Eric Tsui on KM, PKM and P2P

I came upon Eric Tsui's 2002 technology survey, Technologies for Personal and Peer to Peer Knowledge Management (also available at KnowledgeBoard), when writing my earlier article on PIM.  I do not recall having read Eric Tsui in the past, but many of his ideas about knowledge management and the emphasis on personal vs. corporation are strongly connected to how I have thought of KM.  The article is written as part of CSC's Leading Edge Forum, where Tsui is / was employed. 

Abstract: The great majority of the Knowledge Management (KM) and search tools on the market are server-based enterprise systems. As such, they are often designed top-down, centralised, inflexible and slow to respond to change. There has been numerous articles published on the role of IT and KM systems in organisations but there is a lack of research into KM tools for individuals and server-less KM tools/systems. By adopting a bottom-up approach, this research focusses on tools that assist the Individual Knowledge Worker (IKW) who, in today’s competitive knowledge-based society, has a constant need to capture, categorise and locate/distribute knowledge on multiple devices and with multiple parties. Furthermore, knowledge sharing between IKWs often extend across organisational boundaries. As a result, personal KM tools have very different characteristics to the enterprise KM tools mentioned above. At the group level, the impact of Peer-to-Peer (P2P) computing on Knowledge Management has been specifically identified as file sharing, distributed content networks, collaboration, and search. Potential applications for P2PKM systems include, among others, E-Learning in higher and distance education, real time collaborations and battle simulations in defence, collaborative product development, business process automation, and E-business payment systems. By including key findings from earlier work recently completed by the author and others on the landscape of enterprise KM systems, this paper presents a holistic view of the (commercial) KM technologies at three key levels of focusses – individual, group and organisational. This paper concludes with critical issues and the impact of PKM and P2PKM technologies on enterprise computing.

Tsui discusses the basics of knowledge management from a technology perspective, describing the basic idea that most KM projects are enterprise-focused (corporate km), missing a very important connection to the individual knowledge workers and the natural connection people make between each other. 

In discussing personal knowledge management (PKM), Tsui provides a number of perspectives on the skills, strategies and challenges facing knowledge workers as they go about their work.  With these things in mind, he then goes on to talk about the kinds of technologies that support knowledge workers in their endeavors.  Tsui categorizes KM tools based their central function: index/search, meta-search, associative links, information capturing and sharing, concept / mind mapping, email management, analysis and unified messenging, voice recognition, collaboration and synchronization, and learning.  He checks these against a matrix of knowledge processes to help talk about how technologies relate to KM: creation, codification / representation, classification / indexing, search & filter, and share / distribute. 

In the appendix (page 47), Tsui describes his own objectives and strategies when it comes to PKM.  Here are his PKM objectives.  His strategies are the techniques he uses to achieve these objectives.  You'll have to read those for yourself, as the strategies tend to be tied to individual style.

  • Avoid overloading of email messages in the routinely used email address(es)
  • Incorporate a PULL capability for various topics of interest and from various (valued and trusted) sources
  • Enable automatic classification of all incoming information
  • Make use of freely available tools to improve indexing and categorisation of stored information
  • Try to maintain the information received at the organisational, group and personal levels in synchronisation
  • Never ignore the people issues
  • Build trust among colleagues, clients and friends

Tsui then shifts the discussion to peer-to-peer and KM.  When this article was written in 2001/2002, the internet world was agog over Napster (even in its decline) and other peer-to-peer file-sharing schemes, and the excitement was spilling out into other reaches of the 'net.  If one of the larger aspects of knowledge management is the sharing of knowledge and interaction amongst colleagues, then P2P schemes could have great benefit.  There are obvious applications to file sharing capabilities that Tsui highlights.  He also looks at the benefits of P2P for collaboration and collaborative filtering.  In the collaboration arena, the main thought is that instead of needing a central maintenance hub for collaboration, P2P tools allow for distributed groups to quickly form and dissolve as they need to get work done.  He discusses Groove in the appendix, which I've tested briefly and has many useful qualities.  Tsui wraps up the discussion of P2PKM with a discussion of where P2P fits into the KM landscape, touching on a variety of areas from e-Learning to project management to family KM to defense. 

Of course, a danger with P2P interactions is that they might miss or circumvent existing networks and knowledge captured in corporate knowledge management systems elsewhere.  Tsui discusses this and a number of other areas where P2P and the general trend of distributed work will impact enterprise KM approaches.

I see that Tom Collins linked to this article a while back (Maybe All KM is Personal KM).  I may have seen it then.

13 Comment(s)

Michael Goul said:

Hello! I am asking my graduate Master of Science in Information Management class to read the Tsui article you reference as their pre-first class meeting assignment. I've asked the brave among them to post their takes on the article, make suggestions for aspects that need to be updated in light of their personal experiences and/or to comment on the importance of PKM and P2PKM to enterprise computing. Thanks, in advance for affording us this opportunity to engage with you and the KM community!

Arizona State University,
W.P. Carey School of Business,
Department of Information Systems,

Scott Gustafson said:

After reading Tsui's article a few key thoughts come to mind. First, is will companies every truly be able to capture the knowledge scattered throughout the organization. Even as companies employ technology to collect, sort and share critical business knowledge isn't there an inherent protectionist reaction by employees to hold back the knowledge base they have developed which provides them with a competitive advantage over their counterparts. My belief is that while they may share some knowledge, the key and most prized will always be held in reserve. People by nature want to learn as much from you, but only give enough back to make you bring more to the table for them to glean when we are looking at a true competitive environment.

Vivian Forssman said:

I have been in-and-out of KM topics over the past several years and only just happened upon this terrific paper by Eric Tsui (just sent him an email at CSC and it bounced so I guess he has moved on.)

I am a learning technologies manager by day and a grad student by night, and am writing a paper on the false promises and impossible information navigation delivered by enterprise portals in higher education (at my institution we have implemented the SCT Luminis product, a very limited and locked down derivation of uPortal). I have recently *discovered* Croquet ( a peer-to-peer environment that is an example of a next generation environment, using 3D wayfinding through rich information domains, with P2P capability for collaboration. It seems to hold the promise of behaving as an information navigation environment operating at the user experience rather than at the middleware level of architecture. This kind of environment, coupled with the PKM environment of blogs, might be a way to bring together the information and knowledge intense world of higher education information spaces, with all of its news, courses, simulations, collaborations, research processes and learner transactions that need to operate at a very personal level (PKM) in order for them to make sense at a gourp collaboration or course or program or institutional level.

So in my evaluation of peer-to-peer collaborative 3D computing, I encountered Tsui's paper which gives me a terrific foundation upon which to build my argument. Interesting to read others, like Michael Goul, are also keen to use this in grad studies settings (helps to validate my own use of the paper!). This paper has aged remarkably well, given it was written in 2002.

Brian Kilcrease said:

I agree with Scott on the issues of sharing knowledge management. There is a level of job security people feel they must keep a certain level of knowledge or loose that sense of security.

Some other issues with regards to knowledge management I have found was that sometimes people do not realize some of the knowledge they have others need. Maybe it is something so routine or mundane in their mind they do not think about it, yet it is a vital piece to a puzzle. Also, the technology for such a system may be feasible, however the reality of a company taking the steps to purchase an implement may not happen in the near future. I have seen many companies that have extreme fragmintation of knowledge across many systems globally, yet they refuse to build a system to establish a single knowledge repository. I think it will take a lot of educating the corporate world as well as modifying the corporate culture before we see such systems in place and being utilized effectively.

Judd Shaft said:

Knowledge Management is a concept and practice that can only serve to improve corporate, educational, and personal learning environments, and I completely support the movement. However, as with many things we do, the quality and usefulness of KM will only be as good as the information input into the KM systems. Today's workforce will continue to fight the battle of time, focusing on getting the job done with the time they have, and documenting/sharing information if the time is available. In order to build a robust KM database, for example, it may be important for all arenas of KM to consider providing incentives for participation in knowledge sharing. My personal experience is just this with KM, simple enough systems, just not enough quality data to assist me in my needs. How doe we improve upon the data capture?

Personal Knowledge Management has been extended through the use of Sharepoint within our company. Any solutions or tasks out of the ordinary that are encountered by the desktop techs are documented and posted for the rest of the team's use. It has allowed others to search for key words within the data entered. It has been a powerful incentive to keep current as most everyone has gleaned useful information from it. They realize that in order for that flow to continue, they must all contribute. So far, so good.

» Ongoing comments on Eric Tsui from Knowledge Jolt with Jack

For those who read my standard feed, Eric Tsui on KM, PKM and P2P from a month ago has received some attention in an information management graduate class. Michael Goul at ASU has asked the students that are willing to take a crack at reading the arti... Read More

Ron Clyde said:

Not only is it paramount that organizations provide incentives for employees who actively share their knowledge using KM tools, it is necessary that the knowledge shared be evaluated and ranked. For example, if organizations reward employees who actively contribute to a KM tool, they risk the possibility that employees will share knowledge that is of little worth just so that they can contribute. To avoid this risk, it is important that KM tools have the ability to evaluate and rank the knowledge that they contain. Organizations should then tie incentives to the quality not quantity of knowledge that an employee contributes.

Lakshma Gopidi said:

I agree with what Ron has said and adding to his comment, in my opinion one of the challenges that IKW faces is that they wouldn’t have enough time to practice KM effectively because most of them are already overwhelmed by the project overruns and runaway projects. In those situations, project management tries to crash the project schedules to bring the projects on-time with out increasing the resources and in doing so they give least preference to capturing the enterprise knowledge objects. So to address this type of challenge, project management should always provide some kind of cushion in their project schedules to allow IKWs reasonable time to contribute effectively in KM.

Joshua Cork said:

My PKM Toolkit
After reading this article I thought it would be interesting / helpful to share the BKM's I have for PKM applications.

Index / Search
In this space I LOVE Google desktop! I use it all the time to help me retrieve articles / emails / presentations etc… that I've misplaced. I try to do a good job of organizing my folders on my machine as well as categorizing my emails… but in never fails that when I need something I just can't seem to find it manually by going to the folder that I thought I had placed it into. Honestly, when I first started Google desktop I did so in hopes of helping me find articles and presentations where the material for the exams was located. It worked great but I found myself using it more and more at work to help my peers find information they needed on old projects I had worked on or in emails that we had sent back and forth. The downside that I've found with Google desktop is that the index often expires or something changes and I'm able to find the header of the information that I need but when I click on the link it has expired and the document is no longer where the index is point to.

The other thing that I love about Google desktop is the Google Sidebar that comes with the application. The tool actively analyzes my searching behaviors as well as the sites that I have frequently visited and the topics associated with those sites. By doing this the tool is able to Push web pages and topics of interest to me right to my desktop. What is cool about this is that it works great in this masters program for me. For instance when I was in the security class that we had here in the program I was constantly having security related articles pushed to me for review and they were (for the most part) all relevant and all related to terms that I had searched on through doing research for the class or Web Pages that I had browsed as part of the class. The downside here is that I find myself not wanted to use my home desktop because the index that is being used to push that content to my machine seems to be stored on my machine and not associated with my Google account. So when I go home and use my desktop instead of my work laptop (that I take to class with me) the material that is pushed to Google desktop there is different and not as relevant.

Information Capturing and Sharing
2 "applications" that I use here: 1st: Microsoft OneNote; 2nd:Gmail (Google Mail / Google Toolbar).

I use Microsoft OneNote to capture screen clippings and to record my research for topics in this program. It provides a great place to copy and paste articles and it automatically pulls down the URL where the article came from so citation of your work becomes very easy. Additionally I use OneNote to record the lectures in class and the coolest feature about recording the lectures on my laptop is that as I'm typing my notes OneNote is indexing my position relative to the recording time in the audio file (in a .mp3 file). The benefit of this indexing of the recording is that if I'm going through my notes and I want to go over a subject again or remember what the professor was talking about I hover over the text with my mouse that click on an audio icon and the recording jumps immediately to that position in the recording and starts the playback from there.

I use a combination of Gmail and Google Toolbar for everything else. The latest version of Google toolbar provides a quick link called "Send To" which allows you to send any highlighted text on a webpage to an email address through Gmail (as well as an SMS client or to Google's bloging software bogger). The way I use this is that if I find an article that I'm interested in, or a product that I want to buy while surfing the web at lunch or while procrastinating on my school work I'll send this information to my Gmail account which automatically creates a link back to the page that I copied from as well as indexes the email. I'll usually go to Gmail and categorize the email as "for follow up."

Lastly I use Google toolbar to capture all my "favorites" for web pages. By using Google toolbar to capture my favorites I am no longer tied to my laptop or my desktop (or the servers or my smart phone for that matter). Instead my "favorites" are tied to my Google account such that I can access them from any connected device - so no more not being able to find that URL for the research I'm doing on data mining because it's book marked on the server at work.

Real Time Collaboration
In this space I use Google Talk (can you tell that I'm a big Google fan?) because the client is so small and I have the option of turning on logging such that all of my instant messages are recorded (the text) and saved to my Gmail account. The beauty of this is that the index / search solution (Google Desktop) that I mentioned above also indexes my Gmail account and I have the ability to search on instant messaging conversations as well. From a privacy standpoint I have the option of clicking a button and going "off the record" at any point in time during the conversation and the text is not recorded.

I often wonder if technology is the very reason that there is a knowledge management issue in organization's today. Before the explosion of technology, problems and issues were more often discussed in formal or informal group settings. The very discussion of an issue would allow for the spread of tacit knowledge amongst the groups discussing the problem. Now, problem solvers simply "Google" it, figure out how to keep going and are less apt to collaborate with their peers.

Ironically, we are trying to turn to technology to solve some of the very issues that I believe, technology caused in the first place. Instead of figuring out how to capture tacit knowledge in a computer system, perhaps we should be more concerned with creating the correct social work environments to cultivate and spread the this knowledge. I think about the high-performing teams that work with me or for me and believe the reason they are so high-performing is the tacit knowledge that they share between them. Issues get solved very quickly as they enter the high-performing team who understand how to quickly solve with the talents existing in the team.

Don't get me wrong. I consider myself a technologist and have spent my career enjoying the fruits of the explosion in technology. However, as a technology manager I often am fighting to try and re-create social structures that seem to dissipate over time because of technology.

The in-depth article by Tsui discusses the trend towards migrant or contract labor, especially in the technology industry. The author argues that KM is crucial because of this migrant workforce. I believe the trend is already moving back towards a stable permanent workforce. I am a hiring manager who is seeing a temporary heavy increase in my area. I started looking for someone to come in and assist in my area offering a lucrative 6 month contract. Every single resume sent to my area was looking for an internal permanent position. One application mentioned that after 9/11 and the Microsoft contact labor litigation, the contract marketplace is becoming less and less attractive.

So if the trend is moving back towards a permanent oriented workforce, I am wondering what the correct mix of technology and social networks are for a fruitful long-term work environment. I have tinkered with the idea of "pods" where you position 2-4 people in a bullpen like structure and they share all their work. This creates a growing tacit knowledge center that becomes stronger over time. Perhaps this is where the right dose of KM technology can be applied by asking one of the "pod" participants to continually document and store discussions and discoveries within the "pod" in a KM system.

jackvinson Author Profile Page said:

Thanks to all the people who continue to keep this thread alive. I can't help but to respond to Robert Crossley.

Technology as the cause of the knowledge problem instead of the solution to it. I suspect it's more complex than this, but your point that people treat technology as a crutch is important. People work under the assumption that the tools "just work" rather than putting thought behind what they are doing and how they are using the tech. This is important to the my view of what personal knowledge management is all about. Not only do I have to manage my stuff, but I need to understand how the tools I use relate to my work -- just as the carpenter needs to know the purpose of each type of hammer and screwdriver and saw.

» Master research in KM at Hong Kong Poly from Knowledge Jolt with Jack

Eric Tsui asked me to pass this research opportunity along. If you are in the region - or want to be - have a look at this opportunity to advance your education in KM with an Industrial and Systems Engineering perspective. Read More

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