Delano smartens up agencies
- By Paul Ferrill
- May 15, 2000
Capturing the knowledge that flows through the electronic communication
of an organization has been a dream for many government agencies. If only
you could search through every e-mail message, memo and document for specific
ideas or topics and categorize the results into some kind of meaningful
index, you'd have it made. Unfortunately, that task is much easier said
Delano Corp. has added a Knowledge Management Server to its e-Business Interaction
Suite that attempts to deliver just such capabilities, and largely succeeds
in this goal. Bear in mind, however, that the product is not designed as
a general purpose, knowledge management tool but rather as an adjunct to
Delano's existing product base. As such, you must have applications built
and deployed with the e-Business Interaction Suite prior to installing the
Knowledge Management Server.
It's also important to note that this product is a tool rather than
a finished solution. You'll have to invest a significant amount of time
and effort before you should expect to see any results, a characteristic
shared with other knowledge management servers.
After installation, the program's components appear as Actions on the
e-Business Application Builder tool palette. The four components are Knowledge
Base (KB) Add / Delete, KB Category Trainer, KB Search and KB Text Categorizer.
Building a knowledge base application with the graphical Builder tool
is a lot like constructing a program flow chart. Each application begins
with a start event — something that triggers the process. Start events include
things such as receipt of an e-mail message, receipt of a Hypertext Transport
Protocol request, a direct message input or a scheduled event. You then
add appropriate process steps necessary to complete your application. The
Builder includes flow control functions, such as loops and decision blocks,
to allow you to take different actions based on the input received.
Two additional functions make it easy to add content to a knowledge base
from external sources such as HTML files or a World Wide Web site. The http
Get component will import content from any Web site that the server can
connect to. You can extract a single page or walk through an entire site
if you choose. The HTML-to-text conversion component will process an HTML
file and remove all the HTML tags. It will also selectively remove things
such as comment lines, script code and header sections.
Completed applications run on the e-Business Application Server in conjunction
with a Web or e-mail server. The e-Business Interaction Suite monitors
e-mail accounts in much the same way that your e-mail program does. When
the suite detects a new message, the program processes it according to the
rules established using the Builder. There's also a way to process Web form
data using a special Common Gateway Interface program installed with the
e-Business Application Server.
Making full use of a knowledge management system is somewhat of a chicken-and-egg problem. In order to get the full benefit out of the system you need a populated
database, but the database doesn't get populated until people use it or
you force-feed it. To help jump-start the process, Delano provides tools
that allow you to search through external files to add to the knowledge
The most complex part of the product is the use of knowledge domains
and categories. In general terms, a knowledge domain is the highest level
under which a body of knowledge is grouped. Categories represent subgroups
of knowledge. The training of a category uses natural language or "show
interest by example" techniques to build and group similar sets of information.
Building the simpler types of domains with a limited number of categories
should be within the reach of most organizations. However, if you need something
more complex, you'll need help from someone trained in natural language
or artificial intelligence techniques.
Documentation for the product is minimal at best. The 15-page Getting Started
guide included on the installation CD-ROM in Adobe Systems Inc.'s Portable Document
Format provides the bare minimum on how to get going with the Knowledge
Management Server. There's also online HTML help for easy reference.
Creating a knowledge management solution with the Delano suite of tools
is, in short, not a simple task. You'll also find a hefty price tag to go
along with it. If you're not using Delano's e-Business Interaction Suite,
however, you'll want to consider easier-to-implement alternatives. Specifically,
two other companies, Kana Communications Inc. and eGain Communications Corp.,
provide similar capabilities at similar pricing.
— Ferrill, based at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., is a principal engineer
at Avionics Test & Analysis Corp.