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Knowledge management past and future

UIMA framework for search interoperability
In August 2005, IBM announced the latest version of its search engine WebSphere Information Integrator OmniFind 8.2.2. IBM also announced a new standard for interoperability between enterprise search technologies, called the Unstructured Information Management Architecture (UIMA).

The UIMA framework provides a common interface for integrating different search-based components. It includes an SDK for developers and enables the wrapping of existing technology in order to make it UIMA-compliant. As part of its commitment to open standards, IBM is making UIMA available as free, open-source software, and is encouraging vendors and developers throughout the enterprise search and discovery market to develop using the framework.

IBM will exploit this to improve its own standing within the market and its ability to deliver high-end solutions. While IBM does not currently have the--often niche--advanced text analytics products, it partners with one or more vendors to deliver a complete solution. The UIMA standard will mean that the ISVs carry the burden of ensuring interoperability through compliance. While, in theory, other vendors in the market can develop their own platforms based on the UIMA standard, IBM has the benefit of being first in the market.

One thing that the latest OmniFind release and the launch of UIMA confirm is the determination of IBM to dominate this market. Until now, the enterprise search and discovery market has been owned by a small group of independent players. With its enviable existing client base and the strength of its sales and marketing, not to mention IBM Global Services, IBM is well positioned to change that. As other giants such as Google (google.com), Microsoft and Oracle threaten at the low end of the market, the enterprise search and discovery market is set for quite a shakeup.

Blogs and wikis
Blogs and wikis are relative newcomers to the commercial collaboration space--even though the technology has been around in one form or another since the second half of the 1990s. Commercial organizations are becoming aware of the possibilities, and we have seen a significant increase in the use of blogs internally and a few organizations exploring the possibilities of wikis for collaboration. A blog is a good method of distributing information, but its value really ends there. A wiki, however, provides facilities for a much more sophisticated exchange of information, because a wiki is a Web site where readers are able to contribute content and edit existing content.

Wikis are particularly useful for collaboration delivering facilities for multiple authors to work on content, exchange ideas and connect information in a potentially sophisticated network of pages. Wikis can be used to create multiple workspaces with page hierarchies and page linking for projects or topics. The more sophisticated tools provide access control to limit the type of access that users have. Taken together, a wiki can deliver functionality similar to discussion groups, bulletin boards, workspaces, blogs and a range of other asynchronous collaboration facilities.

This all means that wikis offer at least a partial alternative to the big collaboration suites. Wiki software is often available at low cost, as shareware or as open source. If you are happy using this type of software, it offers a good opportunity to start collaborating for a very modest outlay.

The use of blogs and wikis does not necessarily need to be completely formalized and controlled in your organization--one of the big benefits is that they are informal. But you will need to put in place some rules about how they are used, just like you have (or certainly should have) for e-mail and instant messaging. They are great ways of communicating and can offer you significant benefits if implemented carefully.

A call to integration
The rise of suites of collaboration tools over the last couple of years has been substantial. While they deliver increasingly comprehensive sets of tools, the individual components are not always well integrated.

For example, there are many options for communication--instant messaging, SMS, e-mail, discussion groups, blogs, wikis, bulletin boards, project workspaces and more--and the user selects one to use. Others will select different techniques. The result is discussions on a single topic that use multiple techniques stored in multiple locations often buried in multiple projects. There will be overlaps and unresolved disagreements. That needs to be addressed through integration of the many techniques.

Integration has certainly improved this year. For example, IBM has introduced the concept of activity-centric collaboration through Activity Explorer, and MS Office Communicator delivers enhanced integration between many of its synchronous communication methods--both discussed earlier. Those developments are a welcome improvement to the integration of collaboration technologies, and we can expect to see more developments over the next couple of years.

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