Firestone, Joseph M. Enterprise information portals and knowledge management. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003. 422 p. ISBN 0-7506-7474-1. £29.99.
This is a book fresh from the oven of theoretical disputes on knowledge management. It is also a state-of-the-art review of products in a rapidly developing market of Enterprise Information Portals (EIP). This latter part is based both on deep understanding of origins and evolution of EIPs, and on theoretical premises, which the author advocates throughout the book. The merits and deficiencies of EIP products present in the market are evaluated in perspective of their contribution to the author's vision of the "application on the verge of development", the EKP - Enterprise Knowledge Portal. Besides, Mr. Firestone generously shares with the reader his insights on many topics - such as justification of enterprise innovation, usefulness of definitions, knowledge, culture, corporate culture. For example, a wonderful essay presented in Part 2 on methodology and tools for estimating benefits and costs, though associated with EIP, is much wider in scope because it can be applied to the entirety of corporate goals and benefits. It is a self-sufficient and autonomous part (including references) of the book and deserves attention of all executives concerned with implementation of innovations and feasibility studies in general.
This book of rich content deals with many topics, but its architecture is clear and well thought-out. I was impressed by the consistency with which the terms, phrases, and whole sentences are used throughout the work, especially in introductions and conclusions of parts and chapters. Such discipline of language glues the blocks of the book together, makes it transparent and easier to read.
Discussion about concepts of knowledge and its management leads the reader to ideas of Knowledge Life Cycle (KLC) and of multiple levels of knowledge management systems. On the other hand, analysis of enterprise information systems evolution grounds the need of AKMS (Artificial knowledge management system).
The book develops a fascinating story of a future "virtual enterprise" as a Complex Adaptive System (CAS). Its EIP is built on principles of incremental PAI (Portal Application Integration) architecture. Within these premises Artificial Information Servers (AIS) use static and mobile intelligent agents (IA) of various complexity. They are speaking all dialects of eXtensible markup language (XML), but understand each other by the means of a kind of computer "Esperanto" - meaning definition language (MDL). AISs and IAs are the main components of a flexible and scalable Artificial Information Manager (AIM), which performs dynamic integration in the EIP.
I hope that the two last passages do not distort author's ideas too much. They illustrate the abundance of acronyms throughout the book. On the one hand, it should not confuse a considerate reader because the use of full terms would increase the volume of text inappropriately. But, on the other hand, acronyms are used in an inconsistent and sometimes confusing way. For example, Complex Adaptive System intermittently appears as CAS and cas (meaning 'case' in French, and thus confusing things further as on page 166: "The NKMS is a cas"). The list of acronyms in appendix is not complete, especially it lacks acronyms from illustrations, e.g., DLL on p. 113 (this one appears in the text on the same page) or PKI on p. 304. One may argue that CPI (p. 301) is well known, but why bother with NASA then? OO and O-O mean the same, but SAI has two different meanings. EKP, eKP and e-KP may confuse the reader, too. I also missed explanation of some argot terms in the index: if 'cookies' met on p. 286 has been explained somewhere earlier in the text - but not in the part destined for investors (p. xxix, Who this book is for) - I was totally puzzled by a server that 'uses beans for system components' (p. 290), because Russian saying 'to remain on the beans' means a total failure!
Ending criticisms on editorial part of the book, I must say that transparencies are fine when displayed on the shining screen in colours, but printed in black-and-white on a non-transparent media (e.g., paper) they sometimes become hardly (Figure 10.4, p. 210, the very central block) or totally (Figure 15.2, p. 293) illegible.
Returning to conceptual matters, which one is true: "Innovation is a completed knowledge process life cycle event, beginning with..." (both pages 38 and 162) "...knowledge production" (p. 38), or "...a problem emerging from a business process, moving through knowledge production" (p. 162). (Both definitions are signed personally by the author). Where does this event begins and through what does it moves? I would not be such a pettifogger if Mr. Firestone was more compliant with faults in other authors' definitions - for example, not so sarcastic about Sveiby ("[Sveiby's statement of two definitions] declines to offer a critique of either, and... he prefers to remain above the fray", p. 168]. Why then is Mr. Sveiby so popular in business circles? It will help to explain if Sveiby uses the two definitions in opportunistic, or in a syncretistic way in his works.
Then: "Innovation acceleration involves continuous decrease in the cycle time of the knowledge process life cycle" (p. 38). Disturbing vision of increasingly accelerating whirlpool of innovations is moderated by remark that "innovations are not automatically valuable, and increases in innovation cycle times are not automatically beneficial. Innovation relevance addresses these questions." (p. 192). Of course, benefit/cost analysis of innovation may be helpful (same page) but how are we to perform these time consuming procedures punctiliously in time with the continuously shrinking life cycle? The only answer I have found on page 24 in figure 2.3 on the top of the pyramid: wisdom. Wisely, author uses this word nowhere else in his book.
I would like to discuss many more things: for example what are the prospects of evolution for avatars? Harmless animated 2D impersonations in Lucas films' Habitats from the end of 1980s now are evolving into intelligent client-based agents that create self-learning dynamically tailored interfaces to each user (p. 259). Will they become sentinels guarding corporate goals and benefits as in film Matrix? Or will they become alter ego of a concrete user, his inseparable demons as in Pullman's Northern Lights trilogy? Or else, what is the lifetime of a knowledge claim object (KCO)? Being intelligent agents, may they develop the ability to falsify metadata of their validity? If such metadata may even be expressed in the form of textual content, how could one falsify (or validate, or justify) such statement: "Predictions of this guru have always been proven true if, and only if, they were based on false premises"?
These questions prove one thing: the book is provocative and makes its reader to think. It does not provide complete lists of recipes, answers, or questions. As I mentioned in the beginning, it is quite fresh - an interesting and challenging reading covering lots of topics. A judicious and experienced author concerned with academic career goals could make at least three separate books from this material. 'Leading expert', 'leading global authority' - these titles are fully deserved by Mr. Firestone. This book is a deep and rich work and I wish it many happy returns in a form of updated (and improved in form) future editions.