating charts on 300 individual PowerPoint slides. With Insight, all those slides can be updated instantly with just one click." As it monitors business activity, Insight can detect patterns that match historical ones, and predict impending problems rather than just sending an alert after a problem has occurred.

An important enabling technology for much of the emerging adaptability is service-oriented architecture (SOA). By modularizing functionality into standardized services that can be used across the enterprise, organizations can remove redundancy in their software development process and change more quickly. SOA is particularly valuable for BPM systems because being able to select services from a registry is a great contributor to agility. SOA also helps in the creation of mashups, which present information from multiple applications in one interface without integrating the applications.

KM of the future will include more solutions delivered in the software as a service (SaaS) model, in which the vendor or a third party hosts the software in a one-to-many format. Customers pay a monthly fee and upgrades are managed by the host. The availability of more products in this model will make KM solutions accessible to more companies, especially small to midsize organizations. However, large companies that prefer to focus on their core competencies have also shown that they are willing to delegate that IT function to external companies.

Enterprise blogs will not become a substitute for ECM systems that keep track of documents for compliance. But they could help capture and distribute answers that are uncovered when humans have to deal with troublesome compliance issues. Similarly, folksonomies will not replace formal taxonomies. But they will promote greater user contributions and therefore open the flow of information into the enterprise. In general, Web 2.0 products hold much potential for augmenting the capabilities of traditional KM products.

Comprehensive customer feedback

Online travel company Travelocity receives a tremendous volume of customer feedback as part of its Customer Championship initiative to continuously improve customer service. About 40,000 online surveys are received each month, and the company receives up to 50,000 e-mails per month with questions and suggestions. In addition, about a half-million phone contacts per month are received as customers make or change travel arrangements. Because of the volume of information, analyses of content in the past could only be done on a sample of the total number received.

Don Hill, director of customer advocacy at Travelocity, had been monitoring text analytics solutions for some time, hoping to find a match for the company’s needs. "Within the last year, we determined that some cost-effective solutions were beginning to come on-stream," Hill says. After evaluating the text analytics suite and Voice of the Customer (VOC) solution from Attensity, Hill ran a pilot study to see if the product could handle large volumes of data and effectively mine the text for information that had solid business value. Pleased with the results, Hill decided to move into full production over the coming months.

Attensity provides a generic travel-related taxonomy that was put to use right away. "In addition," continues Hill, "we can tweak the taxonomy to make it more specific to Travelocity."

The Attensity VOC solution allows the company to extract information such as customer concerns, suggestions and questions. In the past, only structured questions such as yes/no or rankings could be analyzed easily. Travelocity’s partners such as airlines and hoteliers also will benefit from the newly available customer feedback. "Now, we are in a good place to discuss meaningful changes in the way we interact and provide services for our customers," says Hill.

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