K-station portal brings new life to business information

Despite all the communications technology that most organizations use, a good deal of corporate knowledge still gets passed around the traditional way: by chance. If workers happen to see each other in the hallway, they might exchange a few words – but if not, they won’t. Clearly it’s not wise to entrust your enterprise’s future to such an informal and unpredictable arrangement. So how do you let your employees reliably unearth specific facts from mountains of information stored inside the enterprise, within an extranet, or on the Internet?

Portal technology is one solution. Unfortunately, many first-generation portal products merely permit users to view information through dissimilar interfaces and third-party services. In contrast, Lotus Development Corp.’s new K-station 1.0 knowledge management tool offers a single gateway to a range of knowledge repositories. By providing a consistent way to access disparate resources, you can improve the chance of knowledge workers finding desired data. No more time is wasted switching between applications or learning how to use unfamiliar interfaces.

K-station further distinguishes itself by emphasizing the important role that people play in knowledge management projects. The product gives each user a customizable, personal workspace on which to arrange files, e-mail, Web sites and other forms of information capital. The tool also features shared community places that provide similar customization options for on-line forums and file collection operations. Overall, K-station offers such an easy-to-implement and practical approach to knowledge management that we rewarded it with a score of Very Good.

By bringing together Lotus’ Domino, Sametime, QuickPlace, and Discovery Server, along with IBM Corp.’s Enterprise Information Portal, K-station offers special appeal to enterprises that have already standardized using these products.

We were also pleased to see how freely K-station integrates with different vendors’ technologies, such as Microsoft Corp. Exchange 2000. Hence, we don’t view K-station as a product that displaces your existing knowledge repositories, but rather as a supplement that will improve your return on those investments.

Implementing K-station was a straightforward and swift process. The software can reside on the same server as Lotus Notes and other applications (which is how we installed the solution for our tests), or it can run on a separate server as part of a large, multitiered implementation. K-station uses standard Lotus and Microsoft directory services, so organization with existing Notes or Microsoft Exchange servers won’t have to set up new user accounts. Overall, the initial set-up can be completed in one day.

On the client end, users merely log on to K-station through their Internet Explorer browsers, which significantly reduces set-up time and need for IT support.

Multipage interface

Throughout our testing, K-station impressed us with its usability and customization features, and this sets it apart from almost every other competing product on the market. Once you have logged on, K-station presents a multipage interface known as the Personal Place, which is unique to each user. The browser interface is easy to use, requiring little training.

For example, we were able to quickly add new pages to our Personal Place and then insert “portlets” that displayed our e-mail inbox, calendar, and contact lists from both Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange servers. A portlet is essentially an application with specific functionality. Anyone with elementary programming experience could write a portlet that would, for example, access your enterprise’s travel accounting system or a legacy database.

Likewise, we easily inserted industry news from subscription services and displayed pages from both intranet and extranet sites. Rearranging and resizing these components was a breeze; we merely dragged and dropped objects into their new positions.

Furthermore, K-station shines when it comes to uncovering information. We had no problem configuring out-of-the-box portlets to deliver business intelligence by running Seagate Software’s Crystal Enterprise Reports. We also added Domino Extended Enterprise search functions to our K-station Personal Place. In general, we were impressed with the extended search function, which accepts both keyword and full-text queries.

In addition to providing personal access to knowledge, K-station also does a fine job of helping users build on-line communities. Setting up these public and private virtual meeting places, which revolve around Lotus QuickPlace (included), demanded little effort.

Much like the Personal Place feature, we established Community Places and then added the QuickPlace component, along with other portlets such as Lotus Notes Discussions. In doing so, we created a convenient spot for both collecting files and holding discussions. And if you’re not already using a discussion application, K-station works well with the optional Lotus Sametime real-time chat software.

An interesting side benefit of the Community Place feature is that it enables users to archive discussion threads and content they’ve developed. These libraries can be useful as a permanent, searchable record of presentations and schedules.

At its core, knowledge management is all about finding the right information and resources without wasting time and energy. Lotus K-station delivers on its promise to do just that. And at just US$120 per user, K-station is affordable enough for mass deployment.

Mike Heck is an InfoWorld contributing editor who builds Web and intranet sites for Unisys in Blue Bell, Pa. Contact him at mike_heck@infoworld.com.

Review Box: K-station 1.0

Supplier: Lotus Development Corp.

Cost: US$120 per client

Platform: Servers: Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000; Client: Internet Explorer 5.01

Pros: Single access point for organizing and collaborating; filtered views of data and applications through out-of-the-box and custom “portlets”; built-in, real-time community functions; integration with Lotus Notes/Domino, Microsoft Exchange 2000 and any HTML source

Cons: Requires add-on components for advanced search and for asset cataloguing and retrieval