Knowledge workers engage in a great variety of activities. A stock broker is a knowledge worker. So is a product manager, an architect, an industrial designer and a marketing communications specialist. Regardless of the activity, knowledge workers spend a lot of their time searching for and evaluating information.

This should come as no surprise. But just how much is “a lot,” and what does it cost the organizations that ultimately foot the bill? Industry analyst group IDC found that in an average 40-hour work week, a knowledge worker spends approximately 25 percent of his or her time searching for information and another 25 percent evaluating it. For a full-time employee earning $60,000 annually ($28.85 per hour) that’s nearly $30,000 per year. Those are big investments of time and money, especially when you consider that finding and evaluating information are only the first steps to using it productively - in other words, realizing any return on that investment.

The Evolving Search Market

Today’s enterprise generates an enormous quantity of information, often stored in siloed repositories that cannot be accessed by a single application. So knowledge workers have a lot to search through, and it’s rarely a simple task. Plus, they frequently need access to information outside the corporate firewall. Unfortunately, up to now, the tools provided to enterprise knowledge workers have frequently fallen short of the mark in terms of search. This inadequacy gave birth to standalone search applications - an important market space with dozens of vendors, none of which grabbed more than a 15 percent market share.

At the same time, in its 2006 Magic Quadrant for information access technologies, Gartner recognized that the search market was in rapid flux. The report stated that leading vendors had capabilities that went far beyond “enterprise search to encompass a collection of technologies, including: search; content classification, categorization and clustering; fact and entity extraction; taxonomy creation and management; information presentation (for example, visualization) to support analysis and understanding; and desktop (or personal knowledge) search to address user-controlled repositories to locate and invoke documents, data, e-mail and intelligence.” Only a year later, Gartner described enterprise search as a market in the throes of dramatic consolidation. Platform players were buying niche vendors with attractive technologies as new vendors emerged and others disappeared.

Perhaps morphing rather than consolidating better explains what has occurred and is occurring in enterprise search. The platform players have seen the future of knowledge work, and it much more resembles Web 2.0 and rich Internet applications than it does even the most sophisticated enterprise search tool. It requires an application environment that provides smart workspaces for ad hoc information sharing integrated with the system resources and Web services necessary to find, access and manage collaborative content within the framework of an enterprise information infrastructure.

Beyond Search

Undoubtedly, the public Web - always connected and media rich with its potential for enhanced communications - has driven the expectations of enterprise knowledge workers. Blogging, wikis, photo and video sharing, community building and social networking are phenomena that simply beg to be used somehow in building a more effective, interactive business environment. By helping knowledge workers focus on the information, tasks and events that matter, these tools – properly positioned for the enterprise – promise to increase productivity, improve transparency, expedite business processes and eliminate knowledge gaps.

The question is literally and metaphorically, “How do we get there from here?” How can we assemble a rich set of knowledge resources that supports the dynamic relationships between information and people while they collaborate across the extended enterprise?  We need to help enterprise knowledge workers:

 

  • Find relevant information in context,
  • Publish user-generated content and
  • Integrate collaborative content with disparate enterprise resources.

 

A Starting Point: Next-Generation Content Management

The next generation of enterprise content management platforms is a viable starting point for helping knowledge workers more productively use the time they’re already spending. ECM is one of the most commonly deployed enterprise applications. Today’s content management platforms can:

 

  • Eliminate information silos,
  • Enable easier repurposing of content,
  • Enforce retention policies and brand standards,
  • Streamline business processes,
  • Offer greater security for sensitive content and
  • Increase efficiency.

 
Up until now, the knock on content management has been ease of use. As a recent Forrester report points out, for many business people, the hassle of using an ECM system exceeds the system’s value. But that is changing and changing rapidly.

More Production - Less Frustration

ECM can make life easier and more productive for knowledge workers without sacrificing the controlled management and attention to compliance the enterprise requires. These platforms will incorporate:

A Web 2.0 client. From within the ECM client of the very near future, knowledge workers will easily do things like create blogs and team wikis that used to require separate, external applications. This client will support personalized information views as well as team and individual workspaces. Knowledge workers will have one-click publishing capability and the ability to manage tasks and projects via a powerful yet friendly interface.

This interface will support the coordination of content, people and processes. It will leverage an asynchronous, dynamic user experience for running within a browser and connecting through a desktop, laptop or mobile device. It will deliver a flexible and responsive interactive environment - RIA anyone?

More intuitive and productive search. Knowledge workers need to find information wherever it exists - inside a managed repository, in a secure corporate file system or on a desktop. With next-generation ECM, a single query will access various repositories (each of which organizes content in its own way) and return a consistent, integrated set of results. Once users have authenticated access to repositories, they will not need to know how those repositories work.

But as important as finding information is the ability to understand it. One way to do this is through visualization of the relationships between different types of information. Next-generation content management systems will enable intelligent filtering of and guided navigation through multiple information sources. 

User-centric ECM will also permit knowledge workers to easily tag and classify items for the benefit of themselves and others. It will enable them to use social tagging - tagging content on the fly in meaningful ways, with personal terms and those used by others. Over time, the most relevant terms will become more popular and more frequently used. Suddenly, it becomes easier to discover and track what is important to us and our colleagues. These advanced content platforms will also help users syndicate and track relevant information using really simple syndication.

Moreover, knowledge workers will be able to organize search results graphically, a better means to probe the connections between various items. Interrelationships will be mapped, revealing patterns not recognized when scrolling through lists of results.

Access to content and content services through virtually any application. Many knowledge workers spend their days working from one or two core applications. Whether its Microsoft Excel, Word or Adobe InDesign, they are much happier (and more productive) if they can stay in that application and still search for, find and access the information they need and collaborate with others. Content management platforms of the future will leverage a plug-in infrastructure that enables seamless integration with desktop applications when working with files.

Secure and compliant information management. Although knowledge workers create most of the information in an enterprise, the security, retention and governance of that information are responsibilities of the IT manager who needs to control the use of knowledge worker tools without reducing productivity. 

IT managers maintain multiple enterprise applications in a production environment. the fewer management challenges the better. Their priorities include reducing operational cost and risk while preserving service quality. From an IT manager’s perspective, any new service must deliver compelling benefits with little additional cost or risk.

Future ECM platforms will provide RIA capabilities from an enterprise architecture that has been developed to apply and enforce security, retention and governance policies behind the scenes - pervasively but not intrusively. That means collaborative workspaces and content won’t require the addition of another enterprise application to an already complex IT ecosystem. Nor will they increase an IT manager’s administrative overhead. These platforms will enable any time, anywhere access to enterprise content while securing content that travels outside the enterprise via information rights management.

Content Management and the Evolution of Knowledge Work

There are two critical elements in the evolution of knowledge work: the user experience of knowledge workers and the breadth of the resources they use. Rich Internet or Web 2.0-enabled content management connects a browser or mobile experience to networked resources. It provides smart ways to communicate, coordinate and collaborate with colleagues and partners.

Knowledge work has changed and will continue to change. The flexibility of next-generation content management will enable the platform to constantly adapt to a fluid work environment. Today that fluidity is driven by Web 2.0 and social computing, which have demonstrated that context is every bit as important as content. No one can predict what the next “prime mover” in the knowledge work and worker environment may be. But the deployment of a robust, flexible platform that can support the solutions that knowledge workers require is clearly the best preparation for uncertainty.

 

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