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January 06, 2009

Knowledge Management and the Academy

Recently I was given an article on a novel system named OSU:pro developed by the Center for Knowledge Management (CKM) at Ohio State University. The article, Knowledge Management and the Academy, describes the process through which Ohio State went to create a system that integrates already existing information systems (such as Enterprise Resource Planning: ERP) to populate an online database that presents faculty, staff, and student portfolio information. Originally conceived for faculty, OSU:pro provides a centralized area for maintenance of Curriculum Vitae and biographical sketches, but more, it acts as a mechanism for locating expertise on campus.

Article discussed:

Timothy J. Cain, Joseph J. Branin, and W. Michael Sherman, “Knowledge Management and the Academy,” Educause Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 4 (2008), pp 26-33,

The introduction to the article describes the current environment on campuses across the country, but one that, in fact, has probably always existed: an environment in which faculty and students and staff are generating “extraordinary quantities” of information; and the main problem: how to find it, access it, and use it in a timely fashion. The article puts it more succinctly:

The need to manage and assimilate a constantly growing pool of information, technology, and human expertise creates unique challenges for faculty, staff, administrators, and students in the modern university. To meet the needs of these diverse user communities on The Ohio State University (OSU) campus, the Center for Knowledge Management (CKM) was created in 2003…” 26

The goal of the center is to “leverage the strengths of people, processes, data, and technology to foster the creation, analysis, and dissemination of new knowledge.” 26 To do so, the CKM assembled a team of “technology professionals (programmers, media designers, and so forth)” along with “information stewards (librarians)” to “transform information services, streamline academic computing support, augment research stewardship, and accelerate the creation of knowledge-based solutions and innovations.” The ultimate goal, beyond the above, being to “transform the ways the expertise and knowledge of faculty and staff are documented and shared at OSU.”

To drive the point home, the article articulates the fact that “expertise of people is one of the greatest assets of a university” and describes the inherent problems of managing information across diverse departments at the university.

“OSU has over 150 academic departments organized into 19 colleges, requiring methodologies to document, organize, track, and access the efforts of more than 18,000 professional staff and faculty. Access to and retrieval of this information is typically tedious, inconsistent, and cumbersome, often relying on traditional paper methods.” 27

To describe the problem clearly the article considers the information gathering processes involved in “faculty appointment, promotion, and tenure (AP&T).” A process that usually consists of faculty members rifling through their papers that represent the work of one year (or whatever time frame) to figure out how many talks they’ve given, what committees they’ve worked on, what courses they’ve taught, and many other activities. This information then has to be compiled and organized and added to the faculty member’s CV to make it current for whatever purpose: “timely responses to requests for information, annual performance discussions, and professional advancement.”

The article cites several different surveys that were conducted by OSU to examine the data management activities of other universities—20 peer institutions and 18 peer institutions respectively—that demonstrated the same problems at each of them. The surveys “invited member schools to share how they track and manage faculty scholarly activity data (publications, sponsored projects, courses taught, outreach efforts, and so forth), with a particular emphasis on AP&T workflow.” 27 The study results demonstrated the need for “better ways to streamline the collection, reporting, and sharing of expertise data within and between universities.” 27

The challenge, however, as the article notes, is getting it to work at a university. The article notes that such systems are common place “in the corporate sector—where business viability, management practices, and competitiveness can drive adoption of new systems.” But the article advocates that such systems should be adopted at universities and would benefit the “knowledge management strategies” at the academy, as well as make “tracking knowledge and expertise” easier.

The article then goes into a modestly detailed description of the hardware and software used to develop the system, the most important feature, I think, being the “federated data model that leveraged preexisting intuitional data sets to provide more complete views of faculty activities.” To achieve this, CKM tapped “the offices of academic affairs, health sciences, information technology, research, and libraries,” and created OSU:pro and positioned it as a “single-point information resource and institutional strategy for supporting the data needs of AP&T workflow.” 27 Data was gathered from “enterprise sources…human resources, the registrar, libraries, research foundation databases” and presented as a federated data source “to provide users with prepopulated and contextualized views of their professional activities.” OSU:pro was then enhanced to allow end users to access the profile and enhance it with data not captured by “authoritative systems.” That is, faculty could login and add “language expertise, service to professional societies, honors and recognitions,” educational degrees, schools and colleges attended, etc. Thus a “straightforward way to add and edit profile information” was included. 28

Three views were provided: users, public, and administrative. Everything was made securely accessible and authentications to view levels were assigned, etc.

Probably some of the more amazing, from my perspective, additions included the sorts of uses to which the information could be put: for instance, the CVs of faculty, being stored in a database or XML file, now became discretely available for connections with external sources—so citations in a CV could be connected through OhioLINK to bibliographic database and to the fulltext articles in the Electronic Journal Center. Capabilities were built in to allow faculty to search 20 databases and directly pull in citations to their profiles. Reporting tools were created which allowed for the export of data in formats that support other profile software applications; data in .doc, .xls, .txt. A variety of views were created so that faculty (or deans, staff) could print out CVs, bios, or even abstracted bio sketches. The cumulation of data made it possible to not only see the number of degrees, honors, etc., held by all faculty at OSU; but utilizing Google Maps APIs it was possible to visualize the colleges and universities from which faculty had received their degrees. As well, it was possible to comprehensively see where faculty published articles and to perform citation analysis functions, including assessing journal impact factors.

By this point, the CKM team had grown to include “metadata librarians and project managers… programmers, interface designers, and customer liaisons.” 28 The article at this point also discusses the process of pushing OSU:pro out for the campus to use ( as well as the requirements of training and support. Use has grown exponentially and in the one year since its launch (this was as of 2007 December) 25% of faculty had active profiles (1,250—up from 0 in December 2006—or whatever their pre-launch number would have been, assuming some beta testers).

As well, OSU:pro actively encouraged the re-use of data in OSU:pro for other activities so that faculty only had to enter information in one place one time and--thus "maximizing system output" and reducing the number of "data management tasks" in which faculty had to engage. OSU:pro thus generates XML files so that information can be re-captured or re-used or re-purposed. For instance, "The OSU College of Optometry...was interested in highlighting faculty scholarly publications on their website...web developers simply consumed and redisplayed the XML data availabe from OSU:pro. Updates made to optometry faculty profiles in OSU:pro trigger a refresh sequence updating the college's website." 31

Of greater implication to me, philosophically, is the planned integration of OSU:pro with Knowledge Bank, Ohio State’s digital repository. As the article notes:

"OSU:pro follows in the footsteps of other major digital initiatives at OSU, including the introduction of a digital institutional repository, or Knowledge Bank, for the intellectual works of faculty, staff, and students. Future enhancements to OSU:pro include creating points of synergy with the Knowledge Bank, our enterprise learning management system, and our new student-information system" 33

Thus, there is a connection established directly between the institutionally archived resources created by the faculty with their public profile. "Piccoli and her colleagues stress the benefits that inventorying the university's knowledge assets can bring to revving up the knowledge creation delivery cycle" 32 a fact that the article stresses as being central to knowledge management in both theory and practice and emphasizes the fact that what is the central asset to a university is its people and the expertise that they generate. The OSU:pro system centralizes both aspects of this, providing a key mechanism for locating expertise and centralizing access to it. As I mentioned above, such as system at Case could be further enhanced through a connection with Digital Case, which would provide access to the knowledge assets themselves: white papers, grey literature, data sets, survey results, maps, and much more; all by-products of the research and knowledge-generation process. Further, as the article notes, the "trend toward interdisciplinary centers and programs in higher education speaks to the observation that new ideas and innovations often arise when investigators interact with colleagues at the nexus between traditional disciplines. Providing individuals with the tools and resources that allow them to readily identify and locate potential collaborators has become a mainstay in business…" 32

The article wraps up by presenting the benefits to various audiences, including administrators, faculty and staff, students, and the greater community. It acknowledges that corporations such as Hewlett Packard and Microsoft have used systems like this for over a decade under the title Expertise Location and Management (ELM) systems.

"While all too often the tendency is to focus on the tools and technologies...ELM systems...have recognized the importance of fostering a...culture of knowledge sharing. Many have convincingly argued that starting with the technology rather than the goals and outcomes dooms most initiatives. Success with knowledge management efforts requires a holistic approach to understanding the needs and culture of users--what motivates them, how they work, how they communicate, where they learn, how they interact with the technology, and what processes can be enhanced." 32

"The middleware strategy embodied in OSU:pro builds upon rather than replaces institutional investments in systems of record, leveraging preexisting information augment [ERP's] institutional value through the contextualization of faculty information and enhancement of AP&T" 33

Posted by twh7 at January 6, 2009 12:16 PM

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