Knowledge management Featured

10:07am EDT July 22, 2002

What if instead of searching through filing cabinets in three different departments, all the documents on every customer and vendor was at your fingertips.

With knowledge management software, any file can be accessible to any workstation in the company, or even from a laptop outside the office.

“Knowledge management simply boils down to a management of information in the company,” says Peter Kusterer, vice president of sales and marketing for North America for AFP Technology, a software manufacturer.

Knowledge management software usually refers to programs that handle the management of document transfers between a computer server and people connected to the network.

“Companies have these knowledge databases that support what they sell or market,” says Kusterer. “For tech support companies, the database might be of software, while in the appliance market, it might be of parts.”

Company documents contain most of the information that may need to be communicated either internally or externally. Organizing the documents into computer format lets data be transferred from one document type to another without rekeying. For example, an invoice may contain information on the customer, the amount due and the amount received. The system may be set up so that certain data are in particular places on a document, which is scanned by the computer and can then be transferred to accounting records or sales logs.

Knowledge management software varies widely by function, cost and complexity. It can be contact management programs, such as GoldMine — which allows a transfer of data between a sales manager and sales staff — to AFP Technology’s FormScape, which allows a more universal capability.

Some are out-of-the-box solutions, while others are customized for every user. Most programs are also mentioned in the same breath as the “paperless office” because they not only automate many tasks, but also convert many paper files to electronic versions.

“What we find is companies are having difficulties locating information,” says Kusterer. “With the archives in FormScape, we can store everything in a permanent medium such as a CD or hard disk. Using the viewer, anyone could look back at a physical replica of the document.”

For example, if a customer called in and didn’t understand why they were charged for freight, a customer service representative could call up a copy of the actual invoice on the computer rather than having to dig through a filing cabinet. If the invoice was a mistake, then the rep could attach a computer version of a sticky note to the document and e-mail it to accounting to deduct the freight charge.

“We’ve managed that entire process all in software, from a central repository of information” notes Kusterer. “No one had to dig for a file that might have been misfiled. This software gives you the ability to sort information and route it.”

The FormScape software can also be customized to take advantage of advanced printing capabilities, such as self-sealing envelopes. The software will even look at how many pages the document is, and because the self-sealers usually only work with single pages, will only use that function if the document is one page.

The programs pricing, like their options, widely vary. A basic contact management program for the sales staff can be bought for a few hundred dollars, while customized applications can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000.

“With more companies becoming knowledge based, it’s important to better manage information,” says Kusterer. “How many companies have been victimized by the departure of a key employee who has all the information in their head? If you’re a small company, you’re even more vulnerable.”