Can I Find an Expert? Better Networking through Technology

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Over the last 10 years, we have seen the development and deployment of many enterprise-wide software technologies including content management, portals, document management, knowledge management, customer relationship management, and on and on it goes.

One common thread running through all of this technology is content. Each of these technologies—whether it organizes customers, documents, or Web pages—represents an attempt to harness and organize content and make it available to employees.

More recently, we have seen the growth of still more technologies including business process management (BPM) and collaboration environments. The overriding goal of implementing these combined technologies is to make enterprise employees operate more efficiently, but sometimes in spite of all these databases and information repositories and graphical front-ends, the needed content resides inside a person, and business comes down to good old-fashioned, one-to-one human interaction. Sometimes you need a real, live expert, and maybe that individual is somewhere in the organization; if only you knew who that person might be or even how to look for him or her.

In an age where employees may be spread across the globe, how can a person who needs information quickly find it when searching all of these content-based repositories fails to yield results? The answer may lie in a growing niche market known as Expert Locator software. These software packages (and to a lesser degree, people finder technologies) can connect people and, by extension, can make content locked in employees' heads accessible to other members of an organization. Often targeted at the departmental level, these programs can save time, effort, and man-hours. This article takes a look at the Expert Locator software market and examines the issues that it tries to resolve.

Expert Locator Software
The definition of Expert Locator software runs the gamut from online white pages backed up by user profiles to sophisticated systems that provide a way to ask questions, then route the question to the correct individual (or individuals), make sure the person responds in a timely manner, and then add the response to the company's content record for future use. One of these systems from Sopheon, in addition to using a software approach to finding people internally, offers access to a network of external experts with controls to protect intellectual property rights.

In addition to Sopheon, companies offering these types of solutions include Tacit and AskMe. While portal vendors sometimes work with these companies, many also offer proprietary solutions to help people find one another.

Mike Gotta, SVP and principal analyst at Meta Group—who has been watching portals, collaboration, expertise, and related topics since 1996—says that Expert Locator systems use a variety of techniques to determine who has a particular expertise within the organization. "Tools mine the email and document repositories and create profiles and indices, then route information requests according to expertise," Gotta says. These systems could include an intermediary who screens the requests to make sure that one person does not get bombarded with inquiries and to make sure privacy issues are addressed (although this can be automated as well in some of the solutions).

The software provides a way to integrate with existing systems acting as a pivot for many enterprise software technologies. "Typically, most companies we work with have a portal or ECM system. They've got infrastructure, now they need to make it easier to tap what's inside of people's heads and make sure this is part of the overall system. We want to integrate with portal, KM, or CRM systems," says Doug Stotland, VP of professional services at Expert Locator software vendor AskMe.

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