Security and cultural issues still stand out

Agencies developing knowledge management systems must consider more than just the technology's ability to find that right piece of information or identify an agency's resident expert on a particular topic. At a more fundamental level, officials must build adequate security into the system and have a strategy for the cultural change issues that will come into play — two classic thorns in the side of KM, according to industry observers.

"The onus is on government to deploy security in such a way that it empowers safe and reliable sharing of content and knowledge — not inhibit it in the name of security," said Carl Frappaolo, an analyst with the Delphi Group in Boston.

While in the past, many KM vendors have given "lip service" to security requirements, organizations are increasingly demanding robust, built-in options, he added.

The industry is responding. Collaborative KM player mGen Inc., for example, has woven multiple layers of security into its system, so users access only the information they are allowed to see, said Jack Battersby, mGen founder and chief executive officer.

"Nobody talks to the database except an app server," he said. "There is no way an end user can actually get to the data."

MGen's security system dynamically builds an interface denoting the exact news feeds or documents a user can see, while actively pointing the user to "must see" communities of interest determined by program leaders.

For its part, content management company Verity Inc. offers fine-grained, document-level security designed to take into account the different security level clearances of individual employees. A single document can be even parsed into multiple pieces, with users' access to sections based on their DOD clearance.

Because the success of KM systems is so dependent upon user participation, it is important that cultural changes also be considered in KM deployment efforts, Frappaolo added. This involves training employees in how to use the KM system as well as providing incentives for using it, rather than just turning on a software feature and hoping that users will discover its value on their own.

"Knowledge management is predominately about culture and work habits," he said. "You have to assess what type of environment you are going to be building the system into — what motivates individuals to learn and share."

At the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, officials tapped a KM module called LiveLink that will encourage adoption by easily integrating with Microsoft applications to provide users with the familiar look and feel of desktop applications, said Jolanta Stachowicz, ESC's knowledge management program manager.

In addition, the base offers weekly classes to ensure users have the training and support necessary to adapt to the new system. Experts in various pieces of the application meet often with users to help them learn the system, and base leaders have personally communicated with users to encourage adoption, as opposed to simply sending out directives via e-mail, Stachowicz added.

"Time and time again leadership comes down to worker-bee level and says, 'We're going to do this, and I am behind it and I want you to be behind it. We're going to give you lessons learned, [and] we're going to stick with you until we get it done,'" recounted Stachowicz.

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