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Online Information 98 Exhibition and Conference: Knowledge Management grabs center stage
by
Posted On December 21, 1998
Report from the 
Knowledge Management Seminar
by Jane I. Dysart

Knowledge Management (KM) was definitely a prevailing theme at Online Information 98. One of the most refreshing and interesting speakers that I heard on this topic was David Snowden, director of knowledge differentiation at IBM, who delivered the keynote for the full-day Executive Business Briefing seminar, offered the day before the meeting. He describes KM as a fundamental in how we think about organizations. He talked a lot about language and the fact that metaphors and storytelling are the best way to communicate complex ideas and concepts like KM. He believes that knowledge organizations should be described using biological metaphors rather than mechanical ones. One of the most interesting stories he told related to the trust factor in KM—you don't share knowledge unless you trust what will happen to it or the person with whom you are sharing it.

He used the example of maps and taxis—London taxis, of course, since their drivers spend 9 months to a year getting "the knowledge" about all the streets in London and don't receive licenses unless they are experts. If you are a neophyte London traveler, you definitely trust these taxi drivers! You can certainly get a great deal of information from a map. However, maps assume a certain level of knowledge. Taxi drivers can tell you, for instance, certain unsafe parts of major cities, sections that are under construction, and areas closed for the winter. So, it is definitely trusted communication that empowers us to make decisions.

Some of the areas Snowden pointed to for examples of how to get ideas and solutions for sharing and managing knowledge included medieval models, where large amounts of information were transferred by the apprentice system; biology; and complexity theory (self-sustaining organisms, knowledgeable classifiers/librarians, storytelling, quantum physics, and new books on the brain). Or how about court jesters? British Airways is using this latest technique. Check out last month's Fast magazine for more details.

Jane I. Dysart, of Dysart & Jones Associates, can be reached at dysart@inforamp.net.
 

The National Hall and Olympia Conference Centre in London was the site of the recent Online Information 98 Exhibition and Conference. Now in its 22nd year, the event featured over 350 exhibitors and drew more than 17,000 visitors. Delegates numbered nearly 1,000 and came from 50 countries. The event is organized by Learned Information Europe, Ltd., the publisher of a number of information industry publications, including Information World Review, Electronic Library, and Knowledge Management, its newest title.

I had seen the event advertised as "the largest information-industry event in the world" and had heard people warn of the enormous exhibit hall and the walking distances between the conference rooms in Olympia 2 and the exhibits in the National Hall. On this, my first visit to the international event, I thought I was prepared with comfortable shoes and a good rest the night before. However, it still proved to be a daunting task to cover all the places I wanted to be.

To help visitors make the best use of their time, the conference organizers offered specific "Information Trails" through the exhibit hall, with colored indicators on the stands (booths). These covered online information in the following areas: health & pharmaceutical, investment & securities, accountancy & finance, sales & marketing, legal & government, knowledge management (KM)—a very hot topic area for the conference—and digital publishing technologies. There were also several small theater areas for product presentations by the vendors. In addition, there was a dedicated area of the exhibit hall for providers of scientific, technical, and medical (STM) information. Of course, some companies, like Dialog and SilverPlatter, were listed in a number of trails. Still, it was very helpful to have separate listings of the exhibitor areas in the printed event guide to help plan one's route. I could have spent the 3 days just visiting exhibitors' stands and hearing product presentations.
 

Exhibitor Announcements
There were many smaller product announcements, showcasing of previously launched products, and a few significant vendor roll-outs. As expected, most products were Web-based or related to Web publishing, though I did spot a few CD-ROMs at the stands. The product I was most interested in was Dialog's LiveIntranet, a Web-based information-management system that uses InfoSort, the company's proprietary indexing technology. It allows companies to automatically index and categorize both internal and external information and documents by the same standard terminology. Dialog has worked this fall with several European projects that used the product, including Reed Exhibitions and the BBC for its electronic news-cuttings service. This marks the launch for selling to the U.S. market. It is being positioned as a "practical working solution to the problems of knowledge management."

I talked with Russell Ward, Dialog's head of intranet development, who told me that it had taken 3 days or more to create the rule base for an indexing category. Now, a breakthrough in the InfoSort technology can accomplish this in 5 minutes, allowing them to offer the product to corporate customers for their intranets. He called it a toolkit that can be totally customized to a customer's needs. Pricing will start at around £45,000 (roughly $75,000 U.S.), with volume discounts.

STN was showing its new Web service, STN on the Web (see the NewsBreak story), which will be available in March 1999 and will offer the full power of STN search functionality. FIZ Karlsruhe, an operator of the STN service, also announced that journal references in STN databases will be linked directly to Springer-Verlag's full text of the articles, through the new DocDel Service. Subscribing to a journal will not be necessary to retrieve an article.

The folks at the Questel-Orbit stand were busy discussing a number of important announcements with their customers. As part of their ongoing project to integrate the separate search systems into one service platform, Intellectual Property Gold (IPG), Questel-Orbit announced the launch of six new industrial property and energy files, as well as numerous service upgrades. The company also announced that it would release, in the first quarter of 1999, version 2.0 of QPAT, its Web-based service (http://www.qpat.com). It also announced the addition of European data, plus the integration of an electronic commerce package. In addition, the company launched Namewatcher for monitoring domain names registered worldwide. Expert searcher Nancy Lambert will be covering these developments in detail in an upcoming issue of ITI's Searcher magazine.

Here's just a sampling of other new products and services:

• The Investext Group launched Research Bank Web-Business School Edition, which is aimed at the academic market. For an annual subscription price, it offers users unlimited access to everything from industry trends and forecasts to new product initiatives and economic opinion on companies, and investment and trade association research in portable document format—complete with the same images, charts, and graphs as the original report.

• The British Library introduced inside web 1.2 (http://www.bl.uk/online/inside), which provides improvements to the service launched a year ago offering Web access to the British Library's collection of journals. It is a subscription-based current-awareness search, order, and delivery service. It now includes document-ordering functionality and service budgeting and management systems.

• Engineering Information, Inc. (http://www.ei.org)—producer of the Internet subscription service Engineering Information Village—previewed its Ei Computing Village, a service to be launched in February 1999 that will serve as a channel to computing resources. It organizes, monitors, and provides point-of-access descriptions of some 5,000 technical Web sites, and includes conference information, an experts database, and access to relevant Elsevier Science journals.
 

Global Conference Program
In keeping with the international flavor of the conference, the opening address was given by Thomas Yeoh of the National Computer Board of Singapore. Yeoh discussed the experiences, challenges, and future of Singapore's connectivity initiative in the schools, libraries, and local communities, with the goal of making Singapore the information technology hub of the Asia Pacific region. In fact, one of the best reasons for an American to attend this event is the chance to broaden horizons to what is happening outside our borders and gain a more global perspective on information strategies. I was grateful for the chance to hear speakers and to meet and chat with many information professionals and vendors from other countries.

The theme of globalization was further explored by a panel of industry speakers who addressed the issue of new users and customers for information products. Representatives of the three companies—Dow Jones Interactive, The Gale Group, and FT Electronic Publishing—all reported on efforts to attract and satisfy an increasingly global audience. For example, Dow Jones is creating an international database of company information, plans to do more original international reporting, and will add non-U.S. coverage to Wall Street Journal Interactive.

Knowledge management was given center stage at the conference, acknowledging its critical position in corporate business development. Besides a preconference full-day Executive Briefing (see sidebar), the middle day of the conference was dedicated to the KM challenge, including the technologies and the role of the information professional. Many other sessions delved into corporate intranets and how they are changing the way companies gather, organize, and use information.

One of the most interesting speakers I heard was in the final plenary session, which served to bring a number of conference themes together and examined how to make sense of information products and services—as users and producers/vendors—in the new Web environment. Martin White, of TFPL, Ltd., said that the Web has opened up a huge global market, and with the information industry in transition ("adapt or perish" was the advice), the edge will be in bundling and branding of products. He predicted that intranets will have as great an impact on the information industry as the Web itself has had. He sees the following as key factors for success: focus (do what you are good at), vision, technology (used with discretion), channels (without it you are invisible), a brand, and patience.
 

Awards for Innovation
Several awards were announced at the show during a reception for exhibitors. Information World Review sponsored the awards for Best Product/Service, which was won by OneSource Information Services for its OneSource Business Browser; Best Newcomer, won by IMR Access, Ltd. for its IMR Mall; and Best Technological Innovation, won by Data Downlink Corporation for its .xls. EIRENE, a European association of information brokers, sponsored the Best Stand award. It was given to the Royal Society of Chemistry.

The Challenge of Materials Gallery in The Science Museum provided a dramatic backdrop for the UMI Excellence in Writing Award, given during an evening party for delegates. Perched on a glass bridge suspended across the atrium, Dan Arbour of UMI presented the prestigious honor to Susan Feldman, who wrote "It Was Here a Minute Ago! Archiving the Net" in Searcher magazine. Susan is the president of Datasearch, a former librarian, and a writer and speaker on information technology topics. She was very happy and honored to receive the award—and the check for $1,500. Congratulations to Sue.
 

For More Information
Of course there's no way I can tell you about all the important presentations at the meeting, but you can get the Proceedings in print (a massive 398 pages) or on CD-ROM. Check with Learned Information by phone (011-44-1865-388000), fax (011-44-1865-736354), or e-mail (customerservice@learned.co.uk). You can also find conference information and a list of exhibitors on the Web site (http://www.online-information.co.uk). Looking ahead, the dates for Online Information 99 have been announced. It will be in the same location, December 7-9, 1999. Come well-rested, and bring good walking shoes.


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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