4.17.1 Software agents

A software agent is a program that displays a certain minimum level of autonomy – it acts as a surrogate for a human user. An agent does something for the user automatically, when given instructions. The more sophisticated the agent is, the fewer instructions it needs, and the more capable it is of making decisions on its own – the more ‘agent-like’ it is. An agent can be run on a client (the user's machine) or on a server (for example, a web server). It can also be anchored (stationa
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4.16.1 Ontologies + the Web = the Semantic Web

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has defined a vision of the Web's evolution into the Semantic Web:

The Semantic Web is not a separate Web but an extension of the current one, in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation. The first steps in weaving the Semantic Web into the structure of the existing Web are already under way.
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4.15.1 Ontologies

We noted earlier that, in philosophy, an ontology refers fundamentally to ‘being’, or ‘what can be’. In the field of artificial intelligence the term ‘ontology’ has been appropriated to mean a ‘reusable terminological scheme’ or, if you prefer, a ‘conceptualisation’: a scheme for providing a rigorous description of the concepts, attributes and interrelationships deemed relevant to describe a particular aspect of the world. Its precision means that it can serve as an agreed
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4.13.1 Standards and classification

ICTs depend on myriad standards in order to provide interconnectivity. If this was a computer science course, you would be learning about standard network protocols which enable computers to communicate with each other or with other devices, whether over the internet or from your computer to a network printer. Standards enable us to send email and browse websites without worrying about the underlying mechanisms (until they fail, forcing us to focus on the tool instead of our work).


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4.13 Technologies and explicit knowledge

Knowledge-based systems have the ability to analyse specific kinds of information in order to take action. Since we have earlier defined knowledge as arising out of the interpretation of information as mediated by representations, we can claim that in a limited sense such systems can ‘know’ things: they have a representation of part of the world, and they have some rules that allow them to analyse that representation, from which they can decide on a course of action. In that sense, they h
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4.12.1 Communities of practice and technology

Communities of practice are technical and social networks which set the context in which new knowledge arises in daily work, and determine how it is shared and interpreted, what counts as important knowledge and how people become recognised as members of that community:

A good deal of new technology attends primarily to individuals and the explicit information that passes between them. To support the flow of knowledge,
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4.7 Technologies and the tacit dimension continued

Box 4.5 Technology briefing: audiovisual Webcasting

The emergence of the internet and private, higher-capacity corporate intranets makes it possible to ‘broadcast’ over digital networks, saving time and money since staff do not have to physically gather in one location. The term webcasting
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4.6.1 Connecting people to people

Compared to even five years ago (a long time in technology), tools for virtual meetings and workspaces are extremely common now in many organisations, who typically purchase specialist products rather than develop their own. Tools for virtual meetings really have to work smoothly or the results are immediately obvious, and can be very high cost (for example, one cannot afford for a meeting with an important client to ‘crash’). Organisations are therefore willing to pay for robustness, 24
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4.5 Technologies and the tacit dimension

In this unit we have discussed the intriguing notion of tacit knowledge, or perhaps better, knowing as a situated process. What might it mean to provide technological support which exploits the tacit dimension? If ‘tacit’ can mean ‘not yet codified, but could be’ in Nonaka and Takeuchi's (1995) sense, then we can devise computer systems that assist in formalising information and ‘transforming’ it into explicit, shared knowledge to feed the knowledge spiral. However, if ‘
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4.4.2 Mapping across multiple communities of practice

In introducing the core concepts, we highlighted the perspective that ‘what counts’ as valuable knowledge is unavoidably shaped by the communities of practice to which the ‘publisher’ and ‘consumer’ belong. One makes situated judgements regarding the relevance of a new piece of information for oneself and others, and how to store or share it appropriately. One geographical metaphor conjured up by this perspective is that of ‘islands’ of local coherence, with narrow ‘c
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4.4.1 The map isn't the territory

The expression ‘the map isn't the territory’ draws attention to the difference between complex reality and simplified models of it. Normally, the territory is relatively stable and different maps are produced for different purposes; the territory shapes the maps, not vice versa. However, when the ‘territory’ comprises people who know that they – or their work activities – are being mapped, we find ourselves in a reflexive loop: the people can see how they and their work are
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4.3.1 Mapping what we know

Knowledge maps are often one of the first knowledge management representations to emerge, in an effort to add value over the simple corporate intranet search which returns lists of ‘hits’ that are undifferentiated beyond a ranking in terms of keyword matches. Knowledge maps, like other forms of cartography, should communicate a ‘big picture’ by overlaying meaningful structure on to raw resources.


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4.2.1 Mapping who knows what continued

Box 4.2 Knowledge sharing at Hewlett-Packard

One knowledge management initiative involves HP educators. Bruce Karney is a member of the infrastructure team for the Corporate Education organisation, part of HP's Personnel function. Karney estimates that there are more than 2,000 educators or trainers
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4.1.1 Mapping who knows what

One of the most widespread ways to represent what you know is to represent who knows what. This avoids the complications of codifying or storing the knowledge in great detail – you simply map the relevant people to a high-level taxonomy, leaving them to give contextualised answers when asked. Initiatives to provide corporate ‘yellow pages’ which map an organisation by what people know rather than by where they work, or alphabetically, have been reported to be extremely popular and succe
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3.6.1 When we just want to forget (‘we're only human’)

Group memory systems might be counterproductive if they damage morale or prevent a team from moving on after a failure. Studies of software teams show that many commercial projects are cancelled before completion. This generates an intense pressure to work as hard as possible (so that maintaining group memory falls by the wayside) and, understandably, in many cultures if a project is regarded as a failure everyone wants to forget it as quickly as possible rather than analyse it for lessons le
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3.4.1 Integrating memory systems into the flow of work

There has been a substantial amount of research interest over the last decade in group/organisational memory systems. For example, software researchers have investigated the possibility of capturing design rationale, the key reasoning that underpins design decisions (Moran and Carroll, 1996). However, time and again projects have failed. A given information codification scheme encourages particular ways of thinking about information and the problem at hand: typically, information must
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3.3.1 Metaphors for organisational memory systems

Section 2 argued for a model of knowledge deriving from the situated interpretation of abstract representations. There is an active process by which different interpretations may result from a given information source. This is in contrast to the popular notion that knowledge can be unproblematically encoded and digitally stored and accessed.

Bannon and Kuutti (1996) argue that the term ‘organizational memory’ is widely used to mean a repository based on an implicit ‘memory as bin
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3.1 A knowledge management technology framework

In the introduction to a book on knowledge management technologies, Borghoff and Pareschi (1998) described a framework for organisational memory that has been developed within Xerox to promote understanding of the roles and interplay between different technologies (Figure 4).

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2.5 Design implications

The difficulties just described have very practical implications when it comes to designing technologies. Consider the following quotations:

in selecting any representation we are in the very same act unavoidably making a set of decisions about how and what to see in the world …

a knowledge representation is a set of ontological commitments. It is unavoidably so because of the inevitable imperfections of
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1.2 Pressing questions

In the late 1990s, when this unit was first prepared, if you surveyed the field of knowledge management technology you were assailed by technology vendors offering Knowledge Management Solutions. As we write in 2005 , an internet search on ‘knowledge management ICT’ will still return thousands of hits, but the ‘knowledge’ buzzword has faded in potency, the hype bandwagon has trundled on, and vendors now market the same products under business process banners which reflect greater real
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