» Archive for the 'Knowledge Management' Category

In the Briefing Room: Contextware

Thursday, August 27th, 2009 by Cody Burke

One of the missing pieces of a puzzle the knowledge worker faces in the course of performing knowledge work is context. Without context, the knowledge worker is looking at isolated bits of information that are, more often than not, of limited value. Most content doesn’t stand on its own; there is always important related and supporting information that completes the picture. Beyond a single document, what else should one read and whom else should one query? Knowing what to read next or which experts to contact completes the puzzle and increases the value of the content exponentially.

Indeed, capturing the expertise of subject matter experts and linking to documents and processes so that others may benefit from their knowledge is not only important as a way to add valuable context to information, but also as a means of preserving knowledge. This is particularly timely as an aging workforce means that large numbers of baby boomers will be leaving the workforce and be replaced by younger, less experienced workers. The massive quantities of information that knowledge workers must contend with on a daily basis is another compelling argument for adding context to content. Without it, searching for information is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack.

Contextware is a company that is addressing these pressing issues by providing tools that enable companies to capture the steps and information for a process and present knowledge workers with the relevant and related materials that they need to proceed. Simply put, the software adds context to support an activity. The Contextware system allows users to set up relationships between content, tools, and people that dictate steps that should be taken to complete the process; there are hard rules underlying the hidden processes, and soft rules that authors can easily set. The focus is on keeping things simple: if users add too many rules in the authoring environment, a prompt will alert them that they may have created an overly complex process. Or if a process is created with only one or two rules, the system may suggest that perhaps it does not need to be created.

In practice the knowledge worker logs in and receives permission-based access to processes. Drop down menus are used to select initial areas of interest, these are then drilled down into, with relevant content, tools, and people shown for each. For items shown, a number indicates how many assets (content, tools, or people) are available for that topic, and a link is provided. Metadata that determines what is presented to the user is stored on a database with a central taxonomy of topics, with rules determined by the hard and soft rules that were set up in the authoring environment.

The system captures not just the established relationship between content, such as the order in which a business process must be conducted, but also the unique knowledge of subject matter experts. Experts in a topic develop their own methods for completing tasks, often in ways that are not covered in the official rule book, and enabling access to this accumulated knowledge is invaluable. The context that is added to content through the use of what amounts to lightweight process management can effectively guide a knowledge worker through the haystack of information, and allow him to find the information needle he is looking for.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Zoho

Thursday, June 18th, 2009 by Cody Burke

It may seem obvious that the various software tools, platforms, and environments used by knowledge workers should work together, yet an examination of common tools used in the enterprise shows that this is often simply not the case.

Basex has codified the desktop metaphor of the future as a Collaborative Business Environment (CBE).  Three high-level tenets describe the ideal CBE, namely the One Environment Rule, Friction-Free Knowledge Sharing, and Embedded Community.  This workspace should provide a single integrated environment to work in, remove friction-such as extra steps in a process or application or that caused by poor tools (search platforms that regularly deliver 564,768 results are suspect), and embed community through presence awareness and integrated communication tools such as instant messaging.

For companies looking to build a CBE, there are multiple options in the market including offerings from some of the largest players including Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle.  There are however, also many smaller players that offer considerable functionality in environments comprising rudimentary CBEs.

Zoho, formerly known as AdventNet, provides Web-based desktop productivity software.  The company  has ten fully integrated productivity and collaboration applications and nine business applications available.  Modules include standard productivity software for applications such as e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets, presentation, document management, wikis, and chat, as well as business applications such as CRM, Web conferencing, reporting and BI, project management, and online invoicing.  The applications are available on-demand, or for on-premises deployments with over 10,000 seats.

All the applications work together: if in the document library, a user can open a document in a tab without opening up a separate word processor.  He can also initiate a chat with the author from within the document library through integrated chat functionality that moves with the users as they shift between applications.  E-mail can be sent from within applications, without moving to the actual e-mail application.  Attachments can be viewed without opening a separate application, i.e. a Word document can be viewed in the Zoho Writer application instead of opening a separate instance of Word on the desktop.

Zoho’s compliance with the three tenets of the Collaboration Business Environment is demonstrated by the tight integration between applications and the embedded presence awareness and instant messaging functionality that extends across applications.

Zoho may not be for everyone, but its simplicity and tight integration between applications makes it worthy of consideration for companies looking simplify their collaboration and knowledge sharing environments.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex

In the Briefing Room: BA-Insight Longitude

Thursday, June 11th, 2009 by Cody Burke

Without question, search is the Achilles heel of knowledge work.  It is almost universally acknowledged that 50% of all searches fail.  The dirty little secret in search – and one that we uncovered through research we conducted in 2007 – is that 50% of the searches that knowledge workers believe to have been successful also fail in some manner (i.e. outdated information, second-best information, or content that is just outright incorrect).

Obviously, failed search is a major issue and large contributor to information overload.  Part of the problem is not the search technology per se, but the selection of the source that provides the results.  If a search only looks through unstructured data, it ignores the valuable information that exists as structured data.  Search tools need to look at all information sources in order to return not only complete results, but to rank results for disparate data sources accordingly.

For reasons that are inexplicable to this writer, many companies have not chosen to deploy search tools that examine every nook and cranny of a company’s information assets.  A few smart companies are deploying search tools that do look in every knowledge repository.  Exercising due diligence in searching can avoid failures that result from searching in a partial source set.

BA-Insight is a company that is attempting to even the odds through Longitude, its search enhancement for Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Search Server, as well as connectors to ERM, CRM, and EMC platforms.  The premise is simple; by expanding the sources through which a search is conducted, as well as improving the user interface, search results will have more value, be found in less time, and be easier to utilize once found.

Longitude search product enhances SharePoint Server and Microsoft Search Server by presenting results in page previews, eliminating the need to download the document.  The preview is presented in a split screen, with the search results on one half, and the preview panel on the other.  When a document is selected, the preview opens to the relevant page, not just the beginning of the document.  This saves time in two ways; one, the time it would take to open what might be an undesirable document, and two, the time it would take to find the relevant text in the document by scrolling though it manually.  Longitude also supports collaborative work by making functionality such as e-mailing documents, editing, and adding tags and bookmarks, available from within the preview panel.

Longitude supports federated search through multiple repositories of both unstructured and structured data via connectors for Lotus Notes, Documentum, Exchange, Microsoft Dynamics DRM, and Symantec Enterprise Vault among others.  Content is assigned to metadata automatically as users search and find content, and search is guided through Parametric Navigation that takes the metadata into account to search using complex queries.

Knowledge workers spend on average 15% of the day searching.  We know that 75% of those searches fail when we account for the two types of failure previously mentioned.  Clearly the odds of finding what one is looking for are against the searcher.  Most tools in a company don’t search in enough places, and because of technology sprawl, knowledge workers are just as likely to have stored critical information in a vat that is not touched by the search system as one that is.  Tools such as Longitude go a long way towards evening the odds for the knowledge worker.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Information Overload – The Movie

Thursday, May 21st, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

“How does Information Overload impact you?” is a question I’ve been asking knowledge workers for quite some time.  In the past six months, I began to capture their answers with a high-definition video camera.  If you think Information Overload isn’t really a big deal, see what the people I interviewed, including senior executives from IBM, NBC, RIM, and Siemens, have to say.  The answers may surprise you.

Information overload describes an excess of information that results in the loss of ability to make decisions, process information, and prioritize tasks.  Organizations of all shapes and sizes have already been significantly impacted by information overload: the problem costs the U.S. economy $900 billion per year in lower productivity and throttled innovation according to Basex.

Basex produced Information Overload – The Movie to illustrate the impact that the problem has on knowledge workers of all levels.  From top managers to administrative assistants, to knowledge workers in the trenches, information overload has a detrimental effect on our ability to perform at our best, leading to poor decision-making, slow project completion and stifled idea generation.  By 2010, the average number of corporate e-mail messages received per person per day is expected to reach 93.  Meanwhile, individual knowledge workers lose as much as 28 percent of the day due to unnecessary interruptions.

Information Overload – The Movie is immediately available in high-definition on YouTube, Blip TV, the Basex Web site, and  the Apple iTunes store.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Vasont 12

Thursday, May 21st, 2009 by Cody Burke

The enterprise equivalent of reinventing the wheel, that is, the recreation of already existing content, is a major and costly problem.  It is also a symptom of information overload.  When an organization and its knowledge workers are not able to find what they are looking for, due to too much information, they often end up recreating the work of others, wasting valuable time and energy.

To counter this trend and better leverage existing content, companies need to deploy systems that promote the reuse of content when and where it is needed.  Content is traditionally thought of at the document level; when a knowledge worker creates a document it is named, saved, tagged, and categorized in folders, databases, and document libraries.  Unfortunately, this method does not treat content as modular on a more granular level.  A knowledge worker, viewing a document in its entirety, with its corresponding file name, tags, and other metadata, may miss the fact that a single chapter in the document is relevant to another project.  Extracting that single chapter for reuse could save hours of work recreating it.

One company that does look at content management precisely in this manner is Vasont Systems, a content management software and data services company.  Its content management system, now in version 12, focuses on what Vasont calls component content management (CCM), that is, content that is organized on a granular sub-component level, not a document level.  The advantage of CCM is the ability to store content once, and reuse it in a much more precise way.  CCM is particularly useful for multilingual content delivery to multiple channels.  Content components can be translated as needed, and assembled to form the document that is required.  The benefits of CCM include increased accuracy because content is the same in all instances it is used and reductions in recreation time due to individual components being easier to locate and reuse.

As a CMS, Vasont 12 allows users to create, store, and reuse multilingual content, with all content stored in a singe repository.  The  interface is clean and relatively intuitive; on the home page the user is presented with modules including those for notifications, tasks, workspaces, collections, and queries.  If changes are made to content, the change can be reflected dynamically in all other instances of that content, or other users of that content can be alerted via a notification so they can approve the change if they wish to do so.  Changes in content are indicated by a status icon, making component status clear.

In Vasont 12, project management capabilities have been strengthened to show overall status of projects and workflows in graphical form, a collaborative review process has been added, and a new translation interface shows the number of words and the percentage of a document left to be translated.  Also new is a preview panel that shows content in XML, with comments and annotations.  Vasont 12 is available both as licensed software and via the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Wolfram Alpha – Better Search?

Friday, May 15th, 2009 by David Goldes

Wolfram Research announced the launch of the Wolfram Alpha computation engine.  The new tool is intended to provide specific and precise factual answers to questions rather than present a list of Web sites which may or may not contain the correct answer.  A key problem in search technology today is that such systems provide “results” instead of answers.  50% of all searches fail as a result; we have found that 50% of searches people believe succeeded also failed in some other way, by not providing the most up-to-date, accurate, or correct information although the individual conducting the search believes the answer is correct at the time.

Back in March, founder Stephen Wolfram wrote on his Web site that, “[F]ifty years ago, when computers were young, people assumed that they’d quickly be able to handle all these kinds of things … and that one would be able to ask a computer any factual question and have it compute the answer.”  We all know that’s not how things turned out simply by going to Google, currently the most popular online search tool, and entering a search query.

Wolfram Alpha, according to Wolfram himself, understands questions that users input and then calculates answers based on its extensive mathematical and scientific engine.

The system is scheduled to go live later today at www.wolframalpha.com.  We’ll find out then whether Wolfram has found a way to build a better search tool.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

In the briefing room: NewsGator Social Sites

Thursday, May 14th, 2009 by Cody Burke

With hundreds of millions of regular users, social software has become a part of many knowledge workers’ daily lives – outside of the enterprise.  But the value of such tools doesn’t necessarily end at the firewall.

One vendor recognizing the potential in this space is NewsGator, a company that, in the past, has been synonymous with RSS tools.  NewsGator supports collaboration and social networking in the enterprise through its Social Sites offering, currently in version 2.7.

Social Sites is a social computing layer that is added on to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2007 deployments.  It brings social features such as Ajax-based profiles, activity feeds, community creation, and idea generation functionality to SharePoint.  Social Sites enables the users to build both internal and external communities, increases use of internal portals, and uses social networking to enhance communications within an enterprise.  All of this takes place through SharePoint, which exports data natively in RSS, making it easy for NewsGator to hook on to.

At login, Social Sites provides a personalized start page that collects information based on a variety of factors, including one’s colleagues (the Social Sites version of Facebook friends), groups and communities the user is a member of, content preferences , and projects.  The profile is customizable and during set up the system will recommend colleagues, groups, and communities based on common tags and interests.  From profiles, a user’s details, contact information, ideas that have been generated, votes for ideas, tag cloud, and content subscriptions are visible.  An activity feed appears on a user’s profile, similar to Facebook’s activity stream, which features relevant notifications, such as bookmarking by colleagues, events, community and group activity, document creation and editing, and content from outside Social Sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  This feed can be sent out as an e-mail digest, in full or in a custom version around topics or certain kinds of activity.

Social Sites can create a social network graph linking an individual with colleagues based on common interests and activities such as tagging.  A mini profile of each individual is one click away but it isn’t possible to pivot from one person’s network to another’s at this time.  NewsGator says this may be included in a future release.

Communities can be created easily and quickly around projects, interests, and idea generation.  The idea generation and innovation aspect of Social Sites is a good addition to the social functions; it allows brainstorming to be conducted relativity seamlessly, without having to utilize a separate system or tool.

A key area featured in Social Sites is the idea of surfacing connections between knowledge workers who do not know each other, and may be working on similar projects unbeknownst to one another.  If Joe in Los Angeles is working on a presentation and posts something to that effect on his blog, and Frank in Munich is working on the same type of project and has added a wiki page on it, the system will make that connection and recommend they become colleagues in the system.

Social Sites is not intended to replace direct communication tools such as e-mail and instant messaging; rather, it serves as shared knowledge repository, be it through exposing users to content that may be relevant to them or functioning as a virtual brainstorming session.  It does, however, allow companies to add valuable social networking tools onto their SharePoint deployments without the risks that the use of public social networking tools entails.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

The Last Frontier: In-flight Internet Access, Take 2

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

ON BOARD AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 15, 11:45 A.M. EDT

American Airlines was the first U.S. airline to announce in-flight IntLogging in to American Airlines Gogoernet service for domestic flights.  The first (test) phase of the American Airlines Gogo Internet service started in the middle of last year on the company’s fleet of 15 767-200 aircraft, which fly its transcontinental routes.

Recently, the company announced it will expand the service to over 300 domestic aircraft (the service doesn’t work over the Atlantic or Pacific oceans).

I am writing this from American Airlines Flight 15, New York (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO).  Until today, I hadn’t had to take a transcon flight since Gogo was launched so I was excited to try out the new service (most of my flying in the past nine months was transatlantic).

The last flight I took with Internet service was back in 2005, when Lufthansa and several other airlines still offered the Boeing Connexion service.

Once we hit 10,000 feet (we’re now at our cruising altitude of 32,000 feet), I turned on my trusty Lenovo ThinkPad X300 and it immediately found several Gogo hotspots.  It took just a few minutes to log in and and purchase service for today’s flight (a Gogo representative was handing out 25% discount coupons during boarding, I should mention) and I chatted with customer service about how to use my BlackBerry Bold smartphone on the same account (all I have to do is log off from the laptop and then log in from the Bold).

Gogo really goes

Gogo really goes

So far I’ve done a speedtest, which showed a download speed of 1.55 Mbps (double what the Boeing Connexion service was able to offer) and checked e-mail,  and read news from several Web sites including  the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.  The flight attendant has already served warm nuts and drinks so I’m going to relax and enjoy the flight for a little bit and then report again.

ON BOARD AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 15, 1:32 P.M. EDT

We’re still at 32,000 feet, just crossing over Minneapolis.

Purchasing Internet access for one’s laptop entitles you to log into the Gogo system from your smartphone at no additional charge.  Smartphone support was recently introduced by Aircell, the company that runs the Gogo network and it only took a few moments to point the BlackBerry Bold to the Gogo hotspot and log in.  I was surprised – but pleased – to find out that I was able to use BlackBerry Messenger from the Bold although I could not place or receive phone calls or send text messages.  BlackBerry mail worked as well as did multiple applications I use regularly on the device.

Current position at 13:32 EDT

Current position at 13:32 EDT

By the time I had interupted multiple people via BlackBerry messenger, the flight attendants were handing out hot towels and tablecloths and starting to serve lunch (I had the herbed shrimp with couscous).   During lunch, I reconnected to the Net via the ThinkPad and, using Slingbox, watched CNN and channel surfed.  The picture quality was surprising good and audio quality was perfect.

After lunch, I checked in with a few colleagues via Lotus Sametime and read a few e-mail messages.

This is a working flight so I need to prepare a talk I’m giving tomorrow but I will continue this post later.

ON BOARD AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 15, 16:38 P.M. EDT/13:38 P.M. PDT

We just crossed the border from Nevada to California and I have been able to spend most of my time working, although connectivity was really only “required” sporadically.  I did get to finish an important document and e-mail it to where it was needed.  Absent Gogo, I could not have done that until we landed.  I know the recipient was waiting for it so having connectivity proved very beneficial.

In sum: is it an absolute requirement? Of course not, we’ve gotten along without in-flight Internet access since the Wright brothers. It was fun, however.

Encarta: 1993 – 2009

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009 by David Goldes

Perhaps not surprisingly, Microsoft announced, via a notice posted on the MSN Web site, that it would stop selling Encarta CDs as of June and discontinue the online version of Encarta by the end of 2009.

Microsoft’s move is a recognition on the part of the company that the business of publishing information has once again changed dramatically.  In the early 1990s, traditional print publishers, such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, found in Microsoft a formidable competitor when Microsoft launched Encarta on CDs and included copies of it in Microsoft Windows.  Microsoft purchased non-exclusive rights to the Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia, which continued separately as a print edition until the late 1990s; the company had reportedly approached Encyclopaedia Britannica first but its owner, worried that sales of the print edition would be hurt, turned down the offer.

Microsoft continued to enhance Encarta by purchasing and incorporating into it Collier’s Encyclopedia and the New Merit Scholar’s Encyclopedia.

Yet Encarta’s time in the sun was fleeting as online information resources, such as the Wikipedia, grew in size (it now has over 10 million articles in over 260 languages).  By comparison, Microsoft’s online Encarta offering currently has 42,000 articles and the complete English language version has only somewhat more than 62,000 articles and is updated much less frequently than the Wikipedia.

“Encarta has been a popular product around the world for many years,” Microsoft wrote in its posted notice. “However, the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.”

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

The Googlification of Search

Thursday, March 19th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Google’s clean home page, combined with the simple search box, has made it easy to look up something online.  Indeed, using Google may just be too easy.

Google uses keyword search.  The concept sounds simple.  Type a few words into a search box and out come the answers.  Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple and it doesn’t really work that way.

Search is a 50-50 proposition.  Perhaps 50% of the time, you will get what appear to be meaningful results from such a search.  The other 50% of the time, you will get rubbish. If you’re lucky that is.

Why does this only work sometimes?  This is because there are two types of searchers, or more accurately, two types of searches.  One is keyword search, the second is category, or taxonomy, search.

It is possible to get incredibly precise search results with keyword search.  Indeed, there is no question that keyword search is a powerful search function.  Being able to enter any word, term, or phrase allows for great precision in some situations – and can result in an inability to find useful information in many others.

However, the use of a taxonomy, or categories, in search, allows the knowledge worker to follow a path that will both provide guidance and limit the number of extraneous search results returned.  Using a taxonomy can improve search recall and precision due to the following factors:

1.)    In keyword search, users simply do not construct their search terms to garner the best results.
2.)    Users also do not use enough keywords to narrow down the search.
3.)    Google’s search results reflect Google’s view of the importance of a Web page as determined by the company’s PageRank technology, which looks at the number of high-quality Web sites that link to a particular page.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the first pages in the search results have the best content but only that they are the most popular.
4.)    Web site owners can manipulate Google and other search engine results through search engine optimization (SEO).  There is an entire industry built around this service and the use of SEO can dramatically impact the positioning of a Web site on the results page.

Unfortunately, in part thanks to Google’s ubiquity as well as its perceived ease of use, the concept of search to most people seems to equal keyword search.  As more and more Web sites and publications (the New York Times being one prominent example) move to a Google search platform, the ability to find relevant information may be compromised.

In the case of the New York Times, much of the functionality previously available disappeared when the Times deployed Google Custom Search.  Only those visitors who know to click on “advanced search” can specify a date range and whether they want to search by relevancy, newest first, or oldest first, although even the “advanced” search experience is still lacking compared to the Times’ earlier system.  Thanks to the Googlification of search, however, most visitors only access the search box, and their ability to find the answers they are seeking is hobbled by the system’s limitations.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.


google