By Michael Caton  |  Posted 2005-09-12 Print this article Print

Contextware Inc.s Contextware 2.3 provides a simple-to-use yet deep application for capturing an organizations knowledge in the context of business processes.

During eWEEK Labs tests, Contextware 2.3s flexible tool set allowed us to build out process-oriented knowledge by documenting steps and providing access points to other applications. The product also offers good user auditing, so companies that need to ensure that users are contributing and using the application can do so.

Contextware, which started shipping last month, differs from the search and expert-directory approach to documenting corporate knowledge that was prevalent in first-generation knowledge management tools. Instead, it focuses on helping experts organize and author content.

Ideally, expert authors write content as they create business processes, and that information can then be shared with rank-and-file users. For example, an expert at a company with a growing retail presence could document all the processes involved in building new stores by geography, with links to relevant vendors and government organizations for finding best practices and permit information.

Contextwares approach is becoming more prevalent as companies have started to undertake business process management projects and look for ways to share common practices. Content management and relationship management systems that focus on project management are also good options for managing corporate knowledge.

The Contextware methodology is reflected in how the software is priced, with the number of authors and users and the scope of information affecting the cost. A license with a single author, 10 users and a single scope of discipline—such as human resources—would cost about $35,000. A typical enterprise license with 10 authors, 1,000 users and a handful of knowledge disciplines would cost about $100,000. This pricing is similar to that of competing products, but Contextware will be expensive for many smaller companies.

We like how Contextware organizes authoring and content tasks in its browser-based interface. The application segments information in three areas: a tree-based navigation element on the left side of the browser, an information display area in the center and resources on the right. Authors and users share the same design elements, so anyone using the system should be able to take on author responsibilities with minimal retraining.

Building out a process is a matter of first organizing the process, creating content and then organizing context taxonomy. When we created a process during tests, we needed to design a hierarchy of activities and subactivities that defined the process.

We appreciate that Contextware not only doesnt limit the number of subactivities an author can use but also that it color-codes subactivities, providing a visual clue that it might be time to get more granular.

Contextware uses an embedded HTML editor to create descriptive information about a process for the user. In addition, the software has a couple of tools that make it easy to reorder activities both during and after their creation.

After we created our test activities, we needed to associate them with the information users would need to complete the activities. We could present this information organized around a half-dozen resource types, including content, people and tools.

Authoring and organizing resources can be a bit cumbersome because resources are created and organized under Contextwares general taxonomy-based content management system rather than through the activity design interface. We think the added step of moving outside the activity design interface to another tool is the kind of thing that discourages experts from documenting their work as they go.

A feature that could benefit Contextware in this regard is integration with client-side applications, so authors can post directly to the repository. Exact Softwares e-Synergy provides such integration with Microsoft Corp.s Word and Excel, for example.

Click here to read how PADI has made use of e-Synergy over time. We liked the applications workflow management capabilities. We could manage the state of a resource with a high degree of granularity because the software supports the ability to define our own document states. Workflow is linear, however, since authors can assign a state only to a document that others can then review and comment on.

In terms of providing beneficial features within the user interface, Contextware does a good job of making users part of the process. For example, users can share information or provide direct feedback about a process through an embedded e-mail link that includes a list of users associated with the process. Contextware also organizes information so that users can jump directly to a given process through a pull-down menu when they log on to the system.

Contextwares auditing features allow managers to track how and when the system is used. Auditing is limited to basic logging, but data can be readily exported to Excel.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel