Milking knowledge anywhere at any time
In today’s increasingly knowledge-based economy, managing intellectual assets has become a critical task for any company seeking to spur productivity and innovation. Such crucial knowledge management can now be achieved anywhere at anytime thanks to a comprehensive solution devised by the MILK project.
Based on the assumption that work involving the use of knowledge and information is not only performed in front of a PC in an office environment, this IST programme project set out to achieve efficient communication, data access and data creation in any environment that knowledge workers may find themselves in. Its suite of tools not only allows in-office interaction between users, and between users and information but also provides knowledge services over mobile devices and communal systems. In particular, the MILK project concentrated its efforts on the development of a knowledge management solution integrated with the working environment, using interactive large screens to display and share knowledge resources in public spaces.
“Traditional knowledge management systems have been created with only one way for interaction between users and information in mind, typically a PC environment where users work at a desk in an office,” explains project coordinator Maurizio Mesenzani at Butera e Partners in Italy. “In reality there is often much more involved in someone’s working day, such as travelling, holding conferences with colleagues or meeting with clients, as well as internal meetings, informal briefings with colleagues, discussions at coffee machines, or in open spaces, corridors, copy/fax machine corners. Knowledge and information produced and shared in those situations usually get lost, and in those situations people are not supported by any knowledge management tool (they only quote gossips, memories, well known news… ).”
MILK (Multimedia Interaction for Learning and Knowing) therefore devised a knowledge management (KM) system that could be accessed in multiple formats depending on the device employed by users. In the case of knowledge workers who are frequently on the move the databases and tools can be accessed from a mobile phone or PDA, while in social situations such as during meetings with colleagues, the platform can be accessed communally over wall screens and interactive displays.
“At present when someone is out of the office, or when someone is working on a particular project/process they have no way of knowing precisely what is going on in the rest of the company, what work their colleagues are performing and what they could do to assist,” Mesenzani notes. “The MILK solution overcomes that problem.”
By improving communication between knowledge workers, the KM system reduces redundancy in the tasks being performed, and by providing users with the tools and information they need to work no matter where they are it increases innovation and productivity.
“Communication, innovation and productivity is perhaps the best way to describe the goals of MILK,” the coordinator says.
A “seductive design” process
Innovation was certainly a key element in the design of the KM system itself. The project partners adopted a development process known as “seductive design” in which end users, designers and system developers collaborate to “cover every angle” by each adding their own unique input to the process.
“It’s a complex method of system development because you have multiple actors all speaking a different language,” Mesenzani explains. “Users have many needs, which designers may find solutions for, but these have to be feasible from a budgetary and development viewpoint. In the end, however, you have an attractive and easy to use system that is the result of a negotiating process between many actors with different interests.”
Built on the work of a previous project Klee&Co, which was funded under the European Commission’s ESPRIT Programme, the MILK platform has been tested by two users organisations: Butera & Partners and Picturesafe. Both companies are involved in the consulting and information technologies sector, a key market for innovative knowledge management solutions, according to Mesenzani.
An expanding niche market
“Consulting and companies with interests in Web development, Internet marketing and e-commerce form the principal target audience for advanced KM,” the project coordinator notes. “The market for such systems as MILK is now much smaller than when we started the project in 2001 largely because of the dot.com crash, but there is certainly an expanding niche market for the system.”
The MILK solution is seen as being of particular value to medium or large companies which have a significative number of knowledge workers involved in creative activities – “one or two hundred” according to Mesenzani – who are frequently travelling, meeting with colleagues and clients inside or out of the office and working on projects in a communal environment with other colleagues.
“Just as companies invested a lot of money in software and computers five or ten years ago, today they are looking at the ways in which people work, the way offices are laid out and the way employees’ time is spent because the use of working space and time is becoming increasingly important to productivity,” Mesenzani says. “This all implies that they are entering into the Knowledge Management field, and I expect KM systems to be much more integrated into working environments in the future: a useful KM solution should be accessed by users not only when they are working in their office using the PC as they traditionally do, but even when they are travelling (using mobile devices) or when they are in social situations (using large screens).”
It will be a gradual process, however, because as the coordinator admits KM systems are “an innovation to, and not a substitution for, traditional working habits.” “Changes to working cultures are therefore needed before KM is employed widely,” Mesenzani says.
With that goal in mind, the project partners are promoting the use of KM solutions through the MILK Forum and are looking to have a commercial variant of their system up and running in at least one or two companies next year.
Butera e Partners
Piazza Giovine Italia 3
Source: Based on information from MILK
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