Information is data, and knowledge is useable information. Knowledge management (KM) can be thought of as the storage and delivery of information in a form that promotes usability. For example, it’s one thing to present a simple list of daily sales records, and it’s another thing to create a report where the sales information is grouped and sorted by sales periods and sales regions so that a reader can act according to this information. The reader of this report might decide the business needs to send more marketing dollars to a region that has lagging sales.
KM—although a recently coined term—is really something many IT professionals have recognized for quite some time. Whether you’re a programmer who’s been creating greenbar reports for the last ten years, or you’re creating systems that exchange corporate data with business partners via XML, you’re in the business of KM. In both cases, information is ultimately being delivered to people in a form that promotes the use of the information. KM has been part of computer application solutions ever since the first noisy drum or chain printer churned out a report.
So what’s all this noise about Lotus KM products? Is KM just another term Lotus is using to pump up sales? After all, if Lotus can sell you on the idea that you need KM to give your business a competitive edge, then you’re likely to consider Lotus’ KM products. Maybe a closer look is needed.
In the early days of IT, much time and energy was spent storing and delivering simple information such as business transactions. Today, that type of information is still important, but a different, more abstract type of information needs to be stored and delivered: information found in people’s heads. This includes information such as a long- gone employee’s ideas on improving a manufacturing process, or the dynamic tracking of workers’ skills (e.g., maintaining an easily searchable employee skills database) so a business can form the most efficient team to work on a project. Take a software project, for example. The skills of a project team member are exploited in various ways: the member’s input in group meetings, skill in designing pieces of an application, and interaction with other project designers (verbal and written). Sure, the information and knowledge can be stored in some form (documentation, email, or audio and video recordings), but, how can that information and knowledge be easily accessible to everyone who needs it? The capturing, accessibility, and usage of knowledge is KM.
Lotus Notes was a pioneer in KM as a product offering basic KM features such as the delivery and sharing of information and knowledge via email, discussion groups, and an electronic form of workflow. Discussion groups have been quite successful in the delivery of information to people with common interests and needs. Countless workflow applications have been written in Notes, by which many formats of information such as text documents, spreadsheets, and even multimedia presentations can be shared.
New KM Products from Lotus
Fortunately, Lotus has created a number of new KM products that go beyond Notes’ KM abilities, including QuickPlace, Sametime, K-station and Discovery Server. While these products are complementary to a Notes infrastructure, having Notes is not a prerequisite.
Lotus QuickPlace, for example, allows you to instantly create a “place” (a Web site) where discussions, calendars, task lists, and libraries of information can be shared by authorized users.
Lotus Sametime allows you to create a virtual meeting over the Web where users can share their conversation in a chat-type environment and even share a whiteboard where illustrations can be viewed and manipulated by all.
One of Lotus’ most recent KM products is the K-station server. Similar to QuickPlace, K-station is place-based. In fact, K-station combines QuickPlace and Sametime to offer portlets (windows) into various components of a group’s knowledge such as people (via contact lists and email), personal and community places (via virtual workspaces and discussion forums), and things (via access to schedules, documents, and images).
The Lotus Discovery Server, although not available at the time of writing (it should be available before the end of first quarter of 2001), promises much. It can mine information from unstructured data (such as Microsoft Word documents, email messages, discussion forums, and HTML files) as well as structured data (such as information stored in DB2 UDB). Think of Discovery Server as a server-based knowledge mining tool. Discovery Server and K-station form the Discovery Server System. An example of how these two product interact could be K-station tapping into Discovery Server through a portlet to access another application such as a Domino database.
The challenge for IT still involves storage and delivery of traditional transaction- oriented business information. But to compete in a world where information is becoming more and more readily available, you need more than information—you need knowledge. KM products and tools play an important part in reaching the ultimate goal of placing knowledge in the hands of the right people at the right time. Lotus says that knowledge exists in people, places, and things. Your challenge is to tap knowledge on demand, even when those who possess that knowledge aren’t available. I encourage you to start stretching your knowledge of the expanding world of KM.