By Michael Caton  |  Posted 2005-10-03 Print this article Print

Tacit Software Inc.s ActiveNet provides a good tool set for capturing and sharing individual knowledge to meet an organizations goals.

ActiveNet 3.2, which began shipping last month, provides tools that capture data from users sent mail files. The tools then let users self-identify expertise and establish workflows to share that information.

Click here to read a review of an app that puts knowledge in context.
The biggest problem with ActiveNet, as with all knowledge management applications, is getting people to use it. ActiveNet uses e-mail to manage requests for assistance, so the effectiveness of the software depends on user responsiveness.

Pricing depends on the number of users covered by data capture as well as the number of users searching for information. According to company officials, ActiveNet deployments usually start at a hefty $250,000 and cover several thousand users. In large organizations, its easy to see how the product could pay for itself, particularly at enterprises with complex R&D processes or sales cycles.

eWEEK Labs tested the software using ActiveNets preconfigured procurement module, which we can see benefiting organizations that must buy expensive, purpose-driven equipment, such as specialized construction or manufacturing equipment. In this instance, the software would help connect one user looking to buy a piece of equipment with another user who has bought one to determine if it would work or is even necessary. Tacit Software also has R&D and proposal development modules.

Tacit uses a conventional knowledge management model of self-identifying expertise, and it can augment this methodology by discovering information throughout an organization using connectors to enterprise resources, such as data repositories or e-mail systems. We tested the e-mail connector, which periodically indexes sent mail in a user mail file, and liked how this approach reduces problems that occur in self-identified systems when users fail to keep their profiles up-to-date.

ActiveNet looks at the e-mail that users send because users are more likely to distribute information on which they have expertise than to receive it. As part of the e-mail search, ActiveNet also rates a users expertise by the amount of information on a particular topic in sent mail. ActiveNet supports IMAP, Microsoft Corp.s Exchange and IBMs Lotus Domino mail servers; it searches user mail via an account that administrators create that has read access to users mail files.

We found ActiveNet easy to use both in terms of managing self-identified profiles within the system and using the procurement module. ActiveNet provided us with a simple Web-based interface for managing our profiles, including a biography, source material, conversations, and lists of public and protected terms.

Managing each of these elements proved straightforward in tests. For example, source material gave us a way to provide the system with more information based on the recent content we had authored. The system derives public and protected terms from a users in-box, with protected terms being a list of new terms derived from periodic updates that a user can elevate to public status. Although the system describes terms as either public or protected, users manage terms through topics, so we didnt have to worry about approving a list of terms.

Likewise, we found conversation management to be well-thought-out. Conversations occur through the modules and are the fruit of the indexing labor. Users looking for help initiate conversations through the modules based on search terms. ActiveNet presents results with related terms in a list view; users can then tap the related terms to help focus a search to the most appropriate experts. They then initiate requests for information through a Web form that generates an e-mail message that is sent to anonymous experts.

As experts, we could control participation in a conversation based on the level of expertise and the number of requests per week. The system can override user settings if the user is the only subject- matter expert or if participation is critical. Experts can also manage participation in the system in the same way they manage terms. For example, it is possible to discard terms as well as protect certain ones to keep from being identified as an expert. Term management features can also be automatically configured from the administration console.

From an administrative perspective, ActiveNet 3.2 does a good job organizing a complex system into manageable components, largely because the system is relatively flat. Administrators concern themselves only with adding users and configuring the application and its components. The biggest challenge for administrators will be configuring the systems roles that manage the indexing of information, particularly the indexing of sent e-mail.

In addition, administrators are charged with defining the scope or framework under which users can ask for help from experts, but even that is well-defined by the modules.

The product lacks a middle tier of administration and reporting for front-line managers. Although the system is designed to be anonymous, we believe that notifications to managers on the status of requests would be a valuable addition. Administrators can see usage statistics on the system, but they dont provide the kind of details that would help enforce user participation at a management level.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.


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