The management concepts of enterprise information portals (EIP)
and Knowledge Management (KM) have been tossed around in guru circles since
1998. Intuitively the concepts seem sound enough—better communication of
information enterprise-wide across departments and geography should lead to
better decision making and allow the enterprise to better manage and leverage
the knowledge generated. However, actually quantifying and measuring the
benefits of these management concepts has proven to be elusive.

In his book Enterprise
Information Portals and Knowledge Management
, Joseph M. Firestone lays out
the intuitive arguments that define EIP and KM and establishes a process for
measuring the benefits derived from those management concepts. Through this
process, IT professionals and other decision makers can accurately estimate the
benefits of each system. The downloadable
chapter
from Enterprise Information Portals and Knowledge Management
explains how improvements to competitive advantage, ROI, and productivity can
be measured and estimated.

Untitled Document

 

Enterprise
Information Portals and Knowledge Management

By Joseph M. Firestone
ISBN: 0750674741
Publisher: Butterworth-Heinemann
1st edition (October 2002)
Pages: 456


 

Interview

In our interview with author Joseph M. Firestone,
TechRepublic explores the benefits of EIP and KM and discusses some of the
obstacles enterprises face when implementing KM.

[TechRepublic] In
your book, you make a concerted effort to define Enterprise Information Portals
and to discuss how they came to be and how they have evolved over time. For the
benefit of the TechRepublic membership, could you provide a nutshell definition
of EIP and describe the relationship it has with Knowledge Management?

[Firestone] I’ve
always thought that the best definition of the EIP was the very first one by Chris
Shilakes and Julie Tylman in their 1998 Merrill Lynch report that launched
interest in EIP products. Here it is:

“Enterprise
Information Portals are applications that enable companies to unlock internally
and externally stored information, and provide users a single gateway to
personalized information needed to make informed business decisions. ”
They are: ” … an amalgamation of software applications that consolidate,
manage, analyze and distribute information across and outside of an enterprise
(including Business Intelligence, Content Management, Data Warehouse & Mart
and Data Management applications.)”

I like the breadth of this definition. It, along with their
supplementary specification of the EIP concept, envisioned a category of
application that would integrate business intelligence based on structured data
with collaboration, workflow, unstructured content, and knowledge management.
The term “information” in Enterprise Information Portals is being
used here in a very broad way to encompass all kinds of structured and
unstructured content, and the EIP was envisioned as a generalized application
that would also make available a broad range of applications—analytical, text
processing, and collaborative—to end users. In spite of its comprehensiveness,
this definition of EIP does not lack clarity. It makes clear that ideal EIPs
synthesize diverse processing orientations, and that an EIP is not just a
“front end”, but a portal system whose specific content is changing
and expanding over time. This “openness of meaning” in the scope of
portal functionality is an argument in favor of retaining the original
definition of the EIP as a useful strategic concept that can give rise to
innovation in the field for some time.

When EIPs first appeared in 1998 and the early part of 1999,
they were characterized as KM’s “killer app”. I think, though, that
as time goes on it has become clear that however helpful increasingly
comprehensive EIP products are in the areas of information sharing, publishing,
searching, and information retrieval; collaboration and community facilitation;
structured data analysis and reporting; content management, and even work flow
integration and composite applications; they are still far from providing
anything but improved generalized support for KM, through the support they
provide for information processing and management.

KM, after all, is about managerial interventions that
enhance knowledge processing including problem recognition, knowledge making or
production, and knowledge integration. But EIP products cannot currently
distinguish information from knowledge, so how does one know when one has made
knowledge or whether one is integrating it, rather than just information? EIPs
generally do not currently include functionality for systematically testing and
evaluating knowledge claims, so they are without support for one of the primary
things people need to make knowledge, either in groups or communities or in the
enterprise as a whole. Finally, EIPs do not generally provide specific support
for many common categories of managerial activities of knowledge managers. For
example, what specialized support do EIPs provide for leadership functions, or
for Resource Allocation, or for negotiations with representatives of other
managerial functions, or for KM-level knowledge making and knowledge
integration? The answer is little, if any (see Chs. 13 – 17 of my book, and my
series of KM World columns in 2003).

[TechRepublic] In
your book you also take some time to define “knowledge” in the enterprise
context and to discuss the impact of “culture” on the transfer of
knowledge. Overcoming entrenched corporate cultures, with their inherent
emphasis on data islands, is a major aspect of EIP and Knowledge Management
implementation. How can IT professionals help in this regard? Has it been your
experience that it is often the IT professionals themselves who are
entrenched? 

[Firestone] I
think EIPs are very much about overcoming data islands. They are the latest in
a series of technology solutions aimed at ending the stovepipe problem.
However, I don’t think success in integrating previously existing data islands
is a problem of special motivating significance for KM, but rather for
Information Management (IM). Nor do I think that entrenched corporate cultures
can be overcome by information integration, alone. Entrenched corporate
cultures are about old and entrenched and static knowledge, and also about
political power. The way to end such entrenchment is by encouraging problem seeking and recognition, and by supporting
distributed problem solving and innovation processes and integration of newly
produced knowledge in the enterprise.

IT professionals can help in overcoming entrenched corporate
cultures by recognizing that KM is not primarily about IT, but rather about
knowledge process enhancement in the service of specific high risk decisions.
They can contribute to such enhancements by developing portal-based
applications that support (a) distributed problem seeking and recognition with
respect to high risk decisions, (b) acquiring external information, (c)
performing individual and group learning, (d) arriving at tentative solutions
to the problems presented by high risk decisions, (e) testing and evaluating
those solutions, (f) integrating the newly made knowledge into the
organization’s distributed knowledge base, and (g) using it at the decision and
business process levels of the enterprise to reduce the risk of error in these
decisions.

This recommendation is incremental in character. It suggests
that IT professionals, working within a strategy set by Knowledge Managers,
move from key high risk decision to key high risk decision, to gradually
improve knowledge processing and open the way for decision makers to create new
knowledge day-by-day. Eventually, as a culture of problem seeking, recognition,
and innovation is established in more and more high-risk decision types, this
culture of openness, novelty, error elimination, critical evaluation, and
success will replace the entrenched corporate culture of defensiveness about
old knowledge. It will melt away, and in its wake a new open enterprise,
supported by a portal system of distributed problem solving, will emerge.

To address your last question, I don’t think that IT
professionals are any more entrenched than other professionals in the
enterprise. In fact, I think they are less so, considering that they have lived
through so many “revolutions” during the last 15 years. New IT
problems are always appearing, and new knowledge to solve these problems is
never far behind. I have great confidence in the ability of IT professionals to
deliver useful decisions for KM. But I think it is up to KM professionals to
define their field and their own requirements clearly enough that those
applications can be delivered.

I think the reason why EIPs have fallen short of becoming
KM’s “killer app” is that such clarity has not existed in KM and it
has been all too easy for IT professionals to deliver “KM
applications” that are really IM or information processing applications.
I’ve tried to address this issue in my book on EIPs and also in my newer book
with Mark W. McElroy, Key Issues in the New Knowledge Management (Burlington, MA:
KMCI Press/Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003). I’ve also written a lot about issues
relating to the scope of Knowledge Management in my blog, “All Life is Problem Solving.”

[TechRepublic] The
amount of information flowing through an enterprise can be overwhelming when
considered on the whole. What role do IT professionals play in implementing
Knowledge Management to tap that information and make it useful? What aspects
should IT professionals concentrate on when they are considering the benefits
of EIP and Knowledge Management?

[Firestone] IT
professionals play a similar role in implementing KM to the role they play in
relation to other enterprise processes and functions. The knowledge managers
need to address the specific support required from IT professionals and the
latter should implement applications that deliver that support. In order to
help in KM, I think IT professionals need to learn some KM Theory, and
specifically the sort of KM theory that clearly distinguishes
“knowledge” from “information” and KM from IM. From where I
sit, IT professionals seem to use the words “knowledge” and
“information” interchangeably, and the irony of the idea that
“KM is about getting the right information to the right people at the
right time”, seems lost on them. What needs to be kept in mind is that KM
is not IM, and while IM applications are certainly of benefit to KM as well,
they don’t address its core. IT professionals need to learn what that core is,
if they want to do a better job of developing useful KM applications.

[TechRepublic] Using
the common protocols of HTML and XML means that EIP applications are within
reach of just about any enterprise. But it also means that the Web browser
becomes the default method for interfacing with the portals. Are there EIP and
Knowledge Management mechanisms in place to counteract the numerous security
problems associated with browsers? Can architecture mitigate these security
concerns?

[Firestone] Security
for EIPs is really important, but I won’t say much about it since vendors such
as Plumtree, IBM, Sun, and SAP have moved vigorously to meet security problems.
Your readers can check these products, Netegrity and other vendors for viable
current security solutions.

[TechRepublic] Obviously,
the implementation of EIP and Knowledge Management systems is not something
that can be accomplished overnight. The process will take planning and
concentrated effort. What general advice would you give an organization
considering such systems? Can it generally be done with staff on hand or is
outside help recommended?

[Firestone] I
don’t recommend implementing an EIP with the expectation that it will be a KM
solution. Instead, I think one ought to begin on the KM side by developing a KM
strategy. That should begin with some KM training that emphasizes both theory
and methodology for implementing KM programs and projects. Once that’s done,
decision types (e.g., the prescription order entry decision in a hospital)
ought to be prioritized according to risk, and risky decisions should be
selected as potential targets of KM interventions. The KM strategy then becomes
one of building and implementing a portfolio of KM interventions designed to
enhance knowledge processing and innovation in risk-filled decision contexts in
order to reduce risks and the costs, both monetary and non-monetary associated
with them. As the KM strategy is implemented step-by-step, measurable benefits
are produced for the enterprise and are attributable to the KM program and its
interventions. This builds social credit and enables continued implementation
of the program.

Other things being equal, the most risk-filled decision type
should be addressed first, by designing and implementing an IT application that
will use previous organizational knowledge to challenge a decision that appears
to contradict that knowledge, while leaving the decision maker the option to
persist in his/her decision if he/she records a reason for over-riding the application’s
recommendation. The application should then support evaluation by others of the
new knowledge claim entered by the decision maker, including the retention of
the record of evaluation of the new knowledge claim.

This type of IT application will enhance distributed problem
recognition and criticism of individual-level knowledge and encourage
formulating new tentative solutions, criticism, and testing of these solutions.
It will also support evaluating and revising established and entrenched organizational
knowledge, and integrating such knowledge in risk-filled decision contexts. As
applications of this type are implemented in more and more decision contexts,
increasing participation in knowledge production and integration and
replacement of entrenched knowledge will result.

Where EIPs come into all this, is in providing the framework
for integration of the new applications produced by the KM interventions. When,
precisely, it will be necessary to introduce a portal to accommodate the new
knowledge-process-enhancing applications will differ from organization to
organization. Most large organizations already have portal systems. In that
case, there is little additional cost in integrating the new IT applications
resulting from the KM program from the start. In cases where portals are not
already available, the systematic introduction of knowledge-process-enhancing
IT applications will soon create the need for a portal so the various
applications can be conveniently accessed within a secure, comprehensive, and
integrated framework.

Incidentally, as portals containing such IT applications
become commonplace, EIPs will begin to take on some of the character of true
knowledge portals, because they will be incorporating both knowledge claims and
the record of their performance in the face of criticism and testing. Such
meta-claims about knowledge claims will then provide a basis for distinguishing
knowledge claims that have survived criticism, testing, and evaluation from
those that have not. Claims that have survived are an enterprise’s knowledge
and claims that have not yet been tested, or that have not performed well are
just information. So there will finally be a basis for portals to distinguish
between knowledge and information, a key requirement in creating Enterprise
Knowledge Portals (EKPs). In the book,
I spend a lot of time developing the idea of the EKP and the requirements for
EKP applications. The book makes the case that EKPs don’t exist yet. KM
programs such as those outlined above can, over time, and as our software agent
technology increases in sophistication, evolve them.

More information

As you can see, the concepts encompassed in EIP and KM are
sophisticated, with success requiring a significant commitment from the entire
enterprise. IT professionals at all levels should educate themselves on the
benefits of these systems. The downloadable
chapter
from Enterprise Information Portals and Knowledge Management is a
good place to start.


Additional resources