E-cognos is a European Union-funded project, consisting of 4 end-users (big contractors and the like) and 2 research companies. They've done research on knowledge management in the construction industry. On 30 september 2003 they hosted their final meeting in Paris. I've written down part of what I heard and mixed it with a bit of my own take on it. If you see something you don't like, you can choose who to blame, me or them :-) Most of my remarks are indicated by "I think" etc, so it 'll probably be clear.
In the introductory speach they made the nice remark that knowledge management = making the implicit explicit. When dealing with knowledge you have to deal with various levels, going through and through the various levels over and over again:
Keep this in mind. Omitting a few will give you a headache. If you don't share knowledge, you will get less knowledge from others in return. If you don't adapt knowledge, it 'll be less useful. Etcetera.
Good to hear was that the software will be made available for free (GPL license) somewhere in october. CSTB made a lot of it. They didn't do a presentation so I mention them here. You see this more and more in European projects, which is a good thing imho. Most of the eConstruct stuff was also available (see bcxml.net for some of it).
"In the past, you asked friends for an answer, now you ask google". Times are a'changing.
If you need information, you tend to look in four places. The idea I got from the presentation is that you walk through the four of them in sequence till you find an answer.
There is a focus in e-cognos on "communities of practice", which is a thing that's happening all the time. E-cognos uses standard things like user profiling to try to form those communities automatically. E-cognos then also tries to pro-actively search out good information for specific kinds of users.
When you search for information, there is a definitive scale from a structured search to an unstructured search.
E-cognos tries to supply all these levels in their "portal".
Boiled down to the core, e-cognos provides a few services (like an ontology server). On top of this, they added an interface/API by which to access it. You can access it using web services - by which they mean SOAP.
I personally moderately abhor SOAP. Most of what SOAP does can be done with simple HTTP and XML. Saver, cleaner, better. SOAP, to me, is hyped by vendors trying to sell their big toolkits. You can do the same with the basic http/xml support that is available in every programming language...
The idea I got from the presentations is that the biggest thing in this e-cognos architecture is the ontology(-server). They created/converted a few ontologies (in this case: hierarchical sets of keywords with translations and synonyms). Added to that is a bit of user profiling etc. I don't have a full picture of it, but the documents will be on their website somewhere late october. Probably the ontology server is the most visible part, there's definitively more "under the hood".
They integrated the e-cognos facilities into their existing document management system. This means that you can use the ontology's list of equivalent terms, synonyms, broader/narrower terms to refine your query.
When a new project in Derbi is started, you can now look for similar projects and relevant experience.
Their experience was that the e-cognos API is good enough to integrate with an existing document management system.
(Biggest contractor in Finland).
They're using product models and EDM (express data manager) big time. Mostly they use archicad to fill the product model.
They showed a slick demo about exporting an archicad model to their own edm/ifc product model ("cove"). They coupled the e-cognos web interface with above "cove" application. This way you could use e-cognos's keyword functionality and the user profiling functionality to search for data in the model and to send relevant information to the people concerned about that information. It looked pretty well integrated.
They showed a scenario where slabs weren't the correct thickness. Using e-cognos, they found the documentation containing the correct measurements and they found the people that needed to deal with this problem.
In my opinion, the e-cognos interface still looks a bit rough, it needs a usability expert to go over it once. But it's not bad at all. You can see they spend a great deal of time building all that functionality.
What YIT learned out of this was:
Big German global contractor.
Quote: "incomplete info has little value".
I smiled broadly when I saw that they had used zope and plone. They used it as the web interface of their existing content management systems. It also was able to connect to the e-cognos infrastructure. I'm a big fan of zope and plone (and python). It was nice to see the Hochtief guy being enthousiastic about it.
Their use case was the process of "structural design calculation". Dealing with legal standards (which are in the existing content management system) etc. Lots of information and the need to find experts. Just the things e-cognos was meant to solve.
Most of the visible functionality was in the search form. They adapted the standard zope/plone search form to also show the broader/narrower/related terms from the e-cognos ontology so that you could refine your search with them. For those who know plone: they also adapted the "what's related" box to use the narrower and broader terms from the ontology to add a "more loosely related"-box.
The 20 test-users of the system appreciated the following things most:
I got the impression that zope/plone + ontology is a powerful combination. Zope/plone seems to shine that way. Great for me, as I'm also working in that direction. Once I've finished a reasonable version of my combination of rdflib and zope I'll email them, easily adding rdf to this might just make it more powerful.
Great job they did.
Big British contractor.
Taylor-Woodrow's goal is towards zero defects. To reach this, they need to catch mistakes earlier on in the process. If done good enough, that way there won't be a defect left at handover-time.
Most of the talk was dedicated to a research done for them by a scientist from the Bayswater institute, specialised in integrating the social, human and technical issues in organisations.
E-cognos won't change the business process, but it enriches the toolset of the knowledge workers to enable them to improve the business processes.
Technically, the current ("as-is") position is that the user has to deal with a lot of data sources at the same time. Files on the harddisk. Documents in the content management system. Google. Etc. The "to-be"-position is that the user has a single entry point to all that data.
E-cognos has got to earn the right to be used on the floor. Effective use of the e-cognos system depends on developing a knowledge-sharing culture.
From a research by Moffett, McAdam and Parkinson he extracted the distinction between dealing with knowledge management on a technical and an organisational level.
There is a need for a technical solution, but it has to be completed with the development of a culture of sharing knowledge. And you need trust that you won't be punished for mistakes.
Storing information in the system has to be easy.
Achieving an integrated knowledge sharing system is an evolutionary process. What's needed:
This ended the presentations. What followed was a brief round of questions.
Nice meeting, handy to get a short overview of the project. It 'll help me to pick out the most useful documents when they arrive at the end of the month. And it will help me when looking at the upcoming open source software they've made.
Regarding the software I'm interested if the additions to zope and plone are part of it...
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