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11-3 What types of systems are used for enterprise-wide knowledge management, and how do they provide value for businesses?
Firms must deal with at least three kinds of knowledge. Some knowledge exists within the firm in the form of structured text documents (reports and presentations). Decision makers also need knowledge that is semi structured, such as email, voice mail, chat room exchanges, videos, digital pictures, brochures, or bulletin board postings. In still other cases, there is no formal or digital information of any kind, and the knowledge resides in the heads of employees. Much of this knowledge is tacit knowledge that is rarely written down. Enterprise-wide knowledge management systems deal with all three types of knowledge.
Enterprise Content Management Systems
Businesses today need to organize and manage both structured and semistructured knowledge assets. Structured knowledge is explicit knowledge that exists in formal documents as well as in formal rules that organizations derive by observing experts and their decision-making behaviors. But according to experts, at least 80 percent of an organization’s business content is semistructured or unstructured—information in folders, messages, memos, proposals, emails, graphics, electronic slide presentations, and even videos created in different formats and stored in many locations.
Enterprise content management (ECM) systems help organizations manage both types of information. They have capabilities for knowledge capture, storage, retrieval, distribution, and preservation to help firms improve their business processes and decisions. Such systems include corporate repositories of documents, reports, presentations, and best practices, as well as capabilities for collecting and organizing semistructured knowledge such as email (see Figure 11.8). Major enterprise content management systems also enable users to access external sources of information, such as news feeds and research, and to communicate via email, chat/instant messaging, discussion groups, and videoconferencing. They are starting to incorporate blogs, wikis, and other enterprise social networking tools. Open Text Corporation, IBM, and Oracle are leading vendors of enterprise content management software.
An enterprise content management system has capabilities for classifying, organizing, and managing structured and semistructured knowledge and making it available throughout the enterprise.
A key problem in managing knowledge is the creation of an appropriate classification scheme, or taxonomy, to organize information into meaningful categories so that it can be easily accessed. Once the categories for classifying knowledge have been created, each knowledge object needs to be “tagged,” or classified, so that it can be easily retrieved. Enterprise content management systems have capabilities for tagging, interfacing with corporate databases and content repositories, and creating enterprise knowledge portals that provide a single point of access to information resources.
Firms in publishing, advertising, broadcasting, and entertainment have special needs for storing and managing unstructured digital data such as photographs, graphic images, video, and audio content. For example, Coca-Cola must keep track of all the images of the Coca-Cola brand that have been created in the past at all of the company’s worldwide offices to prevent both redundant work and variation from a standard brand image. Digital asset management systems help companies classify, store, and distribute these digital objects.
Some of the knowledge businesses need is not in the form of a digital document but instead resides in the memory of individual experts in the firm. Contemporary enterprise content management systems, along with the systems for collaboration and social business introduced in Chapter 2, have capabilities for locating experts and tapping their knowledge. These include online directories of corporate experts and their profiles with details about their job experience, projects, publications, and educational degrees, and repositories of expert-generated content. Specialized search tools make it easier for employees to find the appropriate expert in a company. For knowledge resources outside the firm, social networking and social business tools enable users to bookmark web pages of interest, tag these bookmarks with keywords, and share the tags and web page links with other people.
Companies need ways to keep track of and manage employee learning and to integrate it more fully into their knowledge management and other corporate systems. A learning management system (LMS) provides tools for the management, delivery, tracking, and assessment of various types of employee learning and training.
Contemporary LMS support multiple modes of learning, including CD-ROM, downloadable videos, web-based classes, live instruction in classes or online, and group learning in online forums and chat sessions. The LMS consolidates mixed-media training, automates the selection and administration of courses, assembles and delivers learning content, and measures learning effectiveness. The Interactive Session on Management shows how Sargent & Lundy used learning management and enterprise collaboration systems to increase sharing of employee expertise and employee learning.
Businesses run their own learning management systems, but they are also turning to publicly available massive open online courses (MOOCs) to educate their employees. A MOOC is an online course made available via the web to very large numbers of participants. Companies view MOOCs as a new way to design and deliver online learning where learners can collaborate with each other, watch short videos, and participate in threaded discussion groups. Firms such as Microsoft, AT&T, and Tenaris have developed their own MOOCs, while others such as Bank of America and Qualcomm are adapting publicly available MOOCs aligned with their core competencies.
The enterprise-wide knowledge systems we have just described provide a wide range of capabilities that can be used by many if not all the workers and groups in an organization. Firms also have specialized systems for knowledge workers to help them create new knowledge and to ensure that this knowledge is properly integrated into the business.
Knowledge workers, which we introduced in Chapter 1, include researchers, designers, architects, scientists, and engineers who primarily create knowledge and information for the organization. Knowledge workers usually have high levels of education and memberships in professional organizations and are often asked to exercise independent judgment as a routine aspect of their work. For example, knowledge workers create new products or find ways of improving existing ones. Knowledge workers perform three key roles that are critical to the organization and to the managers who work within the organization:
Most knowledge workers rely on systems such as word processors, email, videoconferencing, collaboration, and scheduling systems, which are designed to increase worker productivity in the office. However, knowledge workers also require highly specialized knowledge work systems with powerful graphics, analytical tools, and communications and document management capabilities.
These systems require sufficient computing power to handle the sophisticated graphics or complex calculations necessary for such knowledge workers as scientific researchers, engineers, and product designers. Because knowledge workers need knowledge from the external world, these systems also must give the worker quick and easy access to external databases. They typically feature user-friendly interfaces that enable users to perform needed tasks without having to spend a great deal of time learning how to use the system. Knowledge workers are highly paid—wasting a knowledge worker’s time is simply too expensive. Figure 11.9 summarizes the requirements of knowledge work systems.
Major knowledge work applications include CAD systems and virtual reality systems for simulation and modeling. Computer-aided design (CAD) automates the creation and revision of designs, using computers and sophisticated graphics software. Using a more traditional physical design methodology, each design modification requires a mold to be made and a prototype to be tested physically. That process must be repeated many times, which is very expensive and time-consuming. Using a CAD workstation, the designer need only make a physical prototype toward the end of the design process because the design can be easily tested and changed on the computer. The ability of CAD software to provide design specifications for the tooling and manufacturing processes also saves a great deal of time and money while producing a manufacturing process with far fewer problems.
For example, Ford Motor Company used a computer simulation to create an engine cylinder to come up with the most efficient design possible. Engineers altered that design to account for manufacturing constraints and tested the revised design virtually in models that used decades of data on material properties and engine performance. Ford then created the mold to make a real part that could be bolted onto an engine for further testing. The entire process took days instead of months and cost thousands of dollars instead of millions.
CAD systems can supply data for 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, which uses machines to make solid objects, layer by layer, from specifications in a digital file. Unlike traditional techniques, by which objects are cut or drilled from molds, resulting in wasted materials, 3-D printing lets workers model an object on a computer and print it out with plastic, metal, or composite materials. 3-D printing is currently used for prototyping, custom manufacturing, and fashioning items with small production runs. Today’s 3-D printers can handle materials including plastic, titanium, and human cartilage and produce fully functional components including batteries, transistors, prosthetic devices, LEDs, and other complex mechanisms, and there are now 3-D printing services that run over the cloud, such as that offered by Staples.
Virtual reality (VR) systems have visualization, rendering, and simulation capabilities that go far beyond those of conventional CAD systems. They use interactive graphics software to create computer-generated simulations that are so close to reality that users almost believe they are participating in a real-world situation. In many virtual reality systems, the user dons special clothing, headgear, and equipment, depending on the application. The clothing contains sensors that record the user’s movements and immediately transmit that information back to the computer. For instance, to walk through a virtual reality simulation of a house, you would need garb that monitors the movement of your feet, hands, and head. You also would need goggles containing video screens and sometimes audio attachments and feeling gloves so that you can be immersed in the computer feedback.
At NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, students wearing 3-D glasses are able to “dissect” a virtual cadaver projected on a screen. With the help of a computer, they can move through the virtual body, scrutinizing layers of muscles or watching a close-up of a pumping heart along with bright red arteries and deep blue veins. The 3-D virtual cadaver is a valuable complementary teaching tool. The Interactive Session on Technology describes some of the issues raised by applications of VR technology.
Augmented reality (AR) is a related technology for enhancing visualization by overlaying digital data and images onto a physical real-world environment. The digital technology provides additional information to enhance the perception of reality, making the surrounding real world of the user more interactive and meaningful. The yellow first-down markers shown on televised football games are examples of augmented reality as are medical procedures like image-guided surgery, where data acquired from computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans or from ultrasound imaging are superimposed on the patient in the operating room. Other industries where AR has caught on include military training, engineering design, robotics, and consumer design. For example, Newport News Shipbuilding, which designs and builds U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, uses AR to inspect a ship near the end of the manufacturing process. By seeing the final design superimposed on the ship, engineers have reduced inspection time by 96 percent—from 36 hours to only 90 minutes (Porter and Heppelmann, 2017).