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Managing Knowledge

Published
  • February 01 1998, 1:00am EST

Last month I mentioned knowledge management as a trend whose time has come. Let's face it, as individuals we're bombarded with everything from e-mail and magazine articles to industry white papers and analyst reports--many of which contain actionable information with tactical or strategic competitive value. How can we organize our own knowledge base? On a larger scale, how should organizations try to organize corporate knowledge bases? I'm seeing a growing number of organizations experiment with a Web-based publish-and-subscribe model and with "virtual data marts," but I'd be interested in hearing your experiences. This is a politically sensitive enough area ("Knowledge is power-- why should I share?") that it would be nice to avoid alligators, arrows and version 1.0-type failures in general. What have you learned? Are you discovering technology overlap with data warehouse/data mart roll out?

The Name's Been Changed

Web-based training is often one of the components of knowledge management, and Asymetrix Learning Systems (www.asymetrix.com), formerly Asymetrix, continues to improve its venerable ToolBook product line. Originally a Paul Allen company (Paul Allen was the co-founder of Microsoft), but now privately held, Asymetrix Learning Systems offers a rich product line of packages for developing and managing CBT (computer-based training)--including IconAuthor 7.5 and CBT Express 2.0 from recently-acquired Aimtech Corporation (www.aimtech.com).

Asymetrix Learning Systems' CBT products include:

  • ToolBook II Instructor 6.0 ($1,995, 16/32-bit Windows application with VB-like OpenScript)
  • ToolBook II Assistant 6.0 ($1,095, a "lightweight" version of Instructor--no scripting support)
  • ToolBook II Librarian 2 ($3,000/ server + per student fee, server-based course management for ToolBook and/or IconAuthor courses)
  • ToolBook II Publisher ($895, based on the original multimedia ToolBook, primarily for creating CD-ROMs)
  • ToolBook Database Connection ($195 ­ ODBC now, JDBC coming)
  • Aimtech IconAuthor 7.5 ($3,995, flow chart-like, multi-platform development environment)
  • CBT Express ($1,495, "lightweight" version of IconAuthor)

ToolBook II, despite its integrated scripting language, is page-based--not object oriented--and, therefore, maps very easily to HTML. In fact, if you want to deploy ToolBook applications over the I*net, you can have ToolBook generate HTML and translate OpenScript into Java or applications directly from your Web server in native mode (end users would use a free client plug-in called Impulse that streams ToolBook applications). ToolBook II also provides plenty of flexibility for producing hybrid courses that get some content from a CD and some from the I*net.
IconAuthor relies on an icon or flow chart-like visual programming development paradigm rather than using ToolBook's page- oriented approach. One of IconAuthor's strengths is the availability of client "players" on multiple platforms from Windows 3.1 (also supported by ToolBook) to UNIX and OS/2. Both ToolBook and IconAuthor can use ActiveX controls and Java applets. Asymetrix' newest product, Librarian, is written in Java, supports both ToolBook and IconAuthor applications and can store student information in any ODBC database.

The Version's Been Changed

Although "traditional" client/server development tools like PowerBuilder seem to have taken a back seat to a new generation of thin-client, multitier application development tools, Sybase should be shipping the new version of PowerBuilder by the time you read this. Notable new features in PowerBuilder 6.0 include the ability to create PowerBuilder ActiveX controls (which aren't native OCXs, but rather PBD files that can be controlled and displayed by PowerBuilder's Window ActiveX control, PBRx60.OCX, which ships with PowerBuilder) and support for enhanced DataWindow HTML generation. Both the existing Window PlugIn and new Window ActiveX control include a secure mode option. Sybase/Powersoft is also working on a "generator" engine that will translate PowerScript into COM/DCOM, CORBA or JavaBeans component models.

Unsung Hero

Many Microsoft watchers had all but dismissed Visual FoxPro (VFP) as a dead-end product, but it is included in Microsoft's extremely popular Visual Studio (www.microsoft.com/vstudio), and it's gaining a surprising number of new converts, especially at the corporate level. VFP, one of the modern versions of the original dBASE programming environment (Borland, www.borland.com, has just updated Visual dBASE), attracts developers because of its familiar programming language and high performance. Access, another Microsoft "desktop" database tool, is being positioned more as a query tool. VFP's surprising renaissance has caused Microsoft to include support for it in the new Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS).

Good Read

If you're confused about COM, DCOM, MTS (Microsoft Transaction Server) and MSMQ (Microsoft Message Queue), I highly recommend Roger Sessions' new book, COM and DCOM: Microsoft's Vision for Distributed Objects (ISBN 0-471-19381-X, $34.99). Roger, an industry expert in the field of distributed object technology, has deep insight into issues associated with distributed objects and provides an extremely useful perspective, thanks in part to his five-year experience working for IBM on its object model, SOM (system object model).

Good Tools

Embarcadero Technologies (www.embarcadero.com, $899/user/database) is shipping DB Artisan 4.0, a DBA tool that manages Oracle (7 and 8), Sybase (10 and 11) and MS SQL 6.x databases from one executable. CAST Software (www.castsoftware.com) has a suite of tools for both Sybase and Microsoft SQL Server shops: CAST Workbench 3.5.5. It's hard to describe CAST Workbench--it's a complete suite of tools that addresses the needs of teams of SQL Server developers--not only DBAs and T-SQL programmers, but also front-end developers. This is a class act, but also more expensive than DB Artisan. Platinum (www.platinum.com/provision) should also be shipping its new multi- database suite of tools, ProVision, by the time you read this. Platinum will reportedly be bundling Steve Feuerstein's collection of PL/SQL packages (RevealNet PL/Vision Code Start) with the Oracle version of SQL Station. Feuerstein, now with RevealNet (www.revealnet.com), has also helped RevealNet update its Oracle Adminstration Knowledge Base.

One final tool worth considering: Bluecurve's Dynameasure 2.0. It's NT-specific, but it helps you do capacity planning, verify infrastructure reliability, and even roll your own benchmarks ( www.bluecurve.com ).

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