Corporate knowledge management systems are ill-prepared to contain
the rising tide of peer-to-peer collaboration technology, but they
won't be able to ignore it forever.
Peer-based workgroup interactions can be efficient and productive,
but they may fail to leverage and replenish process and content
knowledge held in central repositories. From an enterprise
perspective, is peer-centered knowledge management oxygen or
Worldwide Knowledge Management Infrastructure and Access Software
Ray Ozzie might know. As the principal peer behind both Lotus Notes
and the recently launched Groove Network, Ozzie continues to shape
the evolution of collaborative computing. Tasks will increasingly
be carried out on peer-to-peer (P2P) platforms, such as Groove, he
says, and this will revolutionize how, where, and when we work (and
Whether or not Ozzie is right, knowledge management software has a
groovy future, as Figure 1 illustrates.
Corporate Knowledge Management
Knowledge management (KM) involves using software and services to
improve productivity by collecting and sharing the right knowledge
with the right people at the right time.
Corporate KM capabilities rest on an infrastructure of data
repositories, groupware, and messaging software, 1999 revenues for
which are depicted in Figure 2. KM also encompasses knowledge
access software that may manage intellectual capital, erect KM
portals, and profile and exchange information about business
processes, rules, and results. As Figure 1 shows, growth of KM
access software will exceed that of KM infrastructure software.
Worldwide Knowledge Management Infrastructure Software License and
Maintenance Revenue Market Segment Shares, 1999
KM involves complex solutions generally fielded by IS departments
rather than by user groups. Introducing peer-driven processes into
such contexts runs the risk of breaking feedback loops that
companies have established to update knowledge bases and ways of
Can Peer Computing Safeguard Institutional Knowledge?
Few collaborative applications are pure P2P (there's usually a
server or database lurking somewhere, as at napster.com and
groove.net). However, by minimizing dependence on centralized
facilities, the P2P paradigm evades common risks of system-wide
failure (unless networks crash). However, individual users are left
vulnerable to destruction and loss of PCs and project files.
Groove claims that any such hiccups are unlikely to compromise
projects because its desktop "transceivers" continuously save data
and replicate it across workgroups. User authentication, data
encryption, and routing data streams directly between peers
IT managers remain suspicious. Replicating files to multiple users
can cause versioning deadlocks that require consistent IS policies
to resolve. Enterprise storage and database management technologies
handle update issues every day, but P2P infrastructure hasn't
gotten there yet.
What's a Manager to Do?
Is on-the-fly collaboration by working peers knowledge management
at all? It is, but it's mostly a manual process that so far has
resisted efforts to formalize it. P2P amounts to workers telling
management, "Guide us, audit us, but above all, trust us to solve
Those who expect P2P activity to adapt to organizational structures
have it the wrong way around. In a world of peers, self-
organization is the rule, control flows from bottom to top, and
resources from top to bottom, lubricated by adaptive software and
Peer pathways will challenge corporate managers and IS strategists
* Data, project, personnel, and financial management will become
* Historical differences between "line" and "staff" functions will
continue to blur.
* Individual responsibility and accountability will both heighten
* Interfacing personal productivity and corporate oversight tools
will be a critical challenge.
Groove Network is irrigating a fertile landscape, but if
hierarchical attitudes prevail, much of the water could end up in
mud puddles. Radical reengineering and purposeful partnering will
be needed to channel P2P's meandering streams into reservoirs of
corporate capability. It will take many months for vendor and user
organizations to rise to these challenges.
-- Geoffrey Dutton