Mergers and acquisitions

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,

Va.

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

staff.

"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,

Calif.

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

solutions."

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

stages here."

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

proprietary technology.

"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

at hullite@mindspring.com.

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