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Answers from Anywhere: Knowledge Management with mySAP Enterprise Portals

by Karsten Hohage | SAPinsider

July 1, 2002

by Karsten Hohage, SAP AG SAPinsider - 2002 (Volume 3), July (Issue 3)
 

“...end-to-end Knowledge Management...”

“...the best-of-breed solution for KM...”

“Maximize ROI with the You-Name-It KM solution...”

Vendors who have touted KM promises like these have found them greeted by a healthy degree of skepticism, and for good reason. Until recently, the underlying technology was not ready to support such far-reaching claims. Why? KM implementations were marred by a fundamental flaw: they tried to be all things to all people. You wouldn’t expect to glean every answer to every question from just one expert, nor should you expect just one system to put all answers at your fingertips. Yet this was the premise upon which many vendors’ KM systems were built.

The very nature of KM demands seamless and extensive integration across all systems where your target knowledge and content are generated, managed, and consumed. This is precisely what the mySAP Enterprise Portal and its Knowledge Management Platform enable you to achieve.

The information we need in the course of a workday is typically distributed across several different transactional systems, databases, file servers, web servers, mail servers, and specialized document management systems from different providers. The larger the network grows, the harder it is to locate relevant content. On the other hand, most IT departments do not want to test yet another new approach to managing information in a single new location. That’s why the Knowledge Management Platform of the mySAP Enterprise Portal has been built to integrate with a wide variety of other systems, making the “answers” they provide available to users via one interface and through one set of common services.

Common Services Provide Access to Heterogeneous Sources

Four categories of common services are built into the Knowledge Management Platform to ensure seamless management and unification of different sources of unstructured information:

Content Management services support the entire lifecycle of documents, including the authoring, storage, management, and display of documents — either in the Enterprise Portal’s own repository or in connected systems.

Retrieval and Classification services offer processing of free-text search queries, submittal of entire documents as search queries for similar information, automatic classification and general text analysis, extraction of keywords and attributes from text, and mapping of textual information to resources (such as people, for example, in order to identify experts).

Collaboration services are available for closing the communication gap between users or teams by providing both synchronous (chat, online conferencing, etc.) and asynchronous (feedback, rating, discussion forums, shared folders, etc.) collaboration support.

Interoperability with applications, content, and services across the enterprise, regardless of device or origin, ensure that existing investments in other document repositories and content management systems can be leveraged and unified through a single access point.

The Knowledge Management Platform of the mySAP Enterprise Portal supports the entire information lifecycle. After creating or editing a document, authors follow a role-based workflow. The new document appears in a workflow folder and the approver receives an alert, an email notification, or a message to a mobile device. After publication, the collaboration continues. Authors can receive feedback from readers, and readers can rate documents for usefulness.

Employees, in turn, can conduct searches, browse through different taxonomies that structure information differently for each interest group, subscribe to interesting areas, and enter into discussions on the basis of information found.

Figure 1 displays an example of the details available for a document in the Knowledge Management system. Along with the list of properties, it also gives you a sense of the common services — including subscription, reviewing, and linking — that apply to different content sources through the Enterprise Portal’s Knowledge Management Platform.


Figure 1 A Sample of the Properties and Services Available for Content with the Knowledge Management Platform

XML forms, built with the integrated forms builder, make the entire process of authoring and publishing even easier. Authors simply fill out predefined forms corresponding to content type — for example, a News form with fields for Headline, Abstract, Text, and Publishing Date.

An Open Framework for Applications, Content, and Services

Our goal in developing a Knowledge Management Platform as part of the Enterprise Portal solution has been two-fold:

  • To provide a comprehensive KM solution that is inherent to the Enterprise Portal and is, in and of itself, a best-of-breed KM offering.

  • At the same time, to supply adapters to other leading document and content management solutions offered by vendors such as Lotus Notes and Documentum, to ensure seamless integration between our KM offering and those offered by other vendors.

Toward this end, we’ve developed three different levels of integration (see the sidebar for some helpful terminology):

  • Level 1: URL Integration
    The backend content management system is displayed as a full web page. You click on a link in the portal, and the full-blown web interface to your content management system opens.

  • Level 2: iView Integration
    Specific iViews for the backend content management system are part of portal worksets (e.g., myInbox). In that way you can, for example, combine your Documentum workflow inbox with related reports from mySAP Business Intelligence on a single portal page.

  • Level 3: Repository Manager Integration
    The backend content management system is integrated in the portal’s Knowledge Management Platform. All of the portal’s KM services can be used on top of all content, and the user no longer needs to know in which system the information resides (see Figure 2). The mySAP Enterprise Portal’s Repository Manager framework connects different systems into a comprehensive KM landscape and offers a set of common services on top of them.

iView: iViews allow the integration of information and functions from a wide range of sources in a mySAP Enterprise Portals solution. For example, an iView can present information from a web site, integrate functions from business software, or provide search functions.

Workset: A workset is a collection of task-related iViews that are arranged and interrelated in ways that make sense to the user.

KM services: This refers to services and functionality related to documents that are accessed through the portal, such as retrieval and classification, collaboration capabilities, subscription, versioning, feedback, personal annotations, etc.

Figure 2 Backend Content Management Systems Integrated via the Repository Manager

Levels 1 and 2 are given for any system that is HTTP-accessible. Level 3 is available from SAP for a number of repositories, and will be extended by publishing a well-defined API that providers of content management systems can attach to.

Since we built this KM platform to operate both in standalone and integrated fashion, it does not rely on the presence of pre-existing content management. This full set of services and functionality can just as well be used by itself, using only the Enterprise Portal’s own repository. In this way, the knowledge management capabilities of the Knowledge Management Platform are combined with your existing document repositories and content management systems via a unified infrastructure.

For users, this means there is no more “required knowledge before you can find any knowledge.” Instead, users search through the portal, subscribe in the portal, browse through the portal, and work either in the backend content management system or in the portal.

Integrating Knowledge for Competitive Advantage

The common services listed above are only a sample of the possibilities offered by the Knowledge Management Platform of the mySAP Enterprise Portal. These services apply to the portal’s own repository as well as to any other connected content management system.

Thus, the choice is yours: replace your previous solutions or plug them in. Either way, the mySAP Enterprise Portal brings it all together, drawing upon an unlimited realm of knowledge, sifting through it to identify and analyze the information that is relevant to the user, and then placing it at your users’ fingertips.

“...with an unmatched development force, a great deal of new traction in the portal market, and a reputation for execution, SAP Portals will inevitably rise toward the top of the (portal vendor) pack.”

Lindsey Higgs, Jim Murphy, and Catherine Quirk
The AMR Research Report, “The Portal Framework: The New Battle for the Enterprise Desktop,” March 2002


Karsten Hohage joined SAP in 1999. He has been dedicated to the subject of Knowledge Management from the start and has gathered a good deal of practical experience in dealing with SAP’s own internal information systems. Karsten is now a Product Manager for the Knowledge Management Platform of the mySAP Enterprise Portal. He can be reached at karsten.hohage@sap.com.

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