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Comdex coverage by CNN and

Microsoft begins to carve its knowledge management plan

November 18, 1998
Web posted at: 2:08 PM ET

by Cara Cunningham


(IDG) -- LAS VEGAS -- At the IT Executive Symposium going on here during Comdex, a Microsoft executive took the podium Tuesday to talk about knowledge management -- an area where the company admittedly is still finding its way.

Charles Stevens, vice president of Microsoft's Application Developer Customer Unit, first stated with candor that the company does not yet have a coherent strategy to answer the questions that knowledge management poses.

"We don't have a complete strategy today. We're putting the pieces in place and working with third-party companies," Stevens said, adding that the company plans to have a strategy in place within the next year.
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Microsoft defines knowledge management as the portion of its Digital Nervous System plan that relates to people; Stevens added that it means taking the experience and assets of a company and turning that into knowledge. Particular knowledge management applications include improved project management; issue tracking; business planning and analysis; and employee management and training, he said.

E-mail is one example of an application that needs to be reined in by knowledge management, Stevens said, as users are drowning in a sea of irrelevant messages every day.

"A lot of e-mail ought to be part of a knowledge management system," Stevens said. "People used to be up to their eyeballs in paperwork -- now it's e-mail."

One member of the audience asked Stevens if Microsoft was working on knowledge management tools to give users less information and more wisdom.

"In the past we've focused on putting more features in, and now the pendulum has to swing the other way to manage the knowledge and wisdom," Stevens answered. He suggested using some of the features in existing Microsoft products -- such as Exchange, which can be set to filter out unnecessary e-mail, and Site Server, which can be customized to the needs of employees based on their role in the organization.

Stevens told the audience members that in order to find out if their organizations need knowledge management systems they should ask themselves the following questions: How good is your company's corporate memory? In other words, do you have mechanisms in place to record what happens? Do all of the managers in your company have access to the same information? Can you easily find all of the information you need about one customer in a single place? Can you easily capture customer feedback? Does customer feedback drive development? Can everyone in the company rally to respond to a crisis?

Guessing that most people would answer "no" to at least some of these questions, Stevens and Product Manager Jeff Smith demonstrated an application used by Microsoft customer Shell Chemical that uses products -- including Microsoft's Exchange, Site Server, and Outlook -- to create a knowledge management system. Despite the lack of a unified knowledge management strategy at Microsoft, Stevens stressed that these systems can be created by pulling together Microsoft and third-party products. Products such as Microsoft's SQL Server 7, which includes online analytical processing services for data warehousing, can also be helpful in funneling a company's structured data into a knowledge management system, Stevens said.

Cara Cunningham is an InfoWorld editor at large. Senior Editor Bob Trott contributed to this article.

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