Technologists may still be thinking about knowledge management, but they sure aren't talking about it much. Yet Lotus is standing by its KM product, Discovery Server, saying it increases cost efficiencies and productivity, even at companies that are keeping a close eye on their bottom line.
Proponents of knowledge management say it will foster more communication and better creativity. But it is a largely unproven business model, and its dollar value is difficult to measure.
KM combines new software with old-fashioned behavior modification to squeeze more mileage out of workers and internal data. The software evaluates organizations' documents and databases and matches end-users with the information and people it thinks will help them the most with a particular task.
Lotus' Discovery Server analyzes and categorizes information and associates individual users with the documents they create, contribute to, or access. Users can then search the server's database for experts and missives on any subject.
Lotus has been shipping Discovery Server with K-station, its KM collaboration portal, as the Knowledge Discovery System. But IBM has pulled the plug on K-station; parts of it will be appear in IBM's WebSphere Server Portal early next year. (See Lotus article below.)
That's left Discovery, which relied on K-station for its user interface, in a state of limbo. But Lotus promises that Discovery Server 1.1, due out this October, will actually be better for the loss.
"To divorce [Discovery from K-station], we've had to modify the UI and make some other changes to improve accessibility," says David Kajmo, Lotus product manager for Discovery Server.
Discovery 1.1 will function fully as a stand-alone application, but will also include a Java API for embedding its "Knowledge Map" search tool into third-party portals like WPS and Plumtree's Corporate Portal.
Another plus of having Discovery ship separately, Kajmo says, is that "we can ship bug fixes and updates more quickly, without waiting on another product."
But users seem to be in no hurry for KM products.
At a recent gathering of the New Jersey Lotus Notes Users Group, organizer Jim Cimino asked if anyone had been working with Discovery Server. Only one or two members raised their hands.
"Right now, I think it's pretty low on their [clients'] radar," Cimino says. "Other things are taking top priority."
They may also simply have less money to spend on new technology: IDC says IT spending between 2001 and 2003 could be $150 billion lower than its earlier predications. (Europe alone may count for 1/3 of the decline.)
Kajmo says adoption rates for Discovery would be greater if businesses knew more about KM. "It's a brand-new, innovative, category-defining product," he says. "And it's going to take some time to catch on. But once users get it [understand KM] they really get it."
MORE ON KNOWLEDGE MANAGMENT
Still don't get it? You're not the only one. These links will show you how a KM investment could help, or potentially hurt, your business:
InformationWeek.com: Questioning KM
Lotus "may find that it's a tough time to sell high-concept, high-culture IT systems, especially those with difficult-to-prove returns on investment," according to this story.
Lotus POV: K-station Now in a Better Place
"K-station is not disappearing, nor is Lotus getting out of the portal business," says Rich Bernardo, Director of Lotus' Knowledge Management Applications Group. The new WPS will combine K-station's out-of-the-box easy setup with its own customizability.
CIO.com: What's Kraken?
Who needs K-Station when you've got Notes? 600 workers at Pricewaterhouse-Coopers are building an informal knowledge base by simply asking and answering each other's questions directly, via e-mail.
Mark Baard is a contributing writer based in Milton, Mass.