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The KM integration challenge

As an IT technologist and venture capitalist focused on KM technologies, I have identified, evaluated and/or invested in dozens of products and technology companies over the past 20 years. The list is wide and varied, and includes capabilities such as: collaboration, instant messaging, categorization and clustering, federated search, entity extraction, link analysis, language translation, document summarization, visualization, geospatial tagging and many other products and technologies.

Even though most of the products I've worked with have generally been excellent standalone technologies, the fact remains that most new products or technologies invariably have to be integrated into the existing enterprise at the back office and the Web user interface. Even more likely is the scenario whereby several new technologies have to be combined in a complex fashion to deliver a comprehensive new business solution, which, in turn, has to be integrated into the existing enterprise.

My point is that systems integration is an often inescapable part of introducing new KM products and technologies to the enterprise. IT managers, architects and developers need cost-effective, standardized middleware and Web user interface development tools to help deliver the integrated KM solutions enterprise customers expect. After all, the average business user won't be dazzled by a snazzy new language translation tool or a fantastic visualization capability if they can't get the data they need from the enterprise resource planning or accounting system to actually make use of it.

Fortunately for us, 2006 was a watershed year for new Internet application development and delivery platforms, and, even more importantly, the rise of rich Internet application (RIA) development solutions. It saw the rise of Ruby on Rails 1.0, a standardized open source development platform for rapid development and integration of database-based Web applications. Rails almost seems like more of a configuration tool than a programming tool, and is rapidly evolving into the development platform of choice even for loyal Java or .NET developers. The reason is simple: It's quick to learn and widely supported, and it makes it easy to build integrated Web-based applications in an automated fashion. Rails is an example of an ideal development and delivery platform to rapidly integrate different KM technologies into a tightly knit, integrated business solution for the Web and the enterprise.

RIA is a fancy way of saying that we finally have a way to make the Web browser much smarter, faster, more interactive and easier to use. Several new technologies and products have started gaining popularity to help build RIA for the Web, including Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) development tools from companies such as JackBe, TIBCO or Backbase, as well as Adobe's Flex development system for the Flash player or OpenLaszlo's open source development tools, also for the Flash player. These technologies and products offer methods for developers to deliver applications in the Web browser that act more like standalone Windows applications than the often stodgy, low-tech and slow Web-based applications we live with today.

The bottom line is this, not only do we have excellent new KM technologies that are helping us transform the way we run our businesses, we also have excellent tools and technologies for tying them together in a rapid fashion. In the next issue of KMWorld, I will provide a detailed look at why Web integration solutions like Ruby on Rails and RIA technologies like AJAX and Flash are so important and how they are being used to build complex and rich KM solutions for business and government. 

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