One-Stop Knowledge Shop

Start-up KnowledgeTrack hopes to keep knowledge-sharing on track with portals

You want to create a companywide public relations campaign that will include information about your firm's products, people and history. But where do you find that information?

At most companies, the answer is: everywhere. But the founders of start-up KnowledgeTrack Corp. say their knowledge management technology can provide employees with a means of gathering people, documents and data into a single virtual location.

CEO Jack Porter and Chairman Bill de Lambert founded the Pleasanton, Calif.-based company in 1998 to create a Web-based portal application that could serve as a central collaboration point within and outside an organization.

Released last June, Knowledge Center straddles the knowledge-sharing and Web publishing fence. It allows users to publish documents in Adobe Portable Document Format files or the HTML Internet programming language, create threaded discussions and collaborate online to create documents.

Centralized Access

The need for a central knowledge-access point prompted Financialprinter.com to adopt Knowledge Center as a core part of its Web-based services. Customers log on to the secure Web site to collaborate on legal and financial documents, says Matt Stodolnic, vice president of product technology at Financialprinter.com, the Web business unit of Conscium Inc. in San Francisco.

"We use (Knowledge Center) to streamline the entire transaction process," says Stodolnic. Any given project, such as filing documents for an acquisition or an initial public offering, may involve several companies, law firms and auditors scattered across the country or the world. With Knowledge Center, the process is completed sooner because each party has access to the current document version. It also helps eliminate the need to send hard copies overnight for approval, Stodolnic says.

"It's easier to manage the data -- and the destruction of it, too -- from one place," Stodolnic says, because his firm typically deletes the draft version after a final copy of a document is approved. "If a client requires files to be deleted, it's easier to delete it centrally than if we sent out each document in an e-mail to a 30-member working group."

If Knowledge Center takes off, Porter says success will stem from the product's ability to cost-effectively reduce geographic and social barriers to communication.

Analyst Gautam Desai at DocuLabs Inc. in Chicago said the application server architecture of Knowledge Center differentiates it from competing products and helps it scale. The product uses Microsoft Corp.'s Transaction Server and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s iPlanet server for its Windows NT and Solaris versions, respectively.

ACSIA Insurance Services Inc. wanted to give its sales force and regional managers a central place to keep abreast of updates on insurance regulations, rate changes and competitive pressures. The Burlingame, Calif.-based long-term care insurance broker has a sales force of 250 in 15 states.

"Our biggest challenge was providing reliable communication to our sales force, most of whom work out of their homes," says Brent Stiggins, vice president of marketing and information systems at ACSIA. "Before, we had to push most of our information out via mail to get to our sales force. And with a commission-based sales force, there's lots of turnover, so keeping track of them was difficult."

ACSIA's sales force and managers use a Web browser to access the intranet site for company-generated updates, regional information and competitive data. But because the system is intended to capture tacit knowledge in addition to explicit knowledge, other challenges lie ahead. "The technical implementation was easy, but the cultural part takes time," Stiggins says.

Typical software applications require minimal end-user buy-in. But for knowledge management projects to succeed, managers must get end users to commit to sharing information.

"There is a whole set of issues with knowledge management that are not resolved by technology," explains Hadley Reynolds, research director of The Delphi Group in Boston. "We've always said that technology is only about 15% of the knowledge management problem. The major challenges are building communities, dealing with intellectual property and employee equity relating to intellectual capital."

One sales region wanted to add complex passwords and access lists in order to restrict access to representatives in that region alone, Stiggins says. "I knew where they were going with that," he says, and so he nipped that potential turf battle in the bud.

Finding Room on the Bandwagon

Every software vendor in the online knowledge management space defines its enterprise portal server differently. But a few components tie all of them together: online document collaboration, centralized access and searching of far-flung data resources, and document publishing. Pricing on Plumtree Software Inc.'s Corporate Portal Server starts at $150,000, and Sequoia Software Inc.'s Interchange 2000 starts at $50,000 per server. Gyphica Inc.'s PortalWare costs $225,000, and Viador Inc.'s E-Portal Suite starts at $125,000.

Microsoft and Lotus Development Corp. have made no secret that they want a chunk of the knowledge management and enterprise portal market, too. Introduced last fall, Microsoft's Digital Dashboard offers a single interface to access local files, applications and data via the Internet.

Raven

Lotus plans to ship its Raven portal server later this year. Raven will offer Web and document search capabilities, automatic creation of end-user profiles and automatic cataloging of data stores. For example, if new data on shock absorbers gets added to a document store, any users subscribing to that data store could be notified via e-mail. The profiling features would also e-mail updates to users of newly added content. Like Knowledge Center, it will most likely support Windows NT and Solaris, but it will also support IBM's AS/400 and RS/6000. Raven has been winning rave reviews from analysts. David Coleman, an analyst at Collaborative Research Inc. in San Francisco, said the Raven features he has seen tackle the technical challenges of enterprisewide knowledge sharing and collaboration.

"We compete a little bit with (Lotus), but primarily we're competing against white papers," says Jack Porter, CEO of KnowledgeTrack. "Right now, they don't have a product offering but a direction." Still, Porter struck a deal with Autonomy Inc. in San Francisco last month to add personalization and cataloging features to Knowledge Center. The new tools will recognize user tendencies to read and submit content on certain topics and prompt them to update their personal pages with this data.

"The problem is, who has the product in the market?" says Hadley Reynolds, an analyst at The Delphi Group. "There is still plenty of room for competition."

Related:
5 ways to make Windows 10 act like Windows 7
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon