Tacit Uses E-mail to Discover Knowledge Experts

E-mail is a useful tool for quick, reliable communication between employees, partners, and customers. Keeping messaging servers online is considered by some to be worth the expense for the return in productivity it provides.

But to further enhance e-mail’s value, attempts are being made to harness the communication between individuals to create a knowledge base that will add more to the bottom line. Tacit Knowledge Systems Inc. (www.tacit.com) is taking the wraps off a system that captures relevant data in the messaging thoroughfare and turns it into a knowledge resource that all users can share.

Tacit is a Silicon Valley start-up founded by a group of analysts from Giga Information Group (www.gigaweb.com). The products the company will be marketing are KnowledgeMail and KnowledgeMail Plus, both designed to work in large enterprise e-mail systems to automatically recover and store the knowledge, skills, and work focus of each employee and then make that information available enterprisewide.

Philip Russom, director of the business intelligence knowledge center at Hurwitz Group (www.hurwitz.com), says to understand what KnowledgeMail is, you have to understand why it was created. The analysts at Giga were looking for a way to solve the problem of bottomless e-mail inboxes they had from the deluge of messages they received from public relations specialists, research analysts, and journalists.

Many times these people are looking for a specific technology expert, which may or may not be the analyst they contacted. The Giga analysts were trying to figure out a way to make the messaging system smart enough to know who the expert was and forward the inquiry to him. The best way for this was to associate words and phrases with each analyst and forward e-mail that contained the same.

"It would be neat if I could send e-mail into the system and it would send it to whoever matched the profile," Russom says. "For people who have organizations or big corporations where it's important to find the best expert, this is very useful."

As messages pass through e-mail clients such as Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes, KnowledgeMail extracts key terms and phrases found in the content of the message and adds them to a user's private profile. The system then organizes those terms and suggests which categories that user may want in his public profile, which resides on the corporate network.

For example, if Bob is looking for particular information on a customer, he can search the KnowledgeMail database by keyword. The query would come back informing Bob that Mary, Bill, and an unnamed private source have worked with that customer. Bob can then contact Mary and Bill for background on the customer. The unnamed private source is Susan, who will get an e-mail informing her that Bob has done a query and her name came up. She can choose to remain private or e-mail Bob and let him know she has information on that customer as well.

Russom says Tacit shifted the focus on knowledge management from finding the document that pertains to your search to finding the actual expert you can then go down the hall and talk to. "It's more people centric, where document management is more document centric," he says.

Another function of KnowledgeMail is recipient suggestion. When a user composes an e-mail and then goes to the address book to add recipients, KnowledgeMail will suggest recipients based on keywords in the composed message.

KnowledgeMail includes the KnowledgeMail Desktop, which integrates with Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes to gather the e-mail knowledge base and suggest experts. The KnowledgeMail Portal is a browser-based navigation tool for querying the database for pertinent experts.

KnowledgeMail Plus includes all the functions of KnowledgeMail as well as KnowledgeSweep, a tool that queries all private profiles around the enterprise and returns unnamed results while alerting the private user that someone may need expertise they have.

The difficulty of implementing KnowledgeMail is overcoming the hurdles of altering the way people approach work. "With any knowledge management system, it's not simply the kind of software you can just install and people will get some use out of it," Russom explains. "There has to be some kind of process reengineering training where you have to change the way people do their jobs. Otherwise, people will simply not get value out of the system over time."

Similar solutions are offered by Orbital Software Group Ltd. (www.orbitalsoftware.com) and Abuzz (www.abuzz.com), a subsidiary of The New York Times (www.nyt.com). Russom says what's special about Tacit's solution is the ability to permit users to say which phrases can go in their personal profile and which should not.