Leaders offer keys to successful KM

Agencies seeking to deploy successful knowledge management projects must start small, integrate KM with the agency's mission and stay abreast of changing technology, according to speakers at a Washington, D.C., conference April 15.

"Knowledge management" broadly refers to locating information within an organization and making it easier for people to access. The technology used includes database management, data mining, search and retrieval systems, collaboration tools, and Web portals, among others.

Speakers at the conference, sponsored by E-Gov, part of the FCW Media Group, touched on such challenges as:

* Finding information in unstructured data sources such as e-mail messages or online chat transcripts.

* Putting the right priority on relevant data while recognizing that some information is less important.

* Weaving KM into an agency's overall business process.

"This can't just be another thing to do. Everybody already has too much to do," said Catherine Teti, knowledge services officer with the General Accounting Office, speaking as part of a panel.

GAO has integrated KM into its strategic plan, she said. Comptroller General Dave Walker champions KM, and leadership support is another key factor in a successful program, Teti said.

Agencies have to find their own path to success, she added. "This is not a cookie-cutter approach. What works for one agency may not work for another agency."

While panelists emphasized the importance of patience and long-term commitment, small early objectives can build momentum fast, said Charlie Bixler, vice president and director of homeland security and law enforcement at User Technology Associates Inc.

"Quick victories, quick wins are very, very important," he said. Bixler was speaking on behalf of Bob Turner, KM strategist with the Federal Aviation Administration, who was unable to attend the conference due to illness.

"All of the mundane work of collecting information and making it available to people is 95 percent of the job," said Claude Vogel, chief scientist with Convera, a developer of search and categorization software.

Technologically, mining useful information from unstructured data sources remains a challenge. E-mails, audio and video feeds, chat logs and message boards all contain potentially valuable information. Unlike databases, however, where data is filed, categorized, catalogued and easy to retrieve, there is no simple way to find data that lacks such structure.

Search tools can help find key words in text sources, but their ability to separate useful information from background chatter remains limited. Nontext resources such as video feeds are even more challenging.

"There's a lot of information in e-mails that is never mined," said Jon Whitman, senior systems engineer with Hyperwave Information Management Inc., a company that offers several KM software tools.

KM planning should span all levels of the organization, from a high-level view of overall goals all the way to considering how individual employees can get to information they need, said Paul Burger, vice president of technology solutions at Systalex Corp. He supports the Commerce Department as a representative of the vendor.

KM also should account for information's relevance, said Gilles Mosseau, director of developer relations with Hummingbird Ltd. "With 'Star Wars,' there is a lot of information about that, but you have to separate the George Bush from the George Lucas," he said, offering an example. "It's not the same information."

Ultimately, as with many paradigms that require a shift in work habits, successful KM rests on changing the workplace, said Tim Butler, president and chief executive officer of SiteScape Inc., a maker of collaboration software based.

"It's not just about technology. It's integrating the culture that exists within your organization with the technology," he said.


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