Efficiently and successfully managing the organization’s knowledge base, i.e., the knowledge management paradigm has emerged as a topic that has generated a lot of interesting discussion.
At least two observations can be made with a healthy dose of certainty about this paradigm. First, and albeit from an operational point unhelpful, there is no single, standard definition of what knowledge management is. The unsettled definition characteristic may, however, lend knowledge management a continued vitality. It will continuously undergo transformations and modifications. Second, and more importantly, its significance (conceptual and operational) cannot be overstated.
Varying schools of thought have offered persuasive arguments regarding the conceptual and operational value as to what knowledge management means. Perhaps the most persuasive suggests that knowledge management is a systemic, strategic leveraging of an organization’s intellectual capital. Intellectual capital represents the amalgam of information, experience, skill, and knowledge an organization generates and gathers during its life cycle. Without careful consideration and planning of a knowledge management mechanism that leverages intellectual capital, an organization may be overlooking an asset that is worth three or four hundred percent more than its tangible book value.1
An efficient, powerful knowledge management mechanism is Information Component Management (ICM). The ICM resides in an intranet environment, nestled inside a browser such as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Netscape’s Navigator. The browser interface takes the place of the typical operating interface many users have become used to, for example, Microsoft Windows. InterSite™ by ReachCAST (www.reachcast.com) is an example of an ICM system.
The intranet environment enables leveraging of powerful technologies such as HTML and JAVA and sets the stage for the upcoming client (desktop computer) metamorphosis. From large hard drives running full blown versions of applications such as Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and others, the new "organism" will be what is termed a "thin client." These thin clients will be smaller and cheaper and, according to some media reports, easier to use than the desktops most of us have today. From a network-traffic point of view, thin clients will make a significant contribution toward minimizing network bottlenecks. The main computing and information generation responsibilities will rest on the server.
Scanned documents, files created on the desktop (Word, Excel, etc.), e-mail, voice messaging systems, document management systems, and others are channeled via internal workflow mechanisms to the corporate knowledge base. But in order to be of value—relevant information contained within each of these sources, which can be quickly accessed—these information sources need to be managed in an intelligent manner. Information components (ICs) fulfill this role.
ICs emanate from any information source located on a certain operating system. They represent any kind of structured and non-structured data ranging from paper documents, electronic documents, and multimedia documents. Structured data is defined (i.e., structured) by fields, which are manually entered by a user. In contrast, unstructured data is not confined by a predetermined field structure and key words, which will likely limit the scope of information delivered.
ICs can be selected elements of the parent file. For example, an IC is not necessarily an entire tif file. The tif file (be it multi or single page) can be broken down by the user into several distinct components, each with a potentially independent (relevance) existence from the parent (the main tif file). This structure allows for future, yet undetermined interdependent relations with other ICs to exist. The primary benefit of the unstructured approach is that it guards against a biased, predetermined relationship structure. The user’s query and, more importantly, the content in each of the ICs govern any potential interdependence between ICs in a tif, doc, xls, pdf and other file formats. Therefore, a search result might produce ICs in tif, doc, xls pdf and other file formats. It is important to note that since the ICM is operating in an intranet environment and using HTML and JAVA technology, the original file format of the ICs is of no importance.
Another important feature ICs have is that they look exactly like their source (an important legal quality) and retain the original visual attributes. At no time are any of the source files moved from their physical location. Instead the ICM will take "snapshots" of the originals and deliver only unmodifiable versions (which is again, important from an evidentiary perspective). Graphs and other images contained in the ICs retain their original location and attributes.
ICs are not empty information entities. Imbedded in each is metadata, which represents information about the IC. For example, the metadata contains information about what created this IC (application and user, for example) and associated methods (who can view it, who has access, what happens when a certain event arises, etc.). Finally, the IC is an intelligent "self distributed" (through push technology) component packaged within a JavaBean. As a self distributed component it can, for example, "offer" itself for review to a specific user, or delete itself after a prescribed period of time has elapsed. The JavaBean is the JAVA packaging mechanism, which assures the IC will be interoperable on a variety of operating platforms, or in other words, be platform-neutral.
The significance of this cannot be overstated. While at the intraorganizational level ICs are typically homogenous, i.e., they come from the same platform, they can occasionally be heterogenous. This is especially true when ICs emanate from an operating system that is different than the host system, such as UNIX to Windows NT. Until recently, the lack of interoperability meant heterogenous files were of little or no value. By the very virtue they could not be (in the best case) accessed with ease, meant they did not offer a significant value to the information client. Only files that could be used without turbulent effect to the general workflow, and more specifically, those ICs packaged within a JavaBean, would be of value.
ICM is a powerful and efficient knowledge management mechanism. Since it resides in an intranet environment, it can leverage internet technology, such as HTML and JAVA. These technologies are useful because they assure platform interoperability. This is a crucial feature, since organizations not only generate their own information, but also receive a significant amount of information from a variety of outside sources. It is also significant in view of the trend to move towards thin clients. With today’s increasingly competitive market, ICM significantly improves an organization’s systemic leveraging of its most valuable asset: Intellectual capital.
1 Jerry N. Gauche J.D. LL.M. From Media to Markets: A New Paradigm for Information Management, p. 5, citing Charles Handy The Age of Unreason.
Eran Kahana, Esq. is the Executive Vice President of EDSS, Inc. Visit their website www.edssinc.com. Mr. Kahana can be reached for additional comments by email: email@example.com.