Doculabs review: KM meets time management
By John Balla, Linda Andrews and Bob Anders
Portals have emerged as the new vehicle for delivering knowledge management (KM) functionality to the masses--particularly within project-oriented work environments. With Web-based enterprise portal solutions, organizations can identify the most qualified individuals for project teams and provide a collaborative environment in which team members can interact. Still, any project can grind to a halt if a subject matter expert with crucial information isn't available at critical junctures in a project's life cycle.
Enter time management functionality. KM technologies, recognized for innovative approaches to managing information, are beginning to offer ways to manage the precious commodity of time. In Doculabs' most recent KM benchmark, KnowledgeTrack set the mark in that area. Its portal offering, The Knowledge Center 3.1, provides the ability to automatically synchronize a project calendar with all the personal calendars of the members of a project team. That simple feature can save organizations hundreds of hours per year, not to mention the frustration involved in manually scheduling tasks and meetings in an unstructured, dynamic work environment. The software helps users manage their time, as well as their information.
The Knowledge Center lets users contribute and review relevant content, enabling collaboration among users, both internal and external, from within a virtual project setting or community. It provides users with a familiar Web interface to manage information from disparate systems across an organization, allowing them to retrieve the content that is relevant to their respective job functions.
Even more important, however, the product allows the deployment of portal functionality to diverse internal and external constituencies, all under a single security model. In the rush to provide portal functionality to various user groups, many organizations have been deploying multiple portal solutions--basically, a portal to any business unit or department that asks for one. This software eliminates the need for many portals (and the headaches that go along with supporting solutions from multiple vendors). It allows an organization to easily establish portals around individual departments, projects or major partners and customers, setting them up as individual communities of interest--all on a single, enterprisewide portal platform.
But a further differentiator of The Knowledge Center is its time management capability. It can set up a project calendar that automatically updates the personal calendars of team members in Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes, thereby optimizing project coordination, resource allocation and scheduling. We consider that capability to be next-generation KM functionality, and--for now, at least--KnowledgeTrack has the lead.
The product has extensive capabilities out of the box. The entire site hierarchy can be built without programming, and configuring an application is intuitive, guided by wizards. Administration is particularly straightforward for those familiar with Microsoft back-end and middleware components. It also offers strong personalization capabilities in the form of "adaptive agents" that allow users to personalize their portal view in several different ways, and a collaboration service that facilitates threaded discussions around a posted document. And the product has been designed with Internet bandwidth constraints in mind, using downloading methods such as document streaming for more efficient access.
IT platform and architecture
The solution is built on a three-tier architecture, and is based on industry and Web standards, including Windows NT Directory and ACL (for security); COM/DCOM (for API-level integration); HTTP and SMTP (Internet connectivity); ODBC (for legacy connectivity); and SSL (for Internet security).
All of its services run as Windows NT services and its integration with the NT directory honors "trusting" across multiple NT domains. Unlike most product architectures we've seen, The Knowledge Center is built on top of the Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS), an application server and transaction processor designed for optimal performance and scalability. On the Unix side, the software provides integration via Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB), another capability that few vendors currently can deliver.
As for fault tolerance and hierarchical storage management (HSM), The Knowledge Center leverages the inherent capabilities within Windows NT.
For file servers, its support is limited at this point to Windows NT. Databases supported now include any ODBC-compliant one, including Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle and Sybase. On the client side, it supports Windows 95/98 and NT workstation, as well as Microsoft and Netscape browsers. The entire product is written in C++.
Microsoft IIS is supported from a Web server perspective. As for ERP system integration, the Knowledge Center is integrated with SAP, PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards and Baan. For groupware integration, it integrates with Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes.
On the e-commerce side, The Knowledge Center is integrated with the ATG, CommerceOne and Ariba commerce server platforms, making it well-suited for business-to-employee, business-to-consumer and business-to-business environments.
Overall, The Knowledge Center is a distinctive portal offering--the first to make inroads into the time management space. And it has one of the best architectures we've seen in terms of performance and scalability. In particular, its support of both XML and XSL is the most advanced use of the technology we've seen in this space.
However, the product currently lacks basic workflow for managing processes associated with projects, document management functionality, and a true "expert" profiling schema. Nor does it support document version control. The product would increase its customer reach through the adoption of an auto-categorization engine, along with the ability to search for topics in parallel with searches for documents, discussions and people. The company expects to address many of those areas in upcoming releases.
However, KnowledgeTrack is a formidable player in the corporate portal arena, and, in many respects, is in the lead. If the company can deliver on its projected functionality for Version 4.0, its product could become one of the most robust and feature-rich in the enterprise e-business portal market space.
John Balla is a senior analyst and Linda Andrews and Bob Anders are technical writers with Doculabs 312-433-7793, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Knowledge Center is an easy-to-deploy, easy-to-use enterprise portal that delivers organized, personalized information as well as collaboration to its users via a standard desktop browser. It can handle extremely high volumes of user activity, integrate with Web application servers and with e-commerce products. Unique among other KM offerings, the product also provides time management capabilities.
The software supports any browser client. Server support is limited to Windows NT. Database support includes any ODBC-compliant database, including Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle and Sybase.
Strategic value to organizations
The Knowledge Center facilitates collaboration among an organization's knowledge workers, while also providing time management capabilities that can reduce the upfront effort of scheduling project resources. The product is highly suited to organizations that want to provide portal functionality to multiple constituencies--and include both internal and external users. It can be deployed to multiple groups within an organization, in effect allowing multiple portals under a single portal platform.