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Personal Toolkit-Taking the personal approach to enterprise KM

By Steve Barth

Disenchantment with top-down KM technologies is well-known. A 2001 Bain & Company poll ranked knowledge management only 19th out of 25 categories of management tools. Whenever a corporation tries to maximize the value it extracts from its knowledge workers, it seems to end up discouraging those workers from maximizing their individual contributions.

The premise of this column is that there is another way to go—that if the tools and techniques focus on supporting the labors and interactions of individual knowledge workers so that they might me more efficient and effective, the benefits will roll up to significant enterprise value.

Typically, I have talked about tools that start with the individual and spiral up—tools available to individual knowledge workers without having to depend on the corporation for financial or technical support. However, as mentioned in previous columns, there is a nascent groundswell of innovation in terms of enterprise applications that put the individual first.

Recently I had a chance to play with a product that hits many of the marks in the personal knowledge management framework, Version 1.3 of Entopia's Quantum suite. Based on conversations with the company, Entopia "gets it" on three levels: first, that the productivity and creativity of knowledge work rolls up from individuals through teams, groups and communities to enterprise value; second, that tools need to be integrated into existing work processes and tools; and third, that there are certain basic functions in knowledge work that would be best integrated into a comprehensive toolbox.

The functions of Quantum are arrayed on three layers, defined by Entopia as collect, collaborate and capitalize.

The first layer, collect, is accessed by the individual through either a desktop or Web client that integrates with e-mail, desktop and enterprise applications. Users can capture all or part of any document, message or Web page from right-click menus or an application toolbar. Captured material—called "q-files"—is automatically parsed for keywords and concepts, tagged with source information and summarized. The application also pays attention to who is collecting the material and from where.The client is the interface for organizing material into nested folders that form the basis of a hierarchical taxonomy on personal, server or enterprise levels, and for retrieving, viewing and working with collected material from the individual's hard disk or from local and enterprise servers. Each user can highlight passages, create hyperlinks to other q-files and folders, other documents or Internet URLs, as well as attach voice and text annotations to the document or a specific place in the document. They can also be e-mailed to another Quantum user or exported to Microsoft Word appended with Quantum comments, properties and summary.

The second layer, collaborate, adds server-based advanced semantic functions, administrative tools and collaborative functionality. Captured documents can be marked confidential or shared with others and personal folders can become group workspaces, if desired. Annotations can be viewed and become threaded discussions shared with other users granted access to that document. Documents also can be checked out for editing in their original applications. An overview page lists all unread additions and changes, or subscribers to a particular folder can be notified by e-mail of changes, additional comments or new documents.

The third layer, capitalize, offers advanced products and services to help enterprise users leverage the collective intellectual capital they derive from the first two layers. For example, the Knowledge Locator will not only retrieve documents relevant to a query, but also suggest human experts and Web sources. This can be used in conjunction with the Locate Related function, available from Quantum's right-click options in any application, whereby Quantum retrieves knowledge based on some or all of the content of the document at hand.

Suppose, for example, that I am preparing an article on organizational dysfunction at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Among the material I find useful are articles about the FBI's troubles from the online edition of the Los Angeles Times, which has been providing excellent coverage on the topic. While in my browser, I use Quantum's collect tool to capture part or all of the articles and file them in the proper folder of my personal taxonomy. The captured text is analyzed—but the Times Web site is also identified as a source of information about the FBI. More interestingly, so am I. Now I can search through and view these electronic press clippings. I can begin to build my article by highlighting and annotating the q-files. I can even invite other users to take a look and share their thoughts. When I'm ready to write my article, I can export my notes to Word.

But at the same time, if other Quantum users in my organization are working on something similar, they can search by keyword or concept and take advantage of my labors and view the documents I collected (unless I mark them confidential). Moreover, they will be pointed to the LA Times site as a worthwhile place to look for more. And above all, they will be referred to me as someone likely to have knowledge of a subject important to them. In that way, those users have a better opportunity to get at not just the knowledge I have made explicit, not just to get a better sense of the context of those documents, but also a way to get at some of the tacit knowledge still in my head. And that access has been facilitated without the need for me to spend time posting or publishing what I know. It was just a byproduct of using tools that made it easier to do my own job.

Quantum Version 1.4 was due out from Entopia in June, adding workflow and task management, among other additions.

Steve Barth writes and speaks frequently about KM, e-mail barth.km@global-insight.com. For more on personal knowledge management see his Web site, global-insight.com

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