A dozen years ago, former Lotus CEO Jim Manzi used to make extravagant claims for the ROI of Lotus Notes. It might as well be infinite, he would enthuse, because there was no way to quantify the productivity gains flowing from better use of the assets lodged between people's ears.
Bzzzt. Try again. That ROI might just as easily have been miniscule or even negative — and how would you know? Although numbers are hard to come by, we can we see in hindsight that results were all over the map. Some companies really did use Notes to support a vibrant collaborative culture, enriched with shared databases and discussions. Many used it as little more than an e-mail system.
The challenge was and is to make more of the routine communication flowing through the enterprise available — for data mining, social network analysis, and general awareness. What's obviously good for the enterprise, however, is not so obviously good for the individual, and therein lies the rub. Knowledge is power, and many people are (not surprisingly) reluctant to share that power. Somehow we've got to engineer environments in which the sharing of knowledge feels like an empowering behavior. There's no silver-bullet solution, but current technological and cultural trends provide clues that point toward a brighter future for KM (knowledge management).
One of the cultural trends, blogging, reached a fever pitch with Google's recent acquisition of Pyra, maker of the software that powers the popular Blogger.com Web site. Here's the background on how this deal could fire up enterprise KM: Google's relevance engine, based on its proprietary PageRank algorithm, values documents (and by association, their authors) according to the number of links they attract. Because hyperlinks are the currency of the blog world, bloggers thrive in Google's hyperlink-based economy. And they compete fiercely for high rankings on Google and the Weblog-oriented search engines and aggregators.
To win at this highly addictive game, you have to share lots of useful information; your reward is measured in terms of reputation. In this environment, the Google Search Appliance becomes dramatically more relevant. If you invite Google behind your firewall today and point it at your intranet, the results are not likely to be very exciting — the content tends to be static and not densely interlinked.
That could change dramatically as "k-logging" — the enterprise flavor of blogging — catches on. Google Search Appliance’s value is proportional to the amount, quality, and interconnectivity of the content it can see, and so is the value of the k-logging software that produces that content. Put these together (something Google could do thanks to the acquisition of Pyra) and you can, in theory, give people incentive to share information and empower and reward them for doing so, thereby addressing a concern that previously kept KM from its full potential.