Microsoft's Share Point Server 2007 is winding it's way toward users. It's a really hard product for anyone to get excited about, but it is more and more widely used in enterprises. The most interesting thing about SPS'07 might be a freebie add-on called "Knowledge Network" which will be offered to licensed users.
It's a bit hard for me to think of Microsoft as innovative, no matter how much they trumpet their opinion that they are. But in Knowledge Network, they have hit upon an innovation that I think of as truly revolutionary; able to change the way companies and their staffs search out the knowledge held within the company itself.
It's a bit hard to explain, but I'll take a stab at it. It all seems very logical, to the point of "why didn't I think of that?" when you get into it.
Estimates vary wildly, but it is a truism that much of any enterprise's knowledge resides in the heads of their employees and is not recorded anywhere else. I've read figures from 30% to 80% with very good arguments for whatever numbers the writer chooses to espouse. I imagine it varies from situation to situation anyway. The only thing we have to know is that a lot of this knowledge can be unavailable to those who need it, unless you know the right person to ask. Knowledge Network is intended to point you toward the person who has the knowledge you require. Making it part of a collaboration suite is simply logical.
Using keywords and like that, combined with a bit of clever artificial intelligence software, Knowledge Network collects facts that can help others find the person with the knowledge they need, when they need it. The knowledge base is built up over time, from documents generated and records of projects an employee has taken part in.
The database thus constructed and manipulated could be a privacy nightmare and Microsoft recognizes this up front. They talk of "appropriate privacy policies" needing to be in place and most accounts I have seen also speak of allowing the workers to edit their own profiles to avoid privacy problems. With such measures in place, there is no reason for this to be a problem. (Although I have to wonder how many employers will take the problem seriously enough to go to the trouble.) It is expected MS will ship KN with rather restrictive defaults.
Frankly, just the promise of Knowledge Network is enough to make me a fan of Share Point Server '07! Used wisely, it could and probably will be a lifesaver at times and a useful tool the rest of the time.
The link above will take you to the blog of the team developing this at Microsoft. Here's a link to Microsoft Watch's "rah-rah" take on it. And if you're interested, here's a link to Bill Gates' latest missive on knowledge work and handling.