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Knowledge Building And Corporate Memory Essay, Research Paper

How can we use electronic systems to assist in the sharing of information organisation-wide, the use of this to build expertise and develop and maintain corporate memory?




Challenges related to GroupWare introduction


Computer Supported Cooperative Works:

? 1st definition of CSCW

? 2nd definition of CSCW

? Issues covered by CSCW.


? Message Systems

? Multiuser Editor

? Group Decision Support Systems and Electronic Meeting Rooms

? Computer conferencing

a) Real Time Computer Conferencing

b) Computer Teleconferencing

c) Desktop Conferencing

? Intelligent Agent





? The objective of an Expert System

? Benefit of an Expert System

? Limitations of Expert Systems

? Examples of Expert Systems





How can we use electronic systems to assist in the sharing of information organisation-wide, the use of this to build expertise and develop and maintain corporate memory?


As the technologies of computers and other forms of electronic communication continue to converge, and it is more common for people to have computers at workplace and at their homes, our interaction with one another likewise has undergone a change, people will continue to interact in new and different ways.

Global competitive pressures and continuos innovations are forcing many organisation to rethink the manner in which they do business and re-engineer themselves, by taking an interest in Knowledge Management ie the management and use of their intellectual assets and corporate memory. They are looking at how to share information and eventually benefit from it. While technology is important for development of such a system, it has been found that the cultural obstacles are the key factor for such a system in becoming successful. For example, there can be a reluctance to participate if the act of sharing intellectual assets is seen as a means of giving the users of the assets a competitive edge over the contributor or alternatively might be seen as freeloading. (Hibbard Justin and Carillo Karen M, 1998).

According to Leonard-Barton (pp 27-28), knowledge building requires certain capabilities from an organisation. Those are:

(1) people’s skills skills and knowledge embodied in the employees of the organisation;

(2) knowledge embedded in physical systems portion of knowledge and skills , which is granted by proprietary and protected form. It could be patents or other types of intangible assets or it could be contained in software, hardware and accepted procedures of the organisation.

(3) managerial systems that support and reinforce the growth of knowledge trough carefully designed education and incentives and

(4) values that serve to screen and encourage or discourage the accumulation of different kinds of knowledge.

Now, that we have discussed the issue of the knowledge in terms of the organisation, let us move to the next part of the question. The question we need to answer is how can electronic systems can be used in the sharing information-wide. Readings and researches in this area have shown that the term, which is introduced in the following paragraph, is the most appropriate for the topic.


Before moving ahead with the topic of our discussion lets look at the definition of GroupWare. Malone (cited in Coleman and Shapiro, 1992) defines GroupWare as “information technology used to help people work together more effectively.” Winogard (cited in Coleman and Shapiro, 1992) defines it as “a state of mind.” Peter and Trudy Johnson-Lenz who at first determined GroupWare as “intentional group processes plus software to support them” (Johnson-Lenzes, 1982) now determine it as “computer-mediated culture” (Johnson-Lenzes, 1992). Grudin (1991) notes how different investigators define GroupWare in different ways, some including network file servers, some including database software, some including electronic mail, and some including none of these. Although Dyson (1992) notes that “‘GroupWare’ is about as useful term as ’singleware,’” she goes on to state (p. 10):

More than a way of coding or building applications, GroupWare is a way to define, structure, and link applications, data and the people who use them.

Ellis C. A., Gibbs S. J. and Rein G. L. (1991) propose a “somewhat broader view,” which suggests that GroupWare is a sort of the “class of applications.” These applications may or may not specifically support cooperation. According to Ellis and others GroupWare is applied to small groups and organisations and arises from technological progress in information and communication technology.

Challenges related to Groupware introduction ?. Introduction of any system should look into adapting the technology to the organisation. The system should reflect specific needs and requirements of the organisation. Ellis C. A., Gibbs S. J. and Rein G. L. (1991) recognise the difficulty of designing and developing real-time GroupWare on a system level. They explain the difficulty of developing such a system by “social and organisational effects”.

Developers of GroupWare face eight challenges as per Grudin. Five of the challenges relate to implementation rather then building of the software, which is important to Knowledge Management studies. These are:

? Disparity in Work Benefit. Where there are differences in contribution leading to differences in cost and benefit in using the collaboration tool. As such where the cost are too high and benefit remote the collaboration is not likely to succeed.

? Critical Mass and the Prisoner’s Dilemma problems. Meaning collaboration will not succeed until there is a critical mass of people using the toll. Also if people do not use the tool, then the tool will fail.

? Sharing will work only if there is sufficiently large pool of items to use. It will also only work if people don’t just use item but they contribute as well.

? Disruption of social processes. Sharing can go against an organisation culture, if for example knowledge is power

? The adoption process. GroupWare requires careful implementation to succeed. More consideration as to how the GroupWare will impact its users is required than for traditional systems.

As we have intended to show, the term groupware, is a general definition of computer based human-human collaboration. It has many forms and way of use in the knowledge building process. This would be the subject for the further discussion in the next chapter.


Computer Supported Cooperative Works ?:

1st definition of CSCW ?: People working cooperatively, supported by technology is commonly called Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). CSCW looks at how groups work and seeks to discover how technology (especially computers) can help them work. Electronic mail is one of the earliest CSCW application and since then many application have appeared, covering support of meetings, decision support, group authoring, organisation memory etc. (Lyn Griffen, P 4, June 1998)

2nd definition of CSCW ?: One possible outcome of converging electronic communication and other systems is the electronic workspace – an organisation-wide system that integrates information processing and communication activities. The study of such systems is part of a new multi-disciplinary field: Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). Drawing on the expertise and collaboration of many specialists, including social scientists and computer scientists, CSCW looks at how groups work and seeks to discover how technology (especially computers) can help them work (Ellis C. A., Gibbs S. J. and Rein G. L. 1991)

Commercial CSCW products, such as The CoordinatorTM and other PC-based software, are often referred to as examples of GroupWare. This term is frequently used almost synonymously with CSCW technology.

Issues covered by CSCW ?. The CSCW field addresses more than just the technical issues of designing and developing software to support people working together. Some issues that are addressed are:

? Articulating cooperative work ie, supporting the interrelated and coordinating secondary tasks around cooperation.

? Sharing an information space

? adapting the technology to the organisation and vice versa

? information, which is not neutral, and individuals who use it are motivated by individual interest which can result in misrepresentation.

Other Types of Groupware ?

There are many ways in which people can interact with one another and pool resources together to derive benefit from it. Some of these are:

? Message Systems ?: The most common example of this is the e-mail. The proliferation of such systems has led to information overload phenomenon. Some recent Message System has intelligence added to the message delivery system, for example Information Lens (Malone, T., Grant, K., Turbak, F., Brobst, S., and Cohen, M. 1987) lets users specify rules that automatically file or re-route incoming messages based on content.

? Multiuser Editor ?: Members of a group can use multiuser editors to jointly compose and edit a document. Some of these editors conveniently separate text supplied by the author from the comments of various reviewers.

? Group Decision Support Systems and Electronic Meeting Rooms ?: GDSS provide computer-based facilities for the exploration of unstructured problems in a group setting. The goal is to improve the productivity of decision making meetings, either by speeding up the decision making process or by improving the quality of the resulting decisions (Kraemer, K.L., and King, J.L., June 1988)

? Computer conferencing ?: The computer serves as a communications medium in a variety of ways. In particular it has provided three new approaches –

a) Real Time Computer Conferencing: allows groups of users, who are either gathered in an electronic meeting room or physically dispersed to interact synchronously through their work-station or terminals.

b) Computer Tele-conferencing: Telecommunication supports for group interaction is referred to as Tele-conferencing.

c) Desktop Conferencing: Tele-conferencing does not let participant share text and graphics. Desktop Conferencing combines the advantages of Tele-conferencing and real time conferencing while mitigating their drawbacks. This method still uses the workstation as the conference interface, but it also runs application shared by the participants.

? Intelligent Agent ?: Not all participants in an electronic meeting are people. Intelligence agents are responsible for a specific set of tasks and the user interface makes their actions resemble those of other users. The Intelligent Agent participation means that a set of rules become active, these rules monitor session activity and result suggesting changes of content or form (Gibbs, S.J LIZA: 1989)


The main objective of creating and maintaining a “corporate memory” is to replace the individual memories that were lost in the mass market. Following example of a face-to-face business presents the aspect clearly. The 19th century shopkeeper had a personal memory. He knew you and your family, and you shared a common heritage and history. But, of course, he could only maintain this information for a limited number of customers. As his business grew, his ability to keep track of this information for all customers diminished. Nowadays, when organisations have to deal with hundreds of thousands of customers spread out in a worldwide scale, it is hard to maintain such an amount of knowledge in one’s head. That knowledge should be lodged into the “corporate memory” from all the individual memories or other available sources. The questions to answer before creating such a “memory” is to find out what information do we want to gather and maintain about our customers, and how will that information be delivered and used by the organisation. (McGee J. V., Prusak L., 1993)


According to our definition corporate memory means capturing more of the documents and artifacts of the organisation in a way that they can be effectively recalled and reinterpreted. The growth of network computers for all phases of information work promises to provide the “nervous system” that would support this increased capture and reuse.

Many data, documents and artifacts are entered (recorded), but this is not what is missing from corporate memory, what is missing is the context (ie. the sense or rationale) that lay behind these documents when they were created. In other words, organisations fail to capture any record of the process behind the artifacts. That is why the corporate memory is suffering from the missing links (Appendix 1).

This artifact-oriented paradigm is slowly giving way to a new process-oriented paradigm. Organisations are finding the artifact-oriented way of capturing work to be too impoverished a model to support the complexity of work in the information age. They are turning to a richer, more complete view, which embraces the messy and sometimes chaotic nature of process. No longer ignored are the assumptions, values, experience, conversations, and decisions, which lead to constitute the context ad background of the artifact (Appendix 2).


A technology that will provide acceptable capture and recall cost for corporate memory is that which embraces hypertext, GroupWare (or computer-supported cooperative work) and a rhetorical method. In addition, we learnt that technology is not enough – the organisation itself must embrace the technology adoption process as part of a larger shift in the corporate culture.

The first element of the computer technology is hypertext, because the nature of process-oriented approach is essentially non-linear. So, the representation for capturing and organising it must also be that rich. Moreover, as time goes by and organisational record grows more convoluted and complex, the unlimited flexibility of hypertext as a representational medium is essential for on-going restructuring and summarisation.

The second element is GroupWare, which provides the medium for organisational dialogues that occur via the computer, create a computable report semi-structured documents. The ability then exists to manipulate, distribute or share this information and intelligence throughout the organisation or team, effectively and continuously creating a memory and learning tool.

The third element of the technology for capturing corporate memory is the use of a rhetorical method, or conversational model, or structuring the conversations occurring with the technology. The reason for this is twofold. A simple rhetorical method provides a structure for discussion of complex problems, which can immediately improve the quality of the dialogue process. The Issue-Based Information System (IBIS) method (Kunz & Rittel 1970) provides this kind of process improvement. Secondly, such a model provides a basis for structuring the conversational report, which is not simply chronological (as in an e-mail or bulletin board type system). This provides a content-based indexing structure within which the cumulative record of the organisational process is preserved and organised.


When an organisation has a complex decision to make or a problem to solve it often turns to experts for advice. These experts have specific knowledge and experience in the problem areas. They are aware of alternative solutions, chances of success and costs that the organisation may occur if the problem is not solved. The more unstructured the situation the more specialised and expensive is the advice. Expert System (ES – see Appendix 3) are an attempt to mimic human Experts (Turban., Mclean., Wetherbe, p580-597, 1996).

The objective of an Expert System ?: The objective of an expert system is to transfer the expertise and knowledge from an expert to a computer and then to other personnel (non-experts). This process involves four activities:

? Knowledge acquisition (from experts or other sources)

? Knowledge representation (in the computer) is acquired knowledge which is organised in one of several possible configuration and stored electronically in a knowledge base

? Knowledge inferencing

? Knowledge transfer to the user

Benefit of an Expert System ?

? Increased Output and Productivity

? Increased Quality : by providing consistent advice and reducing the error rate

? Capture of scarce Expertise: The scarcity of expert becomes evident in situations where there are not enough experts for a task, either the expert is retired or is required over a broad geographic location eg. a country requiring an eye doctor, can diagnose a patient by looking up on a program which is rule based and runs on a microcomputer, which can be operated by a physician s assistant or nurse.

? Operation in Hazardous Environment : ES allows operation in hot, humid or toxic environments

? Accessibility to Knowledge and Help Desks: Can make the knowledge available to many people at the same time.

? Reliability

? Provision of training

? Enhancement of Problem Solving Capabilities: ES enhances problem solving by allowing the integration of top expert s judgement into analysis. Problem solving is also enhanced by the integration of expertise of several experts.

Limitations of Expert Systems ?

? Knowledge to be captured is not always readily available.

? Expertise is hard to extract from humans.

? The approach of each expert to a situation may be different, yet correct.

? It is hard, even for a highly skilled expert to abstract good situational assessment when he is under time pressure.

? Users have natural cognitive limits, do they may not use the benefits of the system to the fullest extent.

? ES work well only in narrow domain.

? Help in building an ES is frequently required from Knowledge Engineers who are rare and expensive – a fact that would make ES construction rather expensive.

? Lack of trust by user may be a barrier to ES use.

? Knowledge transfer is subject to several perceptual and judgemental biases.

In conclusion of the discussion of ES and in order to make it more clear, some examples of application of expert systems is given:

Examples of Expert Systems ?

Example 1: Russian Trade Adviser

Problem : The economic and politically changes in what used to be the Soviet Union may provide an opportunity for many companies to trade with Eastern Europe. However there is little expertise in Western countries on what is really going on in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union. So while there are opportunities, there are also risks. A stream of incomplete, frequently contradictory and even incorrect data clouds the situation. Business people want quick and reliable advice, but it is rarely available.

Solution. Deliotte and Touche, a management-consulting firm, developed an expert system. The major objective of the system is to provide advice on trade opportunities and licensing requirement s for medium to high technology products. The system started as an advisory service to the company s consultants. Now it is marketed for a fee to potential traders. Also the ES deals with export licensing requirements and provides a facsimile of an export licence application (displayed on the screen with instruction about how to complete it). The system, which includes several knowledge bases, is supported by hypertext that helps navigating through the complex forms.

Use. The system is very user friendly: it is based on simple sets of menus. The market is divided into 12 sectors, each matched with potential products. The system assesses the opportunities for general classes of products and for specific ones. Then, potential buyers are identified, as well as procedures for making contacts. Explanations are provided on request. Several other types of valuable information are provided by the system. (Source: Szuprowicz, 1991)

Example 2: Dustpro – Environmental Control in Mines ?

Problem. The majority of the 2000 active mines in the United States are medium or small sized. They cannot afford a full-time dust control engineer, whose major job is to re-evaluate and reassign facilities, each time operating conditions change. However, if a dust control engineer is not readily available, the mine must be shut down until an expert arrives. Experts are expensive but so is downtime, so this can be costly. Operating without appropriate testing and interpretation of results is a violation of federal regulations.

Solution. DustPro is a small rule-based system developed by the US Bureau of Mines. It includes about 200 rules and was developed with a Level 5 shell (from Information Builders) on a microcomputer. It took about 500 hours to develop the system. The system is now in operation in more than 200 mines.

System Characteristics. DustPro advises in three areas: control of methane gas emission, ventilation in continuous operations, and dust control of the mine s machines. Data on air quality is entered manually. The user interface is very friendly. The system is composed of 13 sub areas of expertise, and the average consultation time is 10 to 15 minutes.

System Use. DustPro, through a series of questions, determines what type of mine is most affected by the dust. Then, the system can advise the operators what to do if problems are suspected. The system ad its variants are used at the US Bureau of Mines Pittsburg Research Centre to diagnose problems telephoned in by mine operators. This saves bureau staff time and travel expense. Also, the staff can respond more quickly and devote more time to research and development. The system is so successful that more than ten countries have requested permission to use it in their mines.


In this seminar paper it was intended to introduce terms as knowledge building and corporate memory. Further the discussion goes on how the electronic systems are or could be used to assist in sharing the knowledge organisation-wide. In that context the term groupware is introduced to determine electronic systems that assist in human-human collaboration by using the rapidly growing systems of the computer age. The issue of corporate memory is discussed to be the most challenging point of the seminar due to the power, which the knowledge contains in it. Answer to the question why is corporate memory so poor? emphasises the complexity of organisations in the aspects of knowledge and its sharing. Consequently, the topic of the seminar leads to the tools for corporate memory. The approach for corporate memory by development of knowledge-based systems appears to be one of the most efficient solutions.

The topic of the seminar is still a subject to research and improvements. The nature of questions raised by it is complex by itself. Therefore, the combination of these is far more complicated. The main question, however, is to find the balance in use of electronic systems and human brains.

In the artifact-oriented view of work the artifacts (such as diagrams, documents, letters, reports etc.) are the focus of management attention. Moreover, tools and methods are solely for the production and modification of these artifacts. The process by which this work is done is regarded as secondary. (Conklin E. J. [1992] in Readings in Groupware and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: Assisting human-human collaboration Morgan Kaufmann California p.562)

In the process-oriented paradigm there are still artifacts, but they are seen as being no more important than interactions between people (Conklin E. J. [1992] in Readings in Groupware and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: Assisting human-human collaboration Morgan Kaufmann California p.563).


1. Coleman D. and Shapiro R., Defining Groupware. Special Advertising Section to Network World, June 22, 1992.

2. Coleman D., Proceedings of Groupware 92, 1992, Morgan Kaufmann.

3. Dyson E., A Framework for Groupware, 1992. In [Coleman 1992], pp. 10-20.

4. Ellis C. A., Gibbs S. J. and Rein G. L. Groupware: Some Issues and Experiences in Readings in Groupware and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: Assisting human-human collaboration Morgan Kaufmann California, 1991, p9.

5. Gibbs, S.J., LIZA : An extensible groupware tool kit. In proceedings of ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in computing Systems, ACM, (Austin, Tex., April 30-May 4) ACM, New York, 1989.

6. Grudin J., CSCW: The Convergence of Two Development Paradigms. Proceedings of CHI 91, 1991, ACM, pp. 91-97.

7. Grudin J., Groupware and Social Dynamics: Eight Challenges for Developers in CACM, 1994, 37(1) P92-105.

8. Johnson-Lenz P., Johnson-Lenz T., Groupware: The Process and Impacts of Design Choices, 1982. In [Kerr and Hiltz 1982], pp. 45-55.

9. Johnson-Lenz P., Johnson-Lenz T., Groupware is Computer-Mediated Culture: Some Keys to using it wisely, 1992. In [Coleman 1992], pp. 130-132.

10. Kerr E. B., Hiltz S. R., Computer-Mediated Communication Systems: Status and Evaluation. Academic Press, 1982.

11. Kraemer, K.L., and King, J.L., Computer based Systems for cooperative work and group decision making. ACM Comput surv. 20, 2 (June 1988) P115-146.

12. Kunz, W. & H. Rittel, Issues as elements of information systems. Working paper No 131, Institute of urban and regional development, University of California, Berkeley, 1970.

13. Leonard Barton, Well Springs of Knowledge, p 119, Harvard Business School Press, 1995.

14. Lyn Griffen, P 4, An Exploration of Computer Supported Knowledge Sharing, University of Canberra, June 1998.

15. McGee J. V., Prusak L., Managing Information Strategically, John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1993.

16. Malone, T., Grant, K., Turbak, F., Brobst, S., and Cohen, M. Intelligent information sharing systems, commun. ACM 30, 5 (May 1987), P390-402.

17. Szuprowicz, B.O., The Soviet Union Trade Advisor, Expert Systems, Spring 1991.

18. Turban., Mclean., Wetherbe, 1996, Information Technology for Management,

John Wiley & sons Inc., p580-597.

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