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Happy union: KM and the cloud?

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An inquiry about cloud-based knowledge management for predictive analytics allows the vendor to make a sales pitch. The sales pitch may not correlate with the services the vendor offers or the usable capabilities of the vendor's cloud platform. Amazon, IBM and Microsoft offer some off-the-shelf functions. But customized applications require engineering services and service assembly and configuration. The price list applies to the use of the system. The engineering and other services are extras. ?Marketing, like the allergist's test, produces opportunities, and the solutions may have to be particularized. 

Evolutionary, not revolutionary

In addition, the combination of an evolving technology service like cloud computing with a somewhat difficult-to-define information "discipline" like knowledge management makes some basic tasks difficult. Consider cost estimation. Without a concrete list of requirements for the cloud-based system, the cloud vendor will not be able to provide a fixed-price estimate. The variables in the implementation may make the cloud-based solution more expensive than a traditional on-premises installation of customer support, content management or some other information-centric enterprise solution. With the recent revelations about the security of information stored on cloud services, the cloud solution may not meet an organization's requirements for data integrity and confidentiality. In short, boards of directors and chief financial officers have food for thought.

Many organizations are trying to discern trends for 2014 enterprise solutions but in particular knowledge management. Technology is evolutionary, even though many marketers describe their incremental advances as "revolutionary." Also, consideration of cloud-based and hosted solutions will occupy more of the information technology professional's time. That will translate into more management attention focused on ways to reduce costs, improve efficiency and get a handle on information access that improves business decisions in the organization. 

The forecast

Computerworld's "Forecast 2014" conveys an important message in its subtitle—"How to wring value from the IT budget." (See http://goo.gl/OUfXx5.) The upside is that information technology's influence may be greater than in 2013. The downside is that the increased scrutiny may trigger the type of staff upheavals that have roiled such organizations as Microsoft and Thomson Reuters. One consequence of scrutiny may be organizational adjustments.

Demographics will play a larger part in enterprise solutions related to knowledge management. Workers entering the workforce in 2014 will, in some cases, have minimal interest in traditional computing. Translation: proprietary desktop systems. Those who are either young or young in heart will embrace the BYOD (bring your own device) approach to computing, embrace mobile devices and expect easy-to-use, feed-it-to-me interfaces. Green screen mainframe solutions are out of the question. Hand scripting an Excel spreadsheet will be left to consultants. Figuring out which statistical process to run over ?a sales data report will be ignored in some cases.

The future consists of pervasive computing and Hollywood-style interfaces that provide answers. A Google results list means time-consuming work. For a person booked in back-to-back meetings, old-fashioned research and analysis is not a priority. A knowledge management solution that does not deliver collaboration, real-time data and answers will engender dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction in an environment of heightened management scrutiny means that users have more potential energy than they had in 2013.

Four things to do

Organizations have an appetite for solutions that permit more effective decision-making. The era of the universal, Lycra-woven, one-size-fits-all system is over. Personalization and tailoring are walking down the fashion runway to loud applause. If I were working in a knowledge-sensitive organization, I would add four items to my to-do list:

  • Define as accurately and completely as possible the specific problem a knowledge management solution would help solve. No fuzziness.
  • Identify a vendor by providing a specific set of requirements, boiled down to one or two pages. A 600-page requirements document spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E.
  • Require vendors to provide specific responses to each of the requirements in fewer than four pages. Supplementary information goes in an annex. I may or may not look at the annex.
  • Schedule a demonstration based on a real-life implementation. If a site visit is required, buy a ticket. Demos can be faked. The uninformed can be fooled.

For 2014, there are opportunities and pitfalls. I personally expect more difficult work for knowledge management procurements. For cloud-based knowledge management, the hard part is ahead.

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