|At the risk of stretching a knowledge management metaphor way too thin,
I have a story to tell about a little taxi ride I took while in New York.
The day before InfoToday 2002 began I wanted to pay tribute to the victims
of September 11. The hotel doorman got me a cab and told the driver to
take me to Ground Zero, adding to me that the fare should be $10$12.
I repeated my destination to the driver, whose first language curiously
enough was English. Before I go any further, let me make one thing clear:
Even though I go to New York three or four times a year, I do not
know my way around the city—my itinerary is airport, to hotel, to conference,
to hotel, to airport. But that said, I did start getting a bit suspicious
when the fare reached $14—the driver told me it was due to traffic. Traffic?
On a Sunday in Manhattan?
At $16 I asked the driver, "Are you sure we're going to Ground Zero?"
I was assured that, indeed, we were.At $20 I asked again. At $23 and as
we got on an expressway, I asked one more time, "Are you sure we're going
to where the World Trade Center used to be? You know, Ground Zero?"
"Ground Zero?" the cabbie replied. "I thought you said the Bronx
Zoo! See, I even wrote it down." Two hours after I got into the cab,
he dropped me off at the viewing platform. I gave the driver 10 bucks,
Tickets were four blocks away. It was another 2 hours before I could
get on the platform to view the site.
My front seat/back seat problem was precisely the problem organizations
face—and some still do, of course—with front office/back office communication.
Getting systems to talk coherently to each other and deliver information
to the right people at the right time is the very heart of knowledge management.
'Off the Record'
Viewing the KnowledgeNets 2002 PowerPoint slides at http://www.infotoday.com/it2002/presentations
will give you an excellent overview of the conference content—certainly
far better than I could in this report. And the links to other sites and
organizations offer access to as much detail as you could hope for on any
given topic. Check it out—it will be time well-spent.
But the presentations can't capture the conversations outside the session
rooms or in the aisles of the exhibition hall, so I'd like to share the
essence of some of those conversations along with some of the "off the
record" statements to which I was privy.In all cases, this information
comes from the proverbial "sources who wish to remain anonymous."
First, there was a lot of discussion (and some despair) about the sheer
volume of content management (CM) providers. Some vendors and analysts
place the number as high as 75, even after the latest round of consolidation.
In this case, the meek certainly won't inherit the earth: Firms in a weak
financial condition will continue to be gobbled up. The technology is far
from mature, but the larger players will likely spend less time developing
new functionality while shopping for bargain companies with good, complementary
technology.Further, some of the big portal players will emphasize their
own content management systems over the integration of legacy CM offerings
into their platform. Or at least so say anonymous pundits.
The acronym on everybody's lips was absolutely no surprise: ROI. KM
offerings faced skeptical customers in the very best of times, but now
vendors no longer have the luxury of simply touting the advantages of their
really quite remarkable technology. Walking into a customer's office now
means quantifying cost savings. One mistake they are making, though, is
placing too much value on time saved by knowledge workers.
The increasingly popular ROI calculators developed by some software
companies extrapolate cost savings to astronomical levels while assuming
that employees are simply machines. The "savings achieved by reducing search
time" can be automatically translated to the bottom line. Sources say that
to be successful, companies must be smarter than ever before and thoroughly
understand their customers' weaknesses and pain point so they can efficiently
and surgically solve their problems. So vendors must manage their knowledge
to effectively help their customers manage theirs or run the risk of becoming
the cobbler whose children go barefoot.
Long before September 11, it was obvious to all of us in this business
that government—municipal, state, and especially federal—had done a pretty
good job at best managing its information resources. Since then, most Americans
have realized just how desperate the need is for information management
in these times. So it shouldn't be much of a surprise that a lot of informal
conversations centered around how ripe this field of technology is to improve
intelligence gathering, analysis, and dissemination.
Vendors and attendees alike admitted that they have long been pursuing
government for knowledge management consulting and providing solutions.
But only in the past 9 months has there been a palpable sense of urgency
on the part of some government agencies. One mentioned a number of times
"off the record" was the CIA, and it doesn't require much of an understanding
of KM to realize that organization's need to gather and analyze
unstructured data. And these comments came before the FBI's and CIA's acknowledged
failure to properly share information or act upon the information it gathers—or
before President Bush announced the new Department of Homeland Security.
Although the need for KM-related goods and services has been recognized,
dealings with the government aren't necessarily rosy, even in this time
of need, some say. Government IT infrastructure is still at the Pentium
I stage in all too many instances, and the paperwork and sales cycles required
to deal with the unwieldy bureaucracy are staggering.Add to that the complexity
of offerings on the market and some sources fear that what initially appears
to be a tremendous patriotic and market opportunity will become a huge
Make no mistake about it, though, this is just the sort of challenge
that the best KM practitioners and vendors will overcome.
Hugh McKellar is editor ofKMWorld magazine. His e-mail address