Livelink 8 offers variety of knowledge-sharing features

Sometimes an organization's biggest intangible asset is the corporate knowledge locked inside the brains of its employees.

Open Text Corp. delivers a powerful set of tools to help organizations gather and distribute some of its employees' untapped knowledge with its Livelink 8 product. Livelink provides a collaborative knowledge management framework that serves as the foundation for capturing the information that flows daily throughout an enterprise.

New performance enhancements in Version 8 include an improved 64-bit search engine that now underlies the entire Livelink product and a more modular architecture that supports snap-in modules similar to browser snap-ins. The product also sports new collaboration features, including channels, scrolling news and threaded discussion groups.

Sound a bit like Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes? While much of the functionality of Livelink is comparable to that of Lotus Notes, the similarities between the two products pretty much end there. Livelink 8 is based on an underlying relational database, while Notes still uses a transactional database architecture. Notes Release 5 has a browser access option but still requires individually licensed client software for full functionality. Notes also requires a significant amount of care and feeding to make it useful, while Livelink delivers more with little or no user programming required.

The Biggest Challenges Are First

Livelink requires a World Wide Web server and an underlying relational database to function properly. Supported server platforms include Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Unix server, Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Sun Solaris and Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT. Database support includes Oracle Corp.'s Oracle7.3 or higher, Sybase Inc.'s SQL Server 11.0 or higher and Microsoft's SQL Server 6.5 with Service Pack 3. Support for Microsoft's recently released SQL Server 7.0 is forthcoming. For testing purposes, I installed the Livelink software on a Windows NT 4.0 machine running Internet Information Server 4.0 and Oracle8.0.3 for NT.

While the installation process was not difficult, it was very involved. The Livelink 8 Installation Guide contains more than 200 pages of information covering every possible configuration that the product supports. Just wading through the documentation to find the sections applicable to your site will take a little time. A judicious use of wizards does help to take some of the edge off an otherwise tedious installation process. I was able to complete the entire process in under an hour.

Once you have the application software installed, you must configure the system to meet the needs of your organization. Livelink has many capabilities that can be tailored to focus on the kinds of information you want to gather and make available to users. Available views include the traditional Microsoft Windows Explorer-type list view, a view similar to the Yahoo! Inc. Web site and a customizable view the user builds by choosing objects for display. There also are options to display custom search bars, news tickers and hyperlinked banners. A 224-page administrator's guide discusses in detail all you'll need to know to get your knowledge collaboration up and running.

Organizing the Workspace

Livelink attempts to provide an environment for discovering, developing and organizing knowledge. To accomplish this, Livelink uses the concept of workspaces to organize, share and store information pertinent to designated groups, from the entire enterprise down to distinct projects and individual users. All user interaction with Livelink takes place through a Web browser, making the client side platform-neutral.

The Livelink search engine makes it easy to locate information found in any of its categories, such as discussions, documents, tasks and workflows.

Behind the scenes, Livelink uses multiple types of agents to discover and index information for fast searching and retrieval. You also can create search domains or slices, providing a way to search for information in a focused subset of the overall system.

Developing an organizational knowledge base is as much a mind-set as it is a process. Livelink provides a number of collaboration tools, including threaded discussion lists, managed document creation and public folders for storing related information. Getting the right individuals to use these tools will be a bigger challenge than putting the tools in place. Livelink attempts to serve as a catalyst and a facilitator for moving corporate knowledge from individuals to a central repository.

The last piece of the knowledge puzzle is organization. Through the use of workspaces, Livelink makes it easy to categorize and present the right information to individual users, project groups and the entire enterprise.

One handy feature of Livelink is its Change Agents, which track changes to items and events that you wish to follow. Notification of a change arrives via e-mail and gets stored on the Change Agents tab of the Personal Workspace page. Users have complete control over their Personal Workspace in much the same way that many portal Web sites enable users to create their own start pages to fit their needs.

Reaching out to Users

Livelink offers a number of other features, including a channel capability for broadcasting news to all users who subscribe to the channel. A forms module makes it easy to duplicate standard paper forms already in use by an organization and make them available electronically. LiveReports offers another way to present information in a familiar manner. You can create specific reports and assign appropriate security clearance for users who need access to the reports.

Livelink performance will depend on users' underlying hardware and the number of users accessing the system. A number of features, such as the various agents used in creating the searchable index, perform their tasks in the background, without user intervention. Each user search request accesses the previously created index to speed up the search process.

The use of a browser can be a blessing and a curse. If you still have Windows 3.1 platforms lying around that you want to connect with a Livelink server, you're out of luck. Otherwise, just about any late-model browser will do. More good news: You don't have to deploy another client application to users' desktops.

In short, Livelink 8 is a robust tool for gathering enterprise information. If you can get through the installation and configuration process, you'll have everything you need to get going on your knowledge management journey.

-- Ferrill, based at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is a principal engineer at Avionics Test & Analysis Corp. He can be reached at pferrill@fwb.gulf.net.

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Livelink 8Open Text Inc.(800) 499-6544 www.opentext.com

Price and Availability: Available on the open market from Open Text for $125,000 for 100 user licenses. Additional licenses are available for $97 per user.

Remarks: Livelink 8 provides a solid foundation for developing enterprisewide knowledge management. The product works on Unix and Windows NT platforms and a variety of World Wide Web servers. While the installation process is a little involved, the greatest challenge to seeing real benefits is getting personnel to adopt the system widely.

Final Score: Good

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