How to Get Your Company in the Know

Product shortcomings, security, corporate culture issues pose challenges.

Knowledge management systems have the potential to become the most important means of information dissemination to hit the enterprise since e-mail, but product weaknesses and thorny political issues remain major barriers to successful deployments.

In this installment of IT Agenda, eWeek Labs describes the current state of KM and discusses how IT managers can overcome the myriad challenges to harnessing an organizations collective brainpower.

One of the most important things to remember is that KM is not a product you install (although vendors think it is). KM is a process that doesnt begin with IT and doesnt end with IT; IT is merely the plumbing.

KM solutions are tightly integrated combinations of software, policies and procedures that work together to help users access data needed to perform jobs more efficiently and effectively.

A major characteristic shaping the KM market today is that even mature, established KM packages can still successfully manage only free-form, text-oriented information, such as e-mail messages, word processor documents and Web pages. Key business information stored in other formats—including spreadsheets, databases, training videos and voice mail messages—remains largely inaccessible to KM packages.

According to Dave Buczek, director of learning services for Sapient Corp., in Cambridge, Mass., a consultancy with experience in KM implementation, "KM solutions in the past dealt well with structured data, but a shift has occurred where there is more collaboration involved. This has led to the creation of unstructured information—in the form of instant messages, Webcasts, etc.—which needs to be searchable and usable."

Products such as Convera Corp.s RetrievalWare—which can index media such as video presentations and scanned images, in addition to standard documents—will become more important as multimedia content expands throughout the enterprise.