Knowledge management (KM), once seen as too extravagant for small and midsize companies, is suddenly back in vogue.
But now many Domino shops are "connecting the dots" within their organizations, not necessarily looking to build around Discovery Server, Lotus' KM cornerstone. Instead, they're finding that custom Domino databases and other, more affordable Lotus products can meet their KM requirements.
"Many of our clients want to leverage their existing technology, without making a major investment," said Matt Corless, a consultant for Atlanta, Ga.-based Eagle Technology Consultants LLC.
Corless recently completed a custom Domino database for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) service, which inspects imports for pests at air, sea and rail ports of entry. The new Domino database is replacing a cumbersome, paper-based system in which "one port would have no idea what the other was doing," Corless said.
With the PPQ database, any user can view the products and pests that USDA inspectors are finding at different ports in real-time. The new system, Corless said, will also sort the inspection data and reveal any emerging infestation patterns.
Corless' incremental approach to knowledge management, which targets only concrete business needs, is gaining favor with Domino specialists.
"The KM movement kind of fell apart after it started looking like it was becoming too grandiose," said Gartner analyst Simon Hayward. "But it's been coming back into fashion in a more pragmatic and down-to-earth way, with a focus on individual departments and functions."
Hayward also said that some of Domino's characteristics, like its ability to deal with unstructured information, make it useful for KM applications.
Corless helped build another Domino database for Manhattan Associates, Inc., a maker of supply chain management software based in Atlanta, Ga. That database tracks all of its employees' skills, certifications, communications and publications.
Manhattan Associates requires each of its 500-600 employees to maintain an up-to-date profile of their skills and expertise in the database. For example, a manager looking to fill a position for an experienced C++ programmer in England can search the database through his Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browser.
"In this database, he can find someone with the right skills, who is immediately available and willing to travel," Corless said. But he notes that the database will only be as good as the data entered by the employees themselves.
More intelligent data mining, which can recognize emerging expertise even before an employee updates his own self-evaluation, requires comprehensive KM software like Discovery Server.
"KM software assigns value to documents, shows affinities of people to particular topics, and cultivates KM behavior in an organization without managers having to intervene," said Antony Satyadas, Knowledge Discovery business manager at Lotus.
Satyadas conceded that a comprehensive solution like Discovery Server "requires a change in an organization's culture, where knowledge is shared more openly." But he also insisted that even small and mid-size businesses can benefit from an investment in KM software.
"We have several small law firms among our KM customers," Satyadas said.
For Domino shops where Discovery Server isn't an option, Lotus is promoting Domino.Doc, its document life cycle management product, as a way to track documents and tighten internal controls.
Eagle Technology's Corless believes growing businesses should keep Domino.Doc and Discovery Server on the table.
"The larger you get, the more varied your skills become," said Eagle Technology's Corless." You may also be storing knowledge in different languages. That's when you need a system that will sort and catalog all of that data."
Mark Baard is a contributing writer based in Milton, Mass.
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