It's only a matter of time, experts say, before records and knowledge management merge
Records management is a way of tagging and filing an organization's official
records so they can be accessed easily by anyone who needs to see them.
Knowledge management is the art of gleaning information from institutional
data and putting it to use to make that organization work more effectively.
Until now, they've been considered separate disciplines, but if you could
put the two together, what would you get?
The answer might not be long in coming. Software vendors seeking ways
to increase their markets are developing integrated solutions, while users
who have embraced one technology are beginning to understand the advantages
of combining it with the other. Although people may disagree on the timing,
no one doubts that a merger of sorts is happening.
"We are definitely seeing a convergence between records management,
document management and knowledge management," said Mark Tucker, a senior
consultant with the Delphi Group.
Document management generally refers to technology used to track an
electronic document through the routing process, while records management
involves its long-term storage and retrieval. Over the past 18 months, automated
records management has been merged into document management tools, Tucker
said. "That's where the circle is being closed."
The pressure for a convergence between records and knowledge management
is coming from both government and business users, according to Bill Smithson,
group vice president for information technology at Materials, Communication
and Computers Inc. (MatCom), a professional services firm based in Alexandria,
Advocates of each technology are increasingly driven to provide better
customer service by doing things faster, better and more consistently. At
the same time, he said, they want to spend fewer dollars on training and
"And they can do that only if the tools are there," he said. "Some vendors
have seen that, and those who have developed knowledge management tools
see it as a way to use them more effectively. That's why you are seeing
knowledge management being folded into records management tools."
That kind of capability relates directly to what governments are increasingly
trying to do with customer relation management (CRM) and enterprise resource
planning (ERP), said Rod Massey, chief information officer for Palo Alto,
He sees knowledge management eventually playing a significant role in
his city's e-government strategy, both in automating the interaction with
citizens and integrating document management, workflow, reporting and other
elements across the enterprise.
"We are starting to slowly see this kind of integration, even with front-end
modules such as permitting," Massey said.
Hampton, Va., officials are "just starting to scratch the surface" of
knowledge management in some of their e-government projects, said John Eagle,
the city's director of information technology. He pointed to a recently
installed 311 dispatch service that allows citizens to call one number to
get their questions answered.
In the new service, government documents have been consolidated using
records management, and knowledge management has been combined with the
CRM system so phone dispatchers have access to almost any piece of information
they need to answer a query.
"It's a very powerful tool," Eagle said. "It means that any single person
in our organization now has the collective knowledge of hundreds of people."
So far, any convergence of knowledge management and records management
has come through separate but integrated — rather than truly merged — tools.
Cuadra Associates Inc., for example, sells a product called Star, described
as a "single software package" that provides a full range of information
management tools. Star/Rims is the company's records management tool. Similarly,
Star/WorkSaver II is the knowledge management tool that creates the profile
data, or metadata, of records as they are created and stored. It can be
used with other Star products or on its own.
Some companies use the technology of others to provide knowledge management
capabilities. TrueArc Inc., for example, produces the line of ForeMost electronic
records management tools, but instead of supplying its own knowledge management
tool, the company chose to incorporate technology from Autonomy Corp.
Autonomy's Dynamic Reasoning Engine enables unstructured information
— the fastest-growing kind of documentation, thanks to the Internet — to
be personalized, organized and delivered to users by automatically analyzing
and understanding the information based on its content.
"Autonomy's software gives users the ability to aggregate multimedia,
unstructured information, and that allows individuals or groups to share
content no matter what format it's in," said Rita Joseph, public-sector
vice president for Autonomy. "It's starting to become more obvious to people
that it's easier for them to find information if records management is implemented
with knowledge management."
According to some industry players, the vendor trend of including a
flavor of each others' products in their offerings has become more noticeable
in the past year.
"They are trying to make their products more available and provide end
users with more robust capabilities," said Jim Gander, director of enterprise
business solutions at systems integrator Logicon Inc., a division of Northrop
Grumman Corp. "They are concerned that [governments] spend the money for
both records management and knowledge management initiatives, and that the
user community supports that. So they want to make their tools as easy to
use as possible."
The newest offerings actually use some of the oldest technology. SER
Solutions Inc., for example, the U.S. subsidiary of SER Systems AG, uses
neural networking technology known as SERbrainware as the core of its line
of SERware products. Instead of applying rules-based classification to manage
documents and extract information, SERbrainware learns how to read and understand
information in a document and then do something with it.
This single platform captures data from both structured and unstructured
documents at the front end and, at the back end, takes the information derived
from that data and turns it into knowledge useful to the organization.
SERware can handle 88 percent to 93 percent of the information flowing
into an organization without it ever having to be touched by a human, said
Mike Ball, SER Solutions' vice president of marketing. However, given neural
networks' history of unreliability, he knows he will have a stronger than
usual skepticism to overcome.
"We believe our German scientists have created a unique neural network
system that really works," he said. "And we believe that most people do
want a single solution that will take care of all of their knowledge properties.
The larger part of the market — those organizations that don't have a major
level of IT competence internally — are looking for these kinds of turnkey
Just how soon all of this will affect government users is unclear. Certainly,
federal agencies, under pressure from legal mandates, are increasingly turning
to records management tools. Use of knowledge management tools is lagging,
but observers believe it's only a matter of time until it catches up.
State and local governments have their own pressures that will push
the use of records and knowledge management, observers say.
Most states, for example, have a three-year deadline to install "one-stop"
information portals for their citizens, said Autonomy's Joseph, and that
will affect the demand for tools.
However, even tech-savvy governments are only beginning to explore an
integration of those tools. For example, Massachusetts CIO David Lewis believes
the use of true knowledge management software in government is at the very
beginning, "so integration with records management isn't even in the talking
The adoption of integrated tools will take some time, and the technology
may not even be the biggest problem. Records management and knowledge management
are usually the concerns of different organizations within governments,
so turf battles and culture clashes loom.
And then there are the technology issues to settle. Well-integrated
records and knowledge management tools will require a level of standardization
beyond the current level, in which most tools have been developed using
"But the tools that are available now just are not that mature," said
Hampton's Eagle. "And their uptake will be spotty, anyway. Some organizations,
such as libraries and those concerned with public safety, will have an immediate
need for them, but others will be much slower to take them up."
His prediction? It will be "at least another three or four years" before
the knowledge tools revolution takes hold in the state and local market.
Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached
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