Advancing knowledge

Information and the people who create, use and manage it have long been two of the federal government's most important assets. That explains the government's appetite for information technology that can help employees deal more efficiently with a constantly rising mountain of data.

In fact, the federal government was one of the earliest and is still one of the biggest customers of data warehousing technology, which agencies use to gather and analyze large amounts of data.

More recently, many agencies have discovered the benefits of a diverse new group of IT products collectively referred to as knowledge management solutions. Such tools organize the materials workers create during their daily routines.

The government already has plenty of basic experience with knowledge management technologies. But agencies can build on their investments and make their systems more productive and efficient, and those are the topics we explore in this special report.

For example, once a knowledge management project is up and running, the next step is to create a system that enables employees to organize themselves into working groups focused on specific shared goals. Such a team is referred to as a "community of practice." In our lead story, we look at several new technologies that federal agencies can use to create and nurture communities of practice.

When it comes to data warehousing, the government's wide use of the technology actually creates a problem. As the number of stand-alone systems grows, they become more costly to operate and update — not to mention integrate with one another if need be. Our second story covers the use of metadata, a strategy that can help an organization create a common way to build and manage various data processing systems.

Our final story addresses the often complex storage infrastructures that support knowledge management applications.

Storage-area networks are a good first step toward a common and more manageable physical storage infrastructure, but the next piece of the puzzle is an emerging class of products called SAN file systems, which provide a uniform way to store files while still making them easily accessible to different kinds of computer systems.

Although the benefits from the types of enhancements discussed in this report are significant, adopting them is not a simple endeavor. Investment in new products may be required, but perhaps the biggest cost will be the staff time to field and manage the new tools.

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