applications." So rather than having to construct a new system, an organization simply adds another layer to its infrastructure. All thats needed to build a portal are electronic hooks that can pull data from legacy systems.

The uneventful passing of Y2K has opened the floodgates to portal development, especially for electronic business applications, such as e-marketplaces, procurement solutions and other business-to-business ventures. There are corporate portals serving just those people within an organization or department, consumer portals that deliver product catalogs and offer online support, vertical portals that provide all the content necessary to stay abreast of whats happening in a specific discipline, and commerce portals that allow users to buy and sell and find information on particular products.

Know Your Portal

In marked contrast to the rapid rise in and acceptance of portal technology, knowledge management, by comparison, has been floundering around for years, waiting to catch on. Knowledge management has its technological roots in document imaging, workflow and management systems. Prior to automation, paperwork and the intelligence it contained was confined to a small group of workers who had access to the actual files and folders. Once these documents and the way in which they were routed and managed became automated, knowledge sharing began to spread among workers who could view the information on their desktop PCs.

But high hardware and software costs limited the growth of document systems and knowledge management. It wasnt until the Internet came along, and specifically the World Wide Web, that business intelligence could be centralized, distributed and then shared among workers, customers and business partners at very low cost. Finally, the idea of

knowledge sharing as a strategic management tool began to catch on.

Intranets became one way to manage knowledge within an organization. These internal Internets allowed workers to access information specifically useful to their job or their career. Something as simple as an online directory, organized by function and easy to browse using a search engine, suddenly gave people a doorway to resources they never knew they had before.

But before knowledge-based intranets could gather strength, the portal overtook them. Suddenly workers -- and customers -- could visit one Web site and not only find the information they wanted, but could now transact business and interact with others. A whole new era in knowledge sharing quickly dawned, and it has all happened within the past 24 months. According to Knowledge Management magazine, "Portals enable enterprises to extend knowledge management and business-intelligence initiatives with and beyond the walls of their organization in ways that could not have been envisioned two years ago."

Unfortunately, building a portal with knowledge-sharing capabilities isnt as easy as it may appear. Simply providing links to other resources and a few catchy features, such as stock quotes and weather reports, only takes knowledge sharing so far. One of the fundamental roblems with knowledge management in government is the inability to update and classify the constant stream of information that pours into its databases. Failure to electronically tag documents means they cant be properly indexed and searched once they are dumped into an agencys Web server.

Thats why people like Eileen Quam are so important. Quam is an information architect for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. For the past year, she has been working with 13 different state agencies to organize, classify and index tens of thousands of documents pertaining to the states environment.

The result is "Bridges," a unique, collaborative effort at knowledge sharing. Using a software tool from Ultraseek Corp., she has been able to put all sorts of electronic documents into a hierarchical directory similar to those found on such popular portals as Yahoo.

Comparing her work to a library cataloger, Quam has the tough task of persuading

Tod Newcombe  |  Features Editor