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IMS5023 : Information Enterprise Management and Marketing



Week 11

Decisions For Knowledge Sharing: Internal Communitites

 

 

Much of what has been discussed in this unit has been specifically targeted at online public information services. This week we will touch on two areas which relate more to internal communities: intranets and knowledge management. These are huge areas in themselves and are dealt with in other units of this course. The purpose of the following discussion is not to try to summarise those units but to raise some of the issues that impinge directly on the management of enterprise information.

Intranets

While so far we have concerned ourselves with broad online communities, it must be said that intranets form the backbone of any online community within an organisation.

These are primarily communications infrastructures based on local area networks and/or wide area networks, using Internet protocols and tools to facilitate a range of business activities including information dissemination and communication. Typically, these have been built from simplistic systems designed to provide better access to static documents dealing with policies and procedures but, as their potential has been realised, they have rapidly become an integral part of many organisations, often through simple mechanisms such as co-operative database
development using forms, the possibility of collaborative document development, and support for communications features such as email and online forums.

As stated in 'Understanding the Possibilities of Intranet Web Sites' from USWeb an Intranet Web site can help you:

  • Automate business processes
  • Facilitate a collaborative culture
  • Redeploy client/server solutions
  • Increase employee satisfaction
  • Disseminate information
  • Receive feedback.

Obviously, these can be of particular benefit for physically dispersed organisations.

Steven Telleen has done a lot of useful work in the area and his book exploring the issues is available online: Telleen, Steven L. Intranet Organization: Strategies for managing change http://www.iorg.com/intranetorg/index.html. One obvious point that arises from a consideration of his work is that the motivations and organisational roles are much more narrowly defined and the business goals considerably more focused in this environment than in our previous considerations.

Telleen suggests the following basic issues should be considered when designing intranets:

  • Organizational Latency (Surface to Volume Ratios slow down centralized organizations)
  • Information Drives Function versus Function Generates Information
  • Push versus Pull Information
  • Self Service versus Do For Me Support
  • Communication/Coordination versus Command/Control
  • Distributed Decision Making versus Central Control
  • Information Access versus Information Quality
  • Information Context versus Information Content
  • Standardize the Known (don't lock yourself into investing in incremental gains)
  • Exploit the Unknown (this is where new knowledge, hence the real value, lies)

Content and site organisation

In organising a virtual community in any environment, two basic areas for consideration are communication and content. Of course these are interconnected, but until now we have been focusing on the communications aspects.

With intranets, a significant part of the communication can be dependent on the content and how it is organised. Telleen's approach to the issue of organisation within an intranet is to distinguish between 'content' pages and 'broker' pages, where content pages have hard information and broker pages are those which assist in navigation or the location of information. To make this distinction clearer he draws the comparison with the wider Internet, where search engines such as AltaVista and Lycos would be considered broker sites, because there aim is to provide a tool for locating content. Having said that, the point should also be made that even for public Web sites the concept of divorcing content from structure is standard procedure.

Broker pages, and the software and services associated with them, are extremely important because they control the human-computer interface in the sense that it is through them that the user actually gets to the content of a site. The methods vary, from simple hyperlinks to site maps to sophisticated software agents, from 'push' to 'pull' technologies. ('Push' is when the agent sends out unrequested information, 'pull' is when the user actually requests that information.) But, whatever the method, they are important in facilitating communication.

Knowledge management

One term that has rapidly become prominent in this area is knowledge management.

As a concept Knowledge Management deals with the way in which organisations, markets, and individuals create and manage knowledge and facilitate its reuse. The knowledge of any organisation is found in its people and given substance in its business processes, products, customer interactions, and information systems. In this way of looking at knowledge, it may be codified (explicit knowledge) such as project documents, or it may just exist in know-how (tacit knowledge) such as personal insights and experience. A good knowledge management system should be able to organise or contextualise this information in such a way as to make it available to all within an organisation.

Intranets - their content and their navigation - are seen as the logical implementations of such systems. But this is only in a technological sense. Good knowledge management systems are based in the organisational structure and culture - the mere introduction of software or the implementation of an intranet cannot achieve an effective knowledge management system in isolation.

Knowledge management has it own set of software tools. These include, but are not limited to:

  • a set of filters which provide the ability to handle information from a wide range of document types;
  • a database to store and organise that information;
  • a range of collaborative tools; and
  • a user interface providing either access to a reasonably sophisticated search engine or different views of the information.

Typical of these are the products of Hummingbird, and Open Text, both of which have incorporated software which was developed in the more traditional area of database and information retrieval software for the CD-ROM environment. Others include Excalibur Technologies RetrievalWare (http://www.hyperknowledge.com/) which offers concept-based searching through about 50 types of files, including documents, spreadsheets, video clips, and still images, then ranks hits by importance;

Sites which have been developed using this type of software include:

Disclosure. This is an information service that has been developed using the Fulcrum knowledge management software. Examine the demonstration version at
http://www.disclosure.com/dga_demo/search.cgi.

Novell support. The Novell support site has has also been created using Fulcrum software. It includes a variety of support information and facilities, such as an Electronic Software Distribution area, a section for technical information, a 'Knowledgebase' and forums, where you can post a question to Novell Certified System Operators or browse responses already posted. http://support.novell.com/

Examples of intranets put in place by non-profit organisations

1. Philanthropy Australia

Philanthropy Australia is the peak organisation for the philanthropic sector, acting to promote and protect the interests of family, private, corporate and community giving within Australia. As a peak body, it is primarily member-focused with the ultimate objective of growing philanthropy. Its use of IT is governed by that objective and so is targeted at providing services and resources for members and potential members. It is a national body which, although based in Melbourne, must be able to provide services nation-wide. The general public is regarded as an important, but secondary, audience.

Philanthropy Australia is a small organisation. It does have an internal LAN providing access to standard office software and a contacts database, but as far as its membership is concerned, it has established its website as its intranet, providing a mix of public and 'members only' information. The Philanthropy Australia website includes a wide range of information and resources, key features being the provision of online access to the catalogue of the organisation's resource centre, access to a members only area containing restricted access documents, access to an online version of The Directory of Australian Philanthropy and interactive features such as member email-based listservs.

Until recently, the prevailing culture of the philanthropic sector has not been one that understood or encouraged the use of IT. Most foundations are small, private concerns that have not needed to adopt IT for their internal use and so have been slow to take it up for their external communications. This lack of experience with IT and online networking is a barrier that had to be overcome for the benefit of new services provided by Philanthropy Australia to be realised. That is not an outcome that could be achieved by Philanthropy Australia alone, but by using the technology to allow members to share information and experience, they have made an important contribution for the future, the successful redevelopment of its IT base has contributed to the development of more positive attitudes to the use of IT within the sector, and a move to transparency of operation. This not only has the potential to lead to exciting new applications, but also to change the practice of philanthropy.

Building on the IT infrastructure that it has already created, and the change in the culture of the sector, Philanthropy Australia is now in a position to plan new developments in the area of knowledge management, and these should further encourage the sharing of information and experience within the sector. The first of these is the development of an online Knowledge Bank, a members-only repository of shared resources which will include policy documents, guidelines, evaluation reports and other material produced by the member foundations. The second project is to produce a taxonomy or standard language for the sector.

2. Endeavour

Founded in Queensland in 1951 by a small group of parents and friends to provide education, care and support services for their children with intellectual disability, Endeavour is now the largest community organisation of its type, with over 200 service locations, over 1,800 staff and some 2,000 volunteers. It provides services to almost 4,500 people with intellectual disability and their families and is a major social and economic contributor to Queensland. Endeavour undertakes a wide variety of activities, with services including: residential accommodation; flexible lifestyle and accommodation support; supported and open employment opportunities; and aged care support services.

Endeavour has long realised that it needs to invest in information systems in order to realise its goals, having developed its first system in 1969. The history of IT within Endeavour has not always been one of effective use. During the 1980s and 1990s, software and hardware were purchased in an ad-hoc way that focused on short term, one-off solutions for individual departments, with decisions often made in isolation. As a result, Endeavour's IT environment fragmented and it now includes multiple applications and systems performing similar tasks but unable to share data. Despite having made a significant investment in IT, Endeavour's systems cannot provide a clear picture of its overall business.

Issues which limited its capacity to meet its objectives include:

  • Limited staff access
  • Lack of integration
  • Lack of standardisation
  • Decentralisation
  • Inability to Measure/Manage Cost
  • Vendor Dependence

Endeavour developed a Strategic Plan that not only detailed the state of its information systems, it created a vision for the future:

The ideal Endeavour Information System will consist of a central repository holding accurate, comprehensive information from all areas of the business, accessible to all staff, volunteers and stakeholders to inform their plans and decision making. This system will be consistent across all geographic areas in terms of ease of use and management and will be flexible enough to grow and change with Endeavour's changing business needs. The ideal system will have best practice security controls and measures and will offer tiered reporting targeted to the audience desired. In terms of management, the system will be standardised to reduce cost, waste and error and to improve ease of administration and use.

A new system is in development and will be based on an open standards/open source Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). Endeavour will build an Application Framework (AF) before implementing any specific application solution (an Application Framework is a software environment that sits on top of the operating system and all new applications are developed in relation to it rather than the operating system). It is commonly used in large-scale application development and requires the identification and development of technical functionality and business rules that are common to all applications under consideration. The benefit is that once the Application Framework is in place, new applications can be added by deciding which pre-defined business rules apply. This style of development also ensures a consistent look and feel for user interfaces between interfaces. It will also provide for a logical separation of content and formatting logic and will be capable of accepting requests from a variety of communication protocols including HTTP, WAP and SMS.

The Application Framework will support distributed transactions, providing access to existing Endeavour resources (data sources) as well as resources managed by the new implementation. It will provide a mechanism for integrating existing legacy systems. It will also be capable of hosting Endeavour's website, currently created using basic HTML and Flash, allowing the functionality for their clients to grow in line with the overall access strategy.

The major hurdle to come is that of system implementation. Although it will empower staff in the field and provide them with resources never before available, the new environment will represent a significant change for many. Given the current fragmentation of systems and work practices, the process of change management will itself be daunting. Having said that, for the first time ever, will share the same system. In an organisation where working in isolated groups is the norm, staff will be brought closer to each other through a shared culture facilitated by common communications channels. The organisation will also have a platform that is capable of serving all stakeholders, from clients through to managers, bringing with it more transparency and a more direct matching of systems design to organisational objectives.

Useful sites and resources

The Intranet Journal http://www.intranetjournal.com/

Even within similar organisations, intranets can be organised in a variety of ways to achieve a variety of objectives. Ruth Greenberg points out some of the possibilities in her article "He says, she says" which deals with the differences in the implementations at Amoco and Chevron, and which appeared in a recent edition of CIO Magazine at http://www.cio.com/archive/webbusiness/080198_central.html.

Bart Meltzer and Steve Telleen. Using I-net Agents: Creating Individual Views From Unstructured Content. http://www.iorg.com/papers/agents.html

Knowledge Management News http://www.kmnews.com/

Brint.com http://www.brint.com/

Philanthropy Australia http://www.philanthropy.org.au

Endeavour Foundation http://www.endeavour.com.au




Tutorial 11 Week 12

Revision

Tom Denison