IT Forecaster January 16, 2001 - No. 885

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


Figure 1

Worldwide Knowledge Management Infrastructure and Access Software

Revenues, 1999-2004

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.

Figure 2

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

accessing them.

Can Peer Computing Safeguard Institutional Knowledge?

Few collaborative applications are pure P2P (there's usually a

server or database lurking somewhere, as at and 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

maintain security.

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

trusted relationships.

Peer pathways will challenge corporate managers and IS strategists


* Data, project, personnel, and financial management will become

less compartmentalized.

* Historical differences between "line" and "staff" functions will

continue to blur.

* Individual responsibility and accountability will both heighten

and diffuse.

* 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

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