Emerging Technology

FRAMINGHAM (02/14/2000) - GETTING TO KNOW YOU Automatic e-mail profiles help connect the dots for knowledge management By John Webster A project manager needs to know the cost of lead pipe in Bangladesh. He's surfing the web, making calls, shooting off e-mails and faxes. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to A, B-the assistant vice president of logistics-has been pricing pipe via an e-mail conversation with a Bangladeshi supplier. Now, how does A find B?

Too often, he doesn't. But maybe A gets lucky and bumps into B at the proverbial water cooler (if A and B work in the same office), and they start chatting about the local team being a lead-pipe cinch to win the pennant and...That reminds me, says A, I'm going nuts trying to find the price for lead pipe in Bangladesh.

Not too likely, is it? But maybe there's a way to make A aware of B, or C or D or whoever is knowledgeable about the cost of lead pipe on the Indian subcontinent.

In fact, there is. It's called e-mail.

E-mail. Can't live with it; can't go back to smoke signals. As the dominant mode of communication in business today, e-mail can drive a company's success-or it can drive it crazy.

"Most people have a hard time dealing with the sheer number of e-mails they receive," says Andrew Mitchell, a research associate with London-based British Telecommunications PLC E-Government Division. "We need solutions to store and summarize all this, and that will enable us to collaborate."

"I'm concerned that people don't know how to find what they need," says Mike Turillo, chief learning officer at KPMG International in Boston. "And when they finally find it, they don't know how to use it. We spend a lot of our time just trying to manage it."

To manage e-mail more efficiently and productively, both Mitchell and Turillo are testing new web-based software: Mitchell is trying out his own company's Knowledge Sharing Environment (KSE); at KPMG, Turillo is using Los Angeles-based Tacit Knowledge Systems KnowledgeMail. In addition to helping people manage their e-mail, the software tracks a user's work, alerts users to important information and even notifies them that someone else in the company is doing similar work. This way, the software brings people (like A and B) together to share information and solve problems.

KnowledgeMail and KSE share similar technology, vernacular and features. KSE in particular can be traced directly to Yenta, software agent technology developed by Lenny Foner, a doctoral student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

"Yenta can find people in the same organization," Foner says, "perhaps only a few offices away from each other, who should have known that they're working on similar projects or with similar tools but didn't because it never occurred to either party to mention it to the other."

Foner sees great business potential for his research, and so do British Telecom IT executives. In fact, the company based some of KSE's technology on publicly available Yenta code. According to John Davies, British Telecom's manager of knowledge management research, "a company's monetary value is increasingly dependent and attributable to the collective knowledge of its employees." In other words, knowledge is not only power, it's profits. And how much company knowledge is actually stored in a database? Compared with the knowledge stored in people, not much. And people's knowledge is often expressed in their e-mail exchanges with colleagues.

E-MAIL OVERLOAD No one has to tell a CIO that there's too much e-mail flying across the network and that e-mail storage and software maintenance cost money.

People also spend a good chunk of company time reading, sending and sorting through e-mail.

Tacit's KnowledgeMail sorts through this mess using a typical four-tier architecture: The server application sits on a web server and users access it via their web browsers. An underlying relational database contains user profile information, which determines topics of interest to particular users and how that information will be distributed to others. User profiles contain keywords and phrases that help people identify important e-mail. A feature called KnowledgeSweep uses keywords to help the software find people who can contribute knowledge to a company project or strategy, even if they're not directly involved.

At a minimum, KnowledgeMail acts as an information filter. Users can create their own interest profiles by placing keywords into their central repository file. For example, a user in systems administration might start her user profile with the terms database, object-oriented and firewall. The keywords enable KnowledgeMail to flag incoming e-mails that contain those words. Thus, when she arrives at her desk in the morning, she doesn't have to sift through 50 e-mails; she can go directly to the flagged e-mails and get right to work.

What's more, the software adds keywords and phrases to a profile based on the user's own e-mails as well as frequently viewed HTML documents. The software does this by picking out words or phrases that commonly occur in a user's e-mails and webpage hits. This passive user profile construction is central to both KnowledgeMail and KSE. Says Tacit founder and CEO David Gilmour: "Software should be like a smart listening device. We can take a bird's eye view and see all the problems going on and identify patterns."

Take the systems administrator example again. If she discusses a C++ compiler in 10 e-mails over several days, KnowledgeMail will add the term C++ compiler to her profile. Keywords and phrases are chosen by the software based not only on frequency but on context and "significance patterns," or the relative importance of the text surrounding a specific word or phrase. The user can also tell the software not to put certain terms in her profile or to keep them private. User profiles are encrypted and secure.

KnowledgeMail and KSE also let users annotate documents they distribute to colleagues. If one user adds comments to a particular article that the software sends to five coworkers, each recipient also receives the comments. Similarly, website referrals and URLs can be embedded into distributed documents to expand the scope of information contained in an article.

KSE is now available to 3,000 users within British Telecom (the company plans to sell KSE to its corporate customers in the second quarter of 2000). Most of the company's KSE-based working communities contain 10 to 100 people. Davies says users "share knowledge and experience wherever they're located. People on the company organizational chart are often dispersed both geographically and organizationally, and KSE breaks both those barriers." He adds that the software is "neither network hungry nor computer-power hungry."

British Telecom's Mitchell participates in a 15-person collaborative research group, scattered about different buildings, formed to respond to a British government-authored white paper about modernizing its information technology.

Mitchell uses KSE when, for example, a team member e-mails him a newspaper article URL. Based on his existing user profile, a graphical bar rates how interested Mitchell should be in the article. KSE's interface contains a one-line summary of the article, and with the click of an icon, Mitchell can see the entire text. If Mitchell clicks on a smiley-face icon, KSE will add keywords from the article to his user profile. If the article doesn't interest him, he clicks on a sad-face icon, which instructs KSE to disregard the article. In addition, he can click on a "users" icon and KSE will generate a list of potentially interested colleagues based on their user profiles.

Mitchell can e-mail the article to his colleagues, along with annotations, and the article will automatically be added to the team's database.

"KSE allows us to do four things: capture, share, store and collaborate on important information," says Mitchell. "It's a great time-saver because you can shift that portion of your work to the software. It allows us to reduce unnecessary data and gives us only actionable information."

GETTING OVER THE USER HURDLE As large companies begin to establish pilot programs to take advantage of e-mail-based knowledge management, one hurdle is the user. Many users are loath to make personal information public, even if it's job-related. KnowledgeMail and KSE let them determine exactly what will be publicly accessible to others in the organization, but the issue of control lingers. To help users feel at ease with the new technology, KnowledgeMail can be integrated with existing software, such as Microsoft Outlook.

At Houston-based Texaco, for example, John Old, director of information technology, plans to link KnowledgeMail with in-house organizational tools familiar to many of his users. TeamSpace, for example, currently in beta at the company, is a Microsoft Outlook-based collaborative work environment that is the virtual version of a team strategy room. Project participants meet in Texaco's team rooms to view and discuss pertinent project-related documents and other material. KnowledgeMail can run in a Microsoft Exchange environment and use Outlook's integrated browser to let the project members collaborate in a virtual room.

"We use Microsoft Exchange and Outlook as a common e-mail environment all over the world, so it's the natural way people communicate at Texaco," says Old.

"KnowledgeMail runs in the Exchange environment because that's what most people are comfortable with. It helps people connect, even if they don't know what they're looking for. This is different from a company yellow-pages application, which requires explicit input and is static information. We put KnowledgeMail in place because the way users view things they're interested in becomes dynamic."

KPMG is also experimenting with KnowledgeMail. More than 2,000 consultants and analysts use the system. Turillo says it should not only be a time-saver, it should encourage contribution to the organization. "There's a natural human impediment for us to contribute. We will go after something only if we need it.

But I want to make it easier for people to contribute to the group by filtering information they don't need. With KnowledgeMail, the software is also doing the contributing for them."

LOOKING OUT FOR THE LITTLE GUY What's hot Internet-related services focused on supporting the nation's 2 million small businesses are hot right now. Small businesses are moving on to the web in large numbers, hoping to spur sales and expand services while lowering costs. To feed this trend, Freeworks.com is providing free e-mail-based business services such as expense tracking and invoicing. Small businesses (or departments within larger companies) access these services through their browser from a portal site. All Bases Covered, is leading the way in becoming a national provider of system integration services to small businesses. The company helps small businesses gain high-speed internet access and network computers internally. (Red Rock has an interest in both of these companies.) What's Not With some exceptions, companies selling traditional license-based enterprise software designed to fix inefficient internal processes are not hot for venture capital investment. This area is perceived as mature, dominated by large companies and overripe for new investment. Savvy entrepreneurs sense this and are altering business plans to make them more attractive. To accomplish this, they either sell their software and services through an ASP (application service provider) model, providing remote hosting and rental, or offer solutions that enable companies to buy goods and services from each other over the internet. Currently there appears to be greater opportunity for companies selling externally focused software and services than software that focuses on solving internal corporate problems.

What's missing New companies are not creating truly differentiated internet service offerings. We are seeing a number of "me too" companies struggling to explain how they are different from a half-dozen competitors. With the wide availability of venture funding and low barriers to entry, entrepreneurs less frequently come up with value propositions that are truly different. Instead, multiple companies focus on a single niche and slug it out, burning up sizable amounts of venture capital and selling their products or services for a net loss in order to gain market share. Sadly, it is typical for only a few of the competitors to reap the majority of rewards.

One new product that would be interesting to see is downloadable client software for improving the business-to-business e-commerce experience. For instance, if a company intends to purchase surplus furniture through an online auction, the buyer may require more information than that provided by the auction. In that case, software allowing real-time discussion with the seller would facilitate the transaction and ultimately seal the deal.

The guest columnist for this installment of Capital Ideas is Peter Dumanian, general partner of Red Rock Ventures in Palo Alto, Calif.

Edited by Sari Kalin. Send comments and ideas for future columns to et@cio.com.


The internet may not change everything, but it's affecting more than a few balance sheets.

International Data Corp. (a sister company to CIO Communications) predicts that not only will the revenue from transactions conducted over the internet surpass $1 trillion by next year, but in 2003 it will almost triple again to $2.8 trillion. Pretty good for something the Defense Department devised 31 years ago to bolster communications in case of a nuclear attack on Washington, D.C.

The dollars are no longer buying technology; they're going toward marketing, sales and content creation, according to Anna Giraldo Kerr, senior analyst for IDC's Internet and eCommerce Strategies research program.

An interesting statistic: For every dollar of e-commerce revenue generated in 1998, 93 cents were directly invested in the internet commerce infrastructure.

IDC expects corporations to increase their investments significantly to improve this ratio by 2003.

And this year, IDC expects nontechnology investments to surpass technology investments. By 2003, technology investments' share will have decreased to 39 percent.


When we tackled application servers last year, we cited a half-dozen or so companies working to help CIOs provide easy access through the web to databases and other legacy information. Now there are over two dozen. With the browser as the user interface, the application development challenge is eased because your IT department doesn't have to worry about the interface on the desktop. The burden has shifted though. As most CIOs now know, it's become an integration challenge.

According to Ovum Inc., the worldwide market for application servers and services will be $17 billion in 2004 (compared with $251 million last year.

There's a website that tracks all these vendors in a handy matrix. Visit www.flashline.com/components/appservermatrix.jsp for a comparison of products, platforms and price. The latter shows a wide range, from Bullsoft's free open-source software to $35,000 per CPU for IBM WebSphere's Enterprise Edition and iPlanet (the Sun-Netscape alliance). Inexplicably, Sun's own NetDynamics product, which runs on twice as many operating systems as iPlanet's, is only $25,000 per CPU. In addition, more than half of the vendors on the site let you either download their software or get a demo copy.

Flashline.com, an online marketer of software components, hosts the site, and is considering building more matrices. Though none have been scheduled, Flashline.com spokesperson Marti Bowman says Enterprise JavaBeans are at the top of the list. (For more on EJB, see "The Latest in Designer Beans," CIO, Jan. 15, 2000.) A Flashline.com staff person works almost full-time to ensure that the application server matrix is up-to-date. While some vendors are happy to supply information, others-especially those whose information might not compare favorably-force the company to do some digging. According to Bowman, it's updated at least weekly. -Howard Baldwin NEW PRODUCTS AN OPEN WINDOW ON THE WEB In an effort to interlace internet applications with Windows applications, IBM has created a technology called Sash that enables developers to use web development tools to create internet applications that seamlessly integrate with the desktop environment. (IBM has dubbed these "weblications," but we'll try not to hold that against them.) According to IBM, IT managers can more simply manage, update and distribute these programs to employees while maintaining the familiar layout of the Windows interface-essentially breaking the barrier that exists between the desktop operating environment and the web browser.

As a layer added to the Windows operating system, Sash enables mapping of both the application programming interface (API) and the graphical user interface (GUI) in the development of programs used to create web applications. Utilizing existing webpage scripting and layout skills, tools and technologies, developers can use Javascript, XML, DHTML and HTML to build an internet program that functions just like their Windows desktop applications. The Sash Weblication Manager enables developers to design programs that feature all the interface functionality end users expect, as well as to ease desktop integration, quick network installation and the ability to work when the user is not connected to the network. The Sash development tool is available for download at www.alphaworks. ibm.com at no charge under the terms of IBM's alphaworks program. For more information, call Kristin Wahl, 415 545-4104.

Got Mail?

Now that your company is on the web, have you been deluged with e-mail? Do you have to designate someone just to deal with it all? A new entry into the e-mail management space is Telos Corp.'s Automated Message Handling System, designed to provide contextual filtering, routing and searching. It takes messages sent to so-called generic e-mail addresses, such as info@agency.gov or support@ company.com and lets companies filter and route them based on keywords or concepts within the message itself. In addition, you can search and retrieve messages even after they have been forwarded to multiple users' mailboxes.

Running on Windows NT, AMHS costs $23,275. For more information, call Chris Cheek at 703 724-3800.

HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU...AND YOU AND YOU The problem with videoconferencing is that it requires dedicated high-end devices in multiple locations, and a network to support them. White Pine Software has taken its experience with internet-based conferencing and built CU-SeeMe Web, a product for communicating live multipoint video, audio and text over the web. The company envisions the product being used for on-demand visual instant messaging, video chatting, live interactive web events and face-to-face, online call centers for e-commerce and other support services.

CU-SeeMe Web software allows developers to embed audio, video, text chat and conference control features into a website. The developer can customize not only the design but also the destination of the CU-SeeMe Web connection (to a single person, multiple people or a chat site). The software integrates with White Pine's current MeetingPoint conference server software for certain back-end functions. The price for a CU-SeeMe Cam Kit is $99; the software is $69. MeetingPoint Conferencing software will run you $8,995. For more information, call Tanya Prather at 603 886-9050.

ROUGH AND READY For those mobile workers whose computers really get knocked around (think construction sites), Panasonic has come up with the 3.8-pound (including battery) Toughbook 17 and the Toughbook 34, the first ruggedized Windows-based portable notebook PCs with integrated wireless communications solutions for Mobitex, DataTAC, CDPD networks. The 300MHz notebooks are built with magnesium cases to withstand shock, dust and vibration, and they're even water resistant.

They incorporate 4.3GB hard drives, 64MB of RAM (expandable to 160MB), an onboard USB port, Type II PC Card slot, and headphone and microphone jacks. The 8.4-inch TFT color screen has touch capabilities and 800-by-600 SVGA resolution. The difference between the two is cosmetic: the Toughbook 17 is black with an aluminum handle (for field use including telecom, utilities, field service, military and public safety), while the Toughbook 34 is silver and gray (for field sales forces, distribution, insurance and other business users). Both are currently priced at $3,599. For more information, call 800 662-3537.

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