Making the most of knowledge assets

Making the most of knowledge assets

Michael Zisman, executive vice president for strategy at Lotus Development, was recently put in charge of IBM's overarching knowledge management efforts. In an interview with IDG's Ted Smalley Bowen and Ed Scannell, Zisman elaborated on the emerging technologies and services that comprise the category of knowledge management.

IDG: Why do you feel it is necessary to come up with a concept like knowledge management?

Zisman: Clearly there has been a tremendous amount of vibration in the marketplace about this thing called knowledge management. And so we have both the opportunity, and in some senses, the obligation to our customers to add some structure to it and define it.

Frankly, I feel it is a natural evolution from groupware, which was very amorphous. In fact, the world never got a good definition of groupware, other than to say groupware was Lotus Notes. I see knowledge management as a natural evolution of that. But Notes and collaboration is only a pillar of knowledge management. It is much broader than that.

IDG:It is the inherent broadness of the term, though, that confuses people. It is almost like a Rorschach test for IT - it can mean dozens of things to many people.

It is not like there is one answer. It can be arbitrary, but you have to apply some common sense to it. We are starting with the notion that you clearly have a process within a company of creating knowledge, organising knowledge, and distributing knowledge. One of the analyst reports I read recently had a chart that summed up the knowledge management process simply: it is listening, remembering, and teaching.

Is part of the problem asking IT people to think about broader concepts and not products, and to think about re-engineering their business processes?

I won't necessarily disagree with that. I think part of our role is to lead the market. But I want to emphasise that you can't lead by only having what they will need two years from now. You can only lead by supplying things people need today.

What mix of products and services do you envision in these types of engagements in terms of revenues?

If you look at the software companies in the ERP [enterprise resource planning] market, services are, at the minimum, half of their revenues. But then you have companies that do nothing but ERP consulting.

So in the ERP market, services are probably 70 per cent of the market.

There are a lot of similarities between ERP and knowledge management, and services will be a large part of knowledge management.

How can chief financial officers be assured that this isn't a formula for disaster through runaway costs and open-ended consulting engagements?

Knowledge management for most organisations is taking much more than bite-size pieces. I don't think people are going to say: "Well, if knowledge management is collaboration and business intelligence and three other things, maybe I'll do all five of these things right now."

The good news is you can undertake a [smaller] project and have some success.

If people take knowledge management to heart, will this result in companies massively redoing their business processes?

I think it will continue to enable something that is going on fairly fundamentally today in organisations, which is virtual teaming and dynamic work relationships.

The ability to form some virtual teams will hit some walls, and then the technology tends to move those walls and enable that.

So the ability to pull together some dynamic, cross-functional teams is enhanced by this process.

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