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Publication numberWO2005036382 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberPCT/US2003/030180
Publication date21 Apr 2005
Filing date17 Sep 2003
Priority date17 Sep 2003
Publication numberPCT/2003/30180, PCT/US/2003/030180, PCT/US/2003/30180, PCT/US/3/030180, PCT/US/3/30180, PCT/US2003/030180, PCT/US2003/30180, PCT/US2003030180, PCT/US200330180, PCT/US3/030180, PCT/US3/30180, PCT/US3030180, PCT/US330180, WO 2005/036382 A1, WO 2005036382 A1, WO 2005036382A1, WO-A1-2005036382, WO2005/036382A1, WO2005036382 A1, WO2005036382A1
InventorsRobert Morris Webb, Paul Augustine King, Francoise Theresa Sweeney, Garry Michael Cullen, Jennifer Robina Leo, Ross Harold Taylor
ApplicantLend Lease Corporation Limited
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: Patentscope, Espacenet
Knowledge management system and method
WO 2005036382 A1
Abstract
The present invention relates to a system and method for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group of people. In the preferred the method includes, providing a database structure configured to store knowledge sharing histories for a plurality of members of the group; receiving a request for knowledge from a seeker; interrogating the database structure on the basis of the received request to identify one or more potential sharers based at least in part of the knowledge sharing histories of the of members of the group; and enabling the establishment of a communications link between the seeker and a selected sharer. At least a summary of the knowledge shared between the seeker and the each sharer can be captured and used to update the knowledge sharing history of the seeker and/or the sharer. A system and network for implementing the method is also disclosed.
Claims  (OCR text may contain errors)
Claims 1. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group, said method including: providing a database structure configured to store knowledge sharing histories for a plurality of members of the group, the knowledge sharing histories including historical knowledge data representative of knowledge shared in the past between said members, and associated member data, said historical knowledge data being linked to said associated member data; receiving a request for knowledge from a seeker; interrogating the database structure on the basis of the received request to identify one or more potential sharers based at least in part of the knowledge sharing histories of the members of the group; enabling the establishment of a commumcations link between the seeker and a selected sharer; capturing at least a summary of the knowledge shared between the seeker and the each sharer; and updating the knowledge sharing history of at least one of the seeker and the sharer to include said captured knowledge.
2. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 1 wherein the historical knowledge data includes: request data relating to one or more requests for knowledge; data representing at least part of the knowledge shared between the sharer and seeker in respect of one or more requests for knowledge.
3. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 2 wherein the request data includes one of the following types of data: question data; search keyword data; data relating to a situation to which the request for knowledge relates; data relating to a complication to a situation to which the request for knowledge relates; data relating to a problem to which the request for knowledge relates; data relating to the seeker's desired outcome from the request for knowledge; data relating to the status of the request for knowledge;
4. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 1 wherein an knowledge sharing history of a member of the group includes one or more of the following types of data: the member's name; the members contact data; rating data relating to the member's past activity as a sharer.
5. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 1 including : receiving, from the seeker, rating data relating to a sharer and/or the knowledge provided by the sharer in respect of a request for knowledge; and updating the knowledge sharing history of at least the sharer to include at least said received knowledge.
6. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 5 wherein the received rating data relates to at least one of the following; the quality of the knowledge provided by the sharer in respect of a request for knowledge, the timeliness of the provision of the knowledge by the sharer in respect of a request for knowledge, the manner in which the knowledge was provided by the sharer to the seeker.
7. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 1 in which the received request for knowledge includes at least one natural language request portion, and wherein the method includes parsing at least the natural language request portion into a query language for interrogation of the database structure .
8. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in any one of the preceding claims which further includes, communicating one or more questions to the seeker to enable clarification of the request for knowledge.
9. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 8 which further includes, receiving one or more answers to the communicated questions for use as natural language request portions.
10. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 1 further including: communicating to the seeker, a list of potential sharers; and enabling the seeker to select one or more sharers from said list.
11. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 10 which includes: determining a likelihood that each of the identified potential sharers possess the requested knowledge; and compiling a list of potential sharers, for communication to the seeker, based on the determined likelihood;
12. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 11 includes, receiving from each of the potential sharers, an indication of whether he or she will share said requested knowledge with the seeker.
13. A process as claimed in any one of the preceding claims which is facilitated by one or more designated users.
14. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 1 including, providing a search engine configured to allow interrogation of selected fields of the database structure .
15. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claims 10 or 11 which includes; communicating to the seeker, at least a summary of previously received ratings for each potential sharer.
16. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 1, which includes: communicating at least a part of the received request for knowledge to a second system configured to facilitate the sharing of knowledge between the members of a second group of members, if the interrogation of the database structure does not identify a potential sharer.
17. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 16 wherein the second system facilitates the sharing of knowledge between the members of a second group in accordance with the process of any one of claims 1 to 15.
18. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 1, which includes: broadcasting to a plurality of the members of the group, at least a part of the received request for knowledge if the interrogation of the database structure does not identify a suitable potential sharer.
19. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in either of claims 16 or 17 which includes, broadcasting at least a part of the received request for knowledge to at least some of the members of the second group.
20. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 1 which includes interrogating one or more auxiliary database structures on the basis of the received request to identify one or more potential sharers.
21. A process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group as claimed in claim 1 wherein the communications link is selected from the following: a telephone connection using a switched telephone network; an IP telephony connection; an email exchange; an online communications channel established using a communications protocol that allows substantially real-time communications; an online discussion board.
22. A knowledge management system including a knowledge management server including, a computer memory storing thereon at least one application program including instructions for implementing a process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group, and at least one database structure configured to store knowledge sharing histories for a plurality of members of the group; and at least one processor being configured to execute the instructions stored on the computer memory to: provide an interface for receiving a request for knowledge from a seeker; interrogate the database structure on the basis of the received request to identify one or more potential sharers; enable the establishment of a communications link between the seeker and at least one sharer selected from said one or more identified potential sharers; provide an interface to enable at least a summary of the knowledge shared between the seeker and a sharer to be captured, and update the knowledge sharing history of the at least one of the seeker and the sharer to include at least said captured knowledge.
23. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 22 in which the database structure includes database fields configured to store at least one of the following types of data: request data relating to one or more requests for knowledge; answer data representing at least part of the knowledge shared between the sharer and seeker in respect of one or more requests for knowledge; the member's name; the members contact data; rating data relating to the member's past activity as a sharer.
24. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 23 in which the request data includes at least one of the following types of data: question data; search string data; status data relating to a request for knowledge.
25. A knowledge management system as claimed in either of claims 23 or 24 wherein the database structure includes a plurality of relationships linking the member data of an individual member to at least one of the following types of associated data: request data rating data answer data
26. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 22 in which the processor is configured to communicate one or more questions to the seeker to enable the seeker to clarify the request for knowledge.
27. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 26 in which the processor is configured to provide interface means to enable the seeker to enter, one or more natural language answers to the communicated questions.
28. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 27 in which the processor is further configured to: communicate to the seeker a list of group members identified as potential sharers; and provide an interface to enable the seeker to select at least one sharer, from the list of potential sharers, to establish a communications link with.
29. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 28 in which the processor is further configured to provide an interface that enables a user to indicate a likelihood that each of the potential sharers possess the requested knowledge; and wherein the list of group members identified as potential sharers is compiled based on indicated likelihood.
30. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 22 in which the database structure includes a field configured to store data representing whether a group member is able to act as a sharer.
31. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 22 in which the processor is further configured to provide a search interface configured to allow a user to interrogate the database structure on the basis of one of more user selected fields.
32. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 22 in which the processor is further configured to provide an interface to enable the seeker to provide rating data relating to a sharer and/or the knowledge provided by a sharer in respect of a request for knowledge received from the seeker, and wherein the processor is further configured to store the received rating data in the database structure.
33. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 32 in which the received rating data relates to any one or more of the following; the quality of the knowledge provided by the sharer in respect of a request for knowledge, the timeliness of the provision of the knowledge by the sharer in respect of a request for knowledge, the manner in which the knowledge was provided by the sharer to the seeker.
34. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 33 in which the processor is further configured to communicate to the seeker at least a summary of previously received rating data for a potential sharer.
35. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 22 in which the computer memory additionally stores one or more webpages forming a website configured to provide a user interface for the knowledge management system.
36. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 22 which is communicatively connected to a at least one additional knowledge management system, each additional knowledge management system being configured to facilitate the sharing of knowledge between the members of a respective additional group, and wherein the knowledge management system is further configured to communicate at least a part of the received request for knowledge to at least one additional knowledge management system if the interrogation of the database structure does not identify a suitable sharer.
37. A knowledge management system as claimed in any one of claims 36 in which the at least one additional computer system is a knowledge management system as claimed in any one of claims 22 to 35.
38. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 22 wherein the processor is configured to broadcast to at least some members of the group, at least a part of the received request for knowledge if the interrogation of the database structure does not identify a suitable sharer.
39. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 24 which is further configured to access one or more additional database structures that may be interrogated on the basis of the received request to identify one or more potential sharers.
40. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 22 wherein the processor is configured to enable the establishment of at least one or the following kinds of communications links between the seeker and a sharer: an IP telephony connection; an email exchange; an online communications channel using a communications protocol that allows substantially real-time communications; an online discussion board.
41. A knowledge management system as claimed in claim 22 in which the received request for knowledge includes at least one natural language request portion, and wherein the processor is configured to parse at least the natural language request portion into a query language for interrogation of the database structure.
42. A knowledge management network configured to facilitate the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group, said network including at least two communicatively coupled knowledge management systems as claimed in any one of claims 22 to 42, each knowledge management system being configured to facilitate the sharing of knowledge amongst a subset of the members of the group, wherein the communicative coupling between the respective knowledge management systems allows knowledge to be shared between a member of one subset and a members of another subset.
43. A knowledge management network as claimed in claim 42 wherein the at least two communicatively coupled knowledge management systems are communicatively coupled via one or more intermediate computer networks.
44. A knowledge management network as claimed in claim 43 wherein the at least two communicatively coupled knowledge management systems are communicatively coupled via the Internet.
45. A computer program configured to control the operation of a computer processor to perform a process according to any one of claims 1 to 21.
46. A computer program as claimed in claim 45 which includes an interface comprising one or more webpages.
47. A computer program as claimed in claim 46 wherein the one or more webpages enable a user to perform at least one of the following: input a request for knowledge; enter a search query for interrogation of the database structure; enter a natural language search query for interrogation of the database structure; view and/or edit at least part of a member's knowledge sharing history; select a preferred mode of communication with other members of the group; select potential sharer to be a sharer in respect of a request for knowledge; rate the knowledge provided by a sharer; enter a search query for transmission to a second computer system; issue a broadcast request for knowledge to at least some of the members of the group.
48. A process for compiling a database for use in a knowledge management system including: providing a database structure configured to store a knowledge sharing history for a plurality of individuals said knowledge having histories including historical knowledge data representative of knowledge shared in the past between said individuals, and associated member data, said historical knowledge data being linked to said associated member data identifying at least one sharer in respect of a request for knowledge received from a seeker; updating the stored knowledge sharing history for the at least one of the identified sharer and the seeker to include data relating to the received request.
49. A process for compiling a database for use in a knowledge management system as claimed in claim 48 further including: capturing at least a summary of the knowledge shared between the seeker and a sharer; and updating the knowledge sharing history of at least one of the sharer and the seeker to include said captured shared knowledge.
50. A process for compiling a database for use in a knowledge management system as claimed in claim 49 in which the at least one sharer is identified by interrogating the database structure.
51. A process for compiling a database for use in a knowledge management system as claimed in claim 50 wherein the at least one sharer is identified at least in part on the basis of an his or her knowledge sharing history.
52. A process for compiling a database for use in a knowledge management system as claimed in any one of claims 48 to 51 in which the knowledge sharing history of an individual includes one or more of the following types of data: request data relating to one or more requests for knowledge that the individual has made; request data relating to one or more requests for knowledge in relation to which the individual has been identified as a sharer; answer data representing at least part of the knowledge shared between the sharer and seeker in respect of one or more requests for knowledge in respect of which the individual was the seeker or a sharer; the individual's name; the individual's contact data; rating data relating to the individual's past activity as a sharer.
53. A process for compiling a database for use in a knowledge management system as claimed in any one of claims 48 to 52 which further includes seeding the database structure with an initial dataset.
54. A process for compiling a database for use in knowledge management system as claimed in claim 48 which includes creating a knowledge sharing history for an individual upon, receipt of a request for knowledge from an individual, or identification of the individual as a potential sharer, if a knowledge sharing history does not already exist for the individual.
Description  (OCR text may contain errors)

Knowledge management system and method

Field of the invention The present invention relates to a system and method for sharing knowledge between the members of a group of people, such as the employees of a company. Background of the invention Knowledge and know-how are increasingly being recognised as valuable assets by companies and organisations. The increased appreciation of the value of knowledge and know how has led many companies to implement various types of knowledge management. Most knowledge management systems take the form of a database of documents that have been generated in the course of operating the business, which can be interrogated to allow extraction of documents that are relevant or helpful to individuals dealing with analogous situations at a later time. For example, a knowledge management database for an engineering company may include a collection of product specifications, plans, technical details and documentation generated during the design and commissioning of a project, which can be sorted and searched and, if appropriate, recalled to assist with a current project. The inventors of the present invention have identified that the traditional approach to knowledge management described above, in which all documents generated by a company in the course of their business, or purpose written documents, are stored for later retrieval, is not the optimal solution to knowledge management. Traditional systems of this type require a large amount of administration to gather, collate, catalogue and maintain the database. Furthermore the knowledge stored in a traditional prior art knowledge management database may be of limited use since it is generally context specific, meaning that the stored knowledge is unlikely to be directly relevant to the situation faced by the user of the system. Moreover, the documents stored in the database only reflect the state of knowledge at the time of their creation and are typically not updated to account for subsequent changes and advances, therefore it is possible that the knowledge stored in the database is out of date. Typically in a system that is not regularly updated there will be numerous documents covering similar areas of subject matter with inconsistencies typically arising between documents. To compound the abovementioned limitations of the knowledge stored in prior art knowledge management systems, the quality (e.g. currency, completeness and accuracy) of the knowledge extracted from a prior art knowledge management system is not readily verifiable. For a person to verify whether knowledge extracted from a prior art system is accurate, up-to-date and complete, is often very difficult and time consuming, and in extreme cases may only be possible by the person independently performing the research and re-compiling the knowledge from scratch. Summary of the invention Throughout the specification and claims the term "seeker" will be used to describe a person who is trying to obtain knowledge using the knowledge management system. The term "sharer" will be used to describe a person who provides knowledge to a seeker. A person may be described as a potential sharer if they may possibly possess knowledge and/or information that could assist a seeker. Throughout the specification terms such as "sharer profile" or "user profile" will be used to describe data that is stored in a database structure that can be related to a given sharer or user. A sharer or user profile can include but, but is not limited to the following types of data: questions for which he or she was a sharer or seeker; an answer or a summary of an answer to a question for which he or she was a sharer or seeker; the user's name and/or contact details; the user/sharer's personal or professional data. It should be understood that the data comprising a "sharer profile" or "user profile" may be stored in one or more fields or tables of a database or be distributed across in more than one database. That data stored in a sharer or user profile that is related to the user's activity as a sharer and/or seeker is termed the user's "knowledge sharing history". According to a first aspect of the present invention there is provided a process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group, said method including: providing a database structure configured to store knowledge sharing histories for a plurality of members of the group, the knowledge sharing histories including historical knowledge data representative of knowledge shared in the past between said members, and associated member data, said historical knowledge data being linked to said associated member data; receiving a request for knowledge from a seeker; interrogating the database structure on the basis of the received request to identify one or more potential sharers based at least in part of the knowledge sharing histories of the members of the group; enabling the establishment of a communications link between the seeker and a selected sharer; capturing at least a summary of the knowledge shared between the seeker and the each sharer; and updating the knowledge sharing history of at least one of the seeker and the sharer to include said captured knowledge. In a second aspect there is provided knowledge management system including a knowledge management server including, a computer memory storing thereon at least one application program including instructions for implementing a process for facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group, and at least one database structure configured to store knowledge sharing histories for a plurality of members of the group; and at least one processor being configured to execute the instructions stored on the computer memory to: provide an interface for receiving a request for knowledge from a seeker; interrogate the database structure on the basis of the received request to identify one or more potential sharers; enable the establishment of a communications link between the seeker and at least one sharer selected from said one or more identified potential sharers; provide an interface to enable at least a summary of the knowledge shared between the seeker and a sharer to be captured, and update the knowledge sharing history of the at least one of the seeker and the sharer to include at least said captured knowledge. In a third aspect the present invention provides a knowledge management network configured to facilitate the sharing of knowledge between the members of a group, said network including at least two communicatively coupled knowledge management systems as described above in which each knowledge management system is configured to facilitate the sharing of knowledge amongst a subset of the members of the group, wherein the communicative coupling between the respective knowledge management systems allows knowledge to be shared between a member of one subset and a members of another subset. In a fourth aspect the present invention provides a computer program configured to control the operation of a computer processor to implement a process as described above. The computer process preferably includes a webpage interface. In a fifth aspect there is provided a process for compiling a database for use in a knowledge management system including: providing a database structure configured to store a knowledge sharing history for a plurality of individuals said knowledge having histories including historical knowledge data representative of knowledge shared in the past between said individuals, and associated member data, said historical knowledge data being linked to said associated member data; identifying at least one sharer in respect of a request for knowledge received from a seeker; updating the stored knowledge sharing history for the at least one of the identified sharer and the seeker to include data relating to the received request. The process can additionally include, capturing, for storage in the database structure, at least a summary of the knowledge shared between the seeker and a sharer; and updating the knowledge sharing history of the sharer and or the seeker to include said captured shared knowledge. Other features of the various aspects of the present invention will be ascertained from the detailed description of the embodiments and claims. The applicant does not concede that the prior art described herein forms part of the common general knowledge in the art at the priority date of the present application. In the specification and claims the words comprise, comprising or the like should be interpreted inclusively. Brief description of the drawings Notwithstanding any other forms which may fall within the scope of the present invention, preferred embodiments of which will now be described, by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings in which: Figure 1 shows a highly schematic representation of a system for implementing a knowledge management method according to a first embodiment of the present invention; Figure 2 shows a schematic representation of a knowledge management system server configured for use in an embodiment of the present invention; Figure 3 shows a database schema representing an exemplary relational database that may be used to implement a preferred embodiment of the present invention. Figure 4 shows another exemplary system configured for use with a second embodiment of the present invention; Figure 5 shows a flow chart representing the steps in a method according to an exemplary embodiment of the present invention; Figure 6 shows a flow chart depicting the sub-steps in a preferred embodiment of the method according to the present invention; Figure 7 shows schematic representation of a knowledge management system according to a second embodiment of the present invention in which these knowledge management sub-systems are utilised; Figure 8 shows a set of steps used in a method for selecting a sharer in a preferred embodiment of the present invention; Figures 9A to 9J show a series of screen views of a webpage interface suitable for use with a knowledge management system according to an embodiment of the present invention; and Figures 10A to 10C show a series of screen views depicting a webpage interface suitable for implementing a handoff procedure between knowledge management subsystems in a preferred embodiment of the present invention.

Detailed description of the embodiments A knowledge management system according to the preferred embodiment of the present invention will typically be implemented across a business or organisation using one or more computers connected to a computer network. An exemplary computer network is shown in Figure 1. The computer network 100 comprises a plurality of user terminals 102, 104, 106, 108 and 110 which are connected by respective network connections 112 to a communications network 114. A knowledge management system server 116 is also coupled to the network 116. The network 114 may be the Internet or a company intranet, or any other type of telecommunications network, either hard wired or wireless which allows inter-communication between computer hardware. The communications network 114 may comprise a plurality of connected networks of the same or different types. Figure 2 shows a schematic representation of the knowledge management system server 116 of figure 1. The knowledge management system server 116 comprises at least one processor 120 connected to a computer memory comprising a random access memory 122 and data storage

124. The processor 120 is configured to run an application program stored in memory 122. Data storage 124 is configured to store at least one database structure 124.1 to 124.5 used by the knowledge management system. The application program running on the processor 120 provides an interface between the user of any one of the user terminals 102, 104 and 106 and the database(s) 124.1 to 124.5 stored in data storage 124 to, inter alia, allow the user to interrogate and extract data from the one or more databases 124.1 to 124.5 stored in data storage 124. The application program may have a purpose written application interface or have a website "front end". If the interface is implemented as a website, the data storage 124 will also store one or more webpages that can be displayed to the user on their respective terminal 102, 104 and 106 using a standard web browser. An exemplary user interface implemented as a website will be described below. The data storage 124 stores one or more databases 124.1 to 124.5 therein, as well as any webpages and other data necessary to run the knowledge management system. As will be appreciated by those skilled in the art the data storage 124 may comprise one or more computer hard drives or other computer storage means. The database structure stored on the data storage 124 will typically be a relational database and allow extraction of data in a variety of permutations. A schematic representation of an exemplary relational database is depicted in figure 3. The database 300 comprises a set of tables 302 to 310 entitled, Entity (302), Sharer (304), Question (306), Request (308) and Answer (310). The Entity table 302 stores data relating to each user of the system, such as the user's name 302.1 and login details 302.2. In an embodiment a field 302.3 is also provided to track reward points accrued by a user that are related to an incentive scheme that may be attached to system use. The Sharer 304 table stores data relating to a user's status as a sharer, and includes an indication of their availability 304.1, their average response time 304.2, a quality rating for their previous shares 304.3 and the number of times that they have provided knowledge as a sharer 304.4. The Question table 306 stores the data relating to a question posed by a user seeking knowledge, including the date the question was received 306.1, the date the seek was resolved 306.2, the text of the question 306.3, keyword search terms 306.4, any data gathered to clarify the question 306.5. The Request 308 table stores, inter alia, the name of a sharer that has been assigned to each question 308.1, while the Answer 310 table stores the insight or summary of the answer provided by a sharer 310.1 and a rating of that answer by the seeker 310.2. The Entity 302 or Sharer 304 tables can be expanded, or other tables used, to store personal and professional details of each user including details relating to each users' areas of expertise. As will be appreciated by those skilled in the art and as partly indicated the tables of data are linked by relationships to allow data in chosen fields of the tables to be extracted. The application program running on the processor 120 will allow sorting and querying of the database using a query language such as SQL. The application program may additionally include a program segment which dynamically generates webpage content by formatting the data extracted from the database stored on data storage 124 for presentation to a user. Returning to figure 2, the knowledge management system server 116 may additionally be coupled to one or more secondary servers 126 and 128. Secondary servers may provide access to additional databases of knowledge which may be used by the knowledge management system in its operation. The secondary servers 126 and 128, for example, may comprise one or more servers that operate other business systems including but not limited to, the organisation's accounting systems, project management systems, internal bulletin board systems, human resources system, credentials databases, external websites, or may form a part of a traditional "supply driven" knowledge management system or document management system. In the preferred embodiments of the present invention the users e.g. 102 ... 106 will access the data stored in the server 116 using a standard internet browser such as Netscape or Microsoft Internet Explorer, but it is equally possible that a purpose written application interface which allows users to interface with the server could be used. In this case the application program running on the server 116 will be configured to interoperate with a user-side application program running on a user's terminals, 102 ... 106. In use a member of an organisation or business will wish to access the knowledge management system in order to obtain knowledge that may assist them in dealing with a problem or situation that has arisen in their day-to-day business. In a typical prior art knowledge management systems, such a person would access the knowledge management database and perform a search to identify documents stored in the database which may be of assistance. In contrast to this, in the preferred embodiment of the present invention, the knowledge management system is used to ascertain which person or people within the organisation or business (or in some situations which person outside the organisation) is most likely to have the knowledge, knowledge or skills to effectively deal with the user's problem or assist the user seeking help to deal with the situation at hand. Thus rather than storing documents in the document management system the preferred embodiment of the present invention stores knowledge about people and the knowledge attaching to such people on the basis of their prior participation in the knowledge sharing process, with the end result of a search of the knowledge management system database(s) being the enablement of some form of direct communication between the person seeking knowledge and the person most likely to possess that knowledge. As will be appreciated all of the members of the organisation or company may be potential sharers, and multiple sharers may be used to provide an answer or solution to a seeker. In some instances sharers and seekers will be drawn from outside the company or organisation, these external users should also be considered to form part of the group of members using the knowledge management system. To use the knowledge management system a seeker issues a request for knowledge (also termed a "seek") in the form of a question or query which relates to a problem or situation about which they are seeking knowledge. The request for knowledge is entered into the system at one of the user terminals 102, 104 and 106 for transmission to the server 116. The application program running on the server 116 parses the question or query into a suitable query language for interrogating the database stored in the server 116. The database is interrogated and one or more individuals within the organisation are identified as potential sharers in respect of the query. The data relating to potential sharers is then transmitted back to the user terminal 102, 104 and 106 for use by the seeker. The terminal user can be any person within an organisation, for example each employee of the organisation may be given access to a terminal which enables them to submit queries to the knowledge management system. In this case the user will typically be the seeker. However in a particularly preferred embodiment the terminal user will be an expert facilitator who acts as an intermediary between the individual seeker and the knowledge management system. A network suitable for use by a number of facilitators and seekers is shown in Figure 4. In Figure 4 the knowledge management system 400 includes three user terminals 402, 404 and 406 connected to a communications network 408. Also connected to the network 408 is a knowledge management system server 410 as described in connection with Figures 1 and 2. Each of the user terminals 402,

404 and 406 effectively operates as a hub allowing a plurality of seekers and/or sharers eg 412, 414, 416 to interact with the knowledge management system 400 via a telecommunications network 418. Similarly, the facilitators using terminals 404 and 406 are connected to a plurality of potential seekers via a telecommunications network 420 and 422 respectively. It should be noted that a seeker may contact a facilitator operating a user terminal by any form of electronic communication such as email, online bulletin board, chat room, instant messaging service, SMS, interactive voice response system, or any other form of electronic communications which can allow instructions or questions to be passed between a seeker and a knowledge management system facilitator. It should also be appreciated that any of the potential seekers linked to the facilitator can also be considered to be potential sharers for any request for knowledge submitted to the knowledge management system. The fundamental process for providing knowledge to a seeker according to the preferred embodiment is set out in the flow chart 500 of Figure 5. In a first step 502 the knowledge management systems server receives a request for knowledge from a seeker. The processor then interrogates the database based on the received request to identify a suitable sharer in step 504. In the next step 506 a communications link is established between the seeker and sharer to enable knowledge relating to the seeker's query to be exchanged. The communications link is preferably a link enabling real time or substantially real-time communication between the two parties such as a telephone link, IRC link or email link. Preferably the system server enables the commumcations link to be established, which in one embodiment may take the form of providing the sharer and seeker with the other's telephone or email contact details and allowing them to contact each other in a chosen manner. Alternatively, the server may set up a communications link by establishing a voice over IP or other "web phone" communications link. Other forms of communications link that allow real-time, or substantially real-time communications may also be used. The final step in the process 508 is the step of capturing any insights or answer provided by the sharer to the seeker. The captured insights are preferably stored in a database in a knowledge management systems server, and can be used for selecting the future sharers to fulfil requests for knowledge as indicated by feedback arrow 510. Any attachments or documents delivered in accordance with the insights provided may also be stored in the database structure. Figure 6 shows a more detailed view of a set of exemplary substeps that can be implemented in the method of Figure 5. Similarly to the method of figure 5 the method 600 begins with an initial step of receiving and logging a request from a seeker in step 602. Following this step the knowledge management systems server identifies one or more suitable sharers in step 604. Once the sharer has been selected a communications link is established in step 606 between the seeker and the sharer to enable the sharing of insights and any related documentation between the sharer and seeker. The insights shared are then captured in one or more of the databases of the knowledge management system in step 608. The substeps of each of the steps in the method 600 will now be described. In an initial substep 610 a seek is received. If the seek is in overly broad terms or produces too many hits or does not fully identify the type of knowledge required the seeker may be requested to provide additional knowledge in optional substep 612 to enable the seek to be clarified. The final form of the seek will typically include a description of the circumstances in which the knowledge is sought, a problem to be solved, and an indication of the type of knowledge the seeker wants from a sharer. The next step to be performed, 604, is the step of identifying a sharer. This is performed using a search engine that causes the application program to interrogate one or more databases in an attempt to identify potential sharers. The search engine interface can be provided with a thesaurus which allows the user to add additional relevant terms to a keyword search strategy. The thesaurus preferably includes a set of predefined synonyms that can be searched and a second set of user defined synonyms. The user defined synonyms can be particularly useful when trying to identify a seeker from a field in which industry specific or technical terms, or jargon is commonly used, or in fields where acronyms may be used rather than the full text of terms. Typically when performing a search two search fields are presented to the user, namely a keyword search field, and a natural language search field. The keyword search field allows the user to search by a combination of keywords, whereas the natural language search field allows the user to enter a question or a sentence to which they would like a response. The application program will parse the question or sentence entered into the natural language search and keywords to allow for interrogation of the system database(s) to identify suitable potential sharers. The search engine is preferably organised in a hierarchical manner to allow a user to narrow or expand their search strategy so that they identify the most relevant potential sharers. For example the first stage of the searching hierarchy can allow general keyword searching of all fields stored in the sharer profiles, the second stage searching can allow certain combinations of words and phrases to be searched for in the user profiles, and the final stage can allow different words and phrases to be searched for in specified fields in the sharer profiles. For example a user may want to search for knowledge relating to the installation of a data network in the media centre of a sporting facility. The user may initially search using the keywords "data", "network" "sports" and "facility". Such a keyword search strategy may return too many "hits" because these are commonly used words. In this case the user can perform a second stage search by combining the words into phrases such as "data network" and "sports facility". This search strategy may obtain no "hits" as both phrases are not present in any user profile in the database. The final stage of the search engine allows the user to specify in which fields of the sharer/user profile the search is to be performed. In this case the user can specify that the word "data" must be found in the "text" field of the Answer table in the database (see figure 3) ie. the word "data" must be contained in a previous insight shared by the potential sharer, and the word "sport" must be found in a field storing data relating to previous projects on which the sharer has worked. This search should return results of anyone who previously provided knowledge relating to data transmission or otherwise relating to data, and who has worked on a project to do with sports, such as the design or construction of a sports stadium. In a particularly preferred embodiment the search engine first searches for matches to the parsed search terms in these fields of the database relating to similar questions that have been asked in the past, and the insights provided in those cases. If one or more similar seeks have previously been logged by the system, data relating to the earlier similar seeks can be transmitted to the user to enable the user to ascertain whether the insights provided can help them, and/or whether the sharer(s) or seekers associated with the previous cases can be of assistance to the current seeker. In a subsequent optional step 618, if a suitable sharer is not identified from the primary database, or too many potential sharers are identified, additional searching strategies may be employed. These additional searching strategies can include searching through additional or auxiliary databases and business systems such as human resources databases, credentials databases, project management databases, document management systems or the like as described above. At the completion of step 604, one or more potential sharers should be identified who may be able to help the seeker with their particular situation. The search engine will preferably return a list of potential shares and an associated indication of the basis of the selection e.g. whether the potential sharer was identified because of the person's previous shares, previous seeks, or by the sharers work history or areas of expertise. This indication can provide the user with a measure of the confidence that a seeker or facilitator can have in the ability of the sharer to provide relevant knowledge. It is believed that a person identified by a previous share or seek will be more reliable than a person identified by their work history or areas of expertise as this person has demonstrated by their use of the system that he or she has recently been involved in some work closely related to the topic of interest to the seeker. An optional step 619 can be used to attempt to identify a sharer if one has not been identified in steps 616 or 618. An embodiment of a process to find a share for an unresolved seek is described in connection with figure 8 in the context of a knowledge management network having three knowledge management sub-systems. A variation on the method of figure 8 can be implemented within a group of individuals using the same knowledge management system to find a sharer if the system has failed to do so in steps 616 and 618. Typically an organisation will have people who that, because of their role in the organisation or personality or skills, have particular knowledge that may allow them to refer a seeker on to a potential sharer that may not otherwise have been identified. Using step 619 a seeker may take advantage of the knowledge and skill of these group members to identify a potential sharer. The first tool which can be used in such a situation is called a handoff sheet. In the present situation if an unresolved seek exists a handoff sheet can be issued by the seeker, a facilitator or other user of the system, to other users of the system. In the preferred embodiment the handoff sheet is a webpage that operates as an online bulletin board that can be accessed by users to allow them to review the details of the unresolved seeks and suggest potential sharers, or a course of action that may allow a sharer to be identified. Whenever an action is taken by a user to attempt to resolve an unresolved seek he or she can post a message on the online bulletin board to let all other users know that the unresolved seek is being processed. An alternative or additional step that can be taken when an unresolved seek exists is the issuance of a broadcast request. The broadcast request will typically be sent as an email broadcast to all users of the system or all group members, requesting assistance with the seeker's unresolved query. Any potential sharer can then use the knowledge management system to provide knowledge either directly to the seeker or facilitator or designated user. Further details of the operation of the handoff sheet and broadcast request are given below in connection with figure 8. If a potential sharer is identified in any one of steps 616, 618 or 619 the process moves into the validation step 620. The validation process can take various forms. In a first embodiment the validation process simply requires the application program to check whether the chosen sharers are available to receive queries from a seeker. This can be done by interrogating the "available" field of the "sharer" table in the database or checking an associated human resources database to ascertain whether the sharer is currently on leave, or if there are some other reasons that the sharer is unavailable, eg the sharer is currently on a business trip or on-site and cannot attend to a seeker's request. In an alternative embodiment availability may be tested by forwarding an email or other electronic communication to a sharer to enquire whether they are available and willing to assist a seeker. Part of the validation process may also be done manually and comprise either the facilitator or the seeker checking the profile credentials of the sharer or preferably communicating one or more questions to the sharer to ascertain whether the sharer's skill set is appropriate for assisting with the current seek. The next step 606 comprises enabling or establishing a communications link between the sharer and seeker, and will be performed in an identical manner to that described above in connection with Figure 5. Step 608, the step of capturing data is essentially a feedback step which updates and maintains the one or more databases used by the system. In an initial step 622 the insight provided by the sharer to the seeker, or a summary thereof or documents generated in the sharing process is captured for storage in one of the databases for later use. In step 624 the seeker is allowed to rate the quality of the insight and the sharer. These ratings are stored in the database eg in the "rating" field in the "sharer" table for later use. The rating may relate to various attributes of the insight such as its quality, timeliness, and helpfulness. The sharer's manner may also be separately rated, for example the sharer's willingness to assist, a rating of whether the seeker's expectations were fulfilled by the sharer may also be provided. In the final step 626 the sharer's user profile, and possibly the seeker's user profile (if one exists) is updated. As indicated by the connection 630 this captured knowledge can subsequently be used to identify a potential sharer in step 616. The ongoing process of updating the data stored in the database structure is a key step in the preferred embodiment of the process as it allows the database to grow and become more useful as the process is used. By accumulating data in this manner rather than uploading general data relating to each of the group members', only useful and relevant data is stored. For example, in a construction company there may be hundreds of people that have experience and expertise relating to structural steel, however if there is never a request for knowledge relating to the use of structural steel, the storage of this data in the database structure is redundant. However if the are many questions being asked regarding mould removal a vast amount of data regarding potential sharers will be accumulated relating to people that have knowledge applicable to this subject making identification of a sharer in this field straight forward. Thus rather than storing data covering any subject matter, the method described above accumulates data relating to subject matter that has been proven to be of interest. In the one embodiment there may no data stored in the database initially, and the sharer(s) will be identified using another search tool, as described above. When a new sharer is identified a sharer profile can be created in the database structure to enable him or her to be identified in step 616 in the future. Over time as the amount of data stored in the database structure increases a larger proportion of sharers will be identified by interrogating the database structure in step 616. Alternatively some seed data may be used. For example sharer data relating to expert sharers in selected fields, or sharer data relating to individuals that can provide a referral to an expert can be entered in the database as seed data. In a further alternative embodiment personal and contact data, or the like, relating to a multiplicity (or all) of members could be used as seed data, and the "knowledge sharing history" of each of the seed members can be added to the database by the feedback process 630. However, this embodiment results the storage of unnecessary data as described above, and thus is not an optimal solution Turning now to Figure 7 which shows an alternative system which may be used in an embodiment of the present invention. This system 700 comprises three knowledge management subsystems 702, 704, 706 which are generally similar to the systems shown in Figures 1 or 7. Each knowledge management subsystem include a system server 708 and a plurality of user terminals 710 each connected to one another by a telecommunications network 712. The knowledge management subsystems 702, 704 and 706 are also interconnected by a computer network 714, such as the internet or a WAN. The system of Figure 7 will typically be implemented across a multinational company with the knowledge management subsystems 702, 704 and 706 being located in different geographical areas where the company has a presence. For example, knowledge management subsystem 702 may be an Australian knowledge management subsystem, knowledge management subsystem 704 may be a European knowledge management subsystem, and knowledge management subsystem 706 may represent a knowledge management subsystem for use in the United States. Typically each subsystem will be used to identify sharers to assist seekers who reside in its own geographical location. However, at times it may be necessary to look beyond the local network of employees or companies to find a suitable sharer to assist with a seeker's situation. In this situation a process can be implemented which enables one knowledge management subsystem to communicate a seeker's query to either, or both, of the other knowledge management subsystems. An exemplary process for passing a seek to one of the other knowledge management subsystems is shown in Figure 8. If an unresolved seek exists, i.e. a seek for which a sharer has not yet been found by the local knowledge management system, the process 800 may be implemented to enable a sharer to be found in another subsystem. The first tool which is used in the process 800 is called a handoff sheet. If an unresolved seek 802 exists a handoff sheet is issued from the originating knowledge management subsystem 702 to either one or both of the other knowledge management subsystems 704 and 706. The handoff sheet can be implemented in a number of ways, for example it may take the form of a standard seek which a user eg a facilitator, of the originating subsystem 702 enters into one or both of the additional knowledge management systems 704 and 706 using the normal seeker interface. Alternatively the handoff sheet may be in the form of an email request. However, in the preferred embodiment the handoff sheet is implemented as an online bulletin board which can be accessed by users on the additional knowledge management systems via a website. A user can add an unresolved seek to a list on a website and enable users from other knowledge management subsystems to view the seek and perform searches within their local knowledge management systems to attempt to identify a suitable sharer. Whenever an action is taken by a facilitator or user on any one of the knowledge management subsystems the website allows the user to post a message on the online bulletin board to let all other users of the system know that the unresolved seek is being processed. In step 806 if a sharer has been found on another subsystem the handoff procedure ends 808 and the usual validation and connection process between seeker and sharer is undertaken. If no sharer is found the process moves to step 810 which is the issuance of a broadcast request. The broadcast request will typically be implemented as an email broadcast to all users of the system and potential sharers requesting knowledge or assistance with the seeker's query. Any potential sharer or user of the system can provide knowledge either directly to the seeker or contact a facilitator or designated user within the knowledge management subsystem to nominate that they can assist the seeker with the request. The broadcast request may also take the form of a webpage to which one or more broadcast requests can be added. If the broadcast request 810 finds a sharer the process ends 808 and the usual validation and knowledge exchange steps are performed as described above. If a sharer is not found on any of the knowledge management subsystems the seeker is notified that a potential sharer has not been identified, the seek is closed and the process ends 814. Figures 9A to 9J show a series of screen views of a webpage interface which may be used to implement a knowledge management system according to the preferred embodiment of the present invention. It should be understood that the exemplary webpages depicted will form only a subset of the total number of web pages making up the website. Many other suitable layouts for such pages will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art without departing from the present invention concept. Figure 9A shows a login screen 900 through which a user can log into the knowledge management system. The user enters their username and password in the appropriate text insertion areas 901, 902 and selects the login button 903 to proceed to the main area of the knowledge management system website. Using a login process before entry to the system is allowed ensures that only authorised users are using the knowledge management system and also enables the knowledge management system to identify which user has taken a particular action within the knowledge management system. Figure 9B shows a screen 960 which allows the user to enter and maintain his or her contact details. In this embodiment the user is able to input details such as his or her name 911, office phone number 912, fax number 913, mobile telephone number 914, email address 915 and selected company knowledge 916. This knowledge will be stored in the knowledge management system database. In addition to storing the basic contact knowledge shown in Figure 9B the sharer profile for each member of the business or organisation who may potentially act as a sharer will additionally include data regarding each user's skills and experience. In order to allow this sharer data to be loaded into the system a webpage such as that shown in Figure 9C can be used. In the webpage 920 of Figure 9C the user is asked to indicate 921 whether he or she is available to share knowledge in relation to a request for knowledge provided by another user. The user is also asked to provide knowledge 922 relating to the type of experience that they have had, areas of expertise 923 and major projects and engagements on which they have been employed 924. Other data which may be of use when allocating a sharer to a request made by a seeker can also be entered 925 in the sharer profile page shown in Figure 9C. After a user logs into the system he or she will typically wish to know whether any of the questions which he or she has asked have been answered, or whether any knowledge that he or she has provided to a seeker has been of help. Figure 9D shows a summary page 930 that displays any active seeks and shares made by the user. The page of Figure 9D can be obtained by selecting the link "Open seeks and shares" 926 on the bottom left of the screen in Figure 9C. The summary page 930 shown in Figure 9D lists all of the seeks 931 which are currently active for the particular user, and all of the shares 932 on which they are currently a sharer. For each seek or share a question is displayed which summarises the question posed by the seeker. The status of the seek, including the number of sharers allocated to the seek 933, the number of insights provided 934, and the age of the seek 935 is also displayed on the right hand side of the display 930. Similar status knowledge is provided for all other shares. By mouse-clicking on the text of the question a webpage will be displayed giving the details of that particular matter. Figure 9E shows a webpage 950 carrying the details of a seek. The seek details may be the details of a question which the user has posed ie. the user is the seeker, or may be details of a query for which the user has been chosen as a sharer. The details of the seek include the summary question 951 and any additional knowledge 952 that may be of assistance to a sharer in providing relevant knowledge to the seeker. By choosing the link "add an insight" 953 the user can share knowledge with the seeker. If the user is the seeker in respect of this query this page enables the user to enter the search page to allow him or her to find a sharer, or if an initial process of finding a sharer has failed the seeker is able to add the matter to a handoff sheet. These actions can be performed by selecting the links "Find a sharer" 954 and "Add to handoff sheet" 955 respectively. If the user is the seeker in respect of this question and he or she wishes to clarify the question they have asked the user can add additional knowledge where indicated 952. If it is not apparent to the user how to phrase the additional knowledge or what type of additional knowledge may be of assistance the button labelled "Help me with this!" 956 can be selected. If the "Help me with this!" 956 button is selected, an online form 957 as shown in

Figure 9F is displayed. The form 957 poses four questions to the seeker which assists him or her to explain their seek in a systematic fashion. The seeker can add knowledge to the respective text boxes to answer the questions posed by the system, then click the submit button 958 to enter their answers into the "Additional knowledge" section 952 of the seek details page of Figure 9E. If the user wishes to find a sharer for a seek which they have submitted, the user can select the "Find a sharer" link as described in connection with Figure 9E. When this link is selected a screen 960 as shown in Figure 9G is displayed. Figure 9G provides a keyword search engine which allows the user to search one or more of the databases stored in the knowledge management system server to attempt to ascertain which of the potential sharers is most likely to possess knowledge which is helpful in the seeker's present situation. When the user selects the "Submit search" button 961 the knowledge management system server parses the search terms entered by the user and interrogates one or more of the databases stored in the knowledge management system server. The knowledge management system server then returns to the user a set of search results as depicted in Figure 9H. Figure 9H shows results 962 from a search performed by a user. The search results comprise a list of potential sharer names 963 and summarised sharer profiles 964, as well as an indication 965 of whether the sharer is currently available to provide knowledge. By selecting the photograph 966 or name of one or more of the sharers eg 963 a webpage displaying at least part of the sharers' profiles can be displayed to the user. After reviewing this additional knowledge regarding the skills and expertise of each of the potential sharers the user is free to select one or more of the potential sharers to be allocated to this seek. Selecting the potential sharers is performed by clicking on the check box 967 associated with the selected sharers. Once the user has selected a sharer(s) using the screen of Figure 9H a summary page 970, as shown in Figure 91, is presented to the user displaying details of the seek 971 and any additional knowledge provided 972, and enabling the user to add an attachment to further clarify their seek. The summary page also lists 974 the sharers assigned to the particular seek and allows the seeker to nominate 975 how they would prefer to be contacted by the seeker. If the user has not already provided any additional knowledge they may do so simply by typing the additional knowledge in the appropriate text box 972 or by selecting the "Help me with this!" button 976, which provides them with an online form as shown in Figure 9F. Once the user selects the "Submit" button 977 each of the potential sharers are sent a notification telling them that they have been selected as a sharer in relation to a particular query.

This can be done by email or by placing an alert on a webpage initially presented to the sharer after login. Once a potential sharer has been selected the potential sharer is given the opportunity to either provide knowledge, i.e. share, or decline to provide knowledge. This choice can be made using a webpage as shown in Figure 9J. In this webpage 980 the potential sharer is provided with the details of the seeker 981 and the question 982 which they have asked and is given the opportunity to provide a comment immediately, agree to provide a comment but to do so over the telephone, recommend somebody else who could answer the question or indicate that they are unable to share knowledge. These choices can be performed by selecting the radio button 983 associated with the appropriate selection. If in the course of providing a comment or an insight the sharer decides that they wish to add an attachment, this can be done by typing in the file path to the attachment 984, or by selecting the attachment using the "Browse" button 985 and then selecting the files to be attach. If the sharer agrees to provide knowledge a communications link between the sharer and the seeker can be established. This can be performed either in an online environment using email, an online discussion board, or instant messaging type interface. If the seeker and sharer decide to communicate by telephone each can be provided with the other's telephone details and optionally with a nominated time to make the telephone call. Alternatively, a voice over IP or web phone link may be established between the two either immediately or at some predetermined time. It will be noted that, in each of the Figures 9B to 9J, on the left hand side of the interface are two vertically aligned boxes 990, 991 (of Fig 93). These boxes 990, 991 provide links to the web pages 9C and 9B respectively which enable the user to edit their sharer profile and contact details. In an embodiment of the present invention a knowledge management system may operate as a subsystem of a larger knowledge management system as described in connection with Figure 7. In such a situation, when a query lodged by a seeker cannot be satisfactorily answered by a local sharer either the seeker, or a facilitator or system administrator, can add the seek to a handoff sheet to allow certain designated users of the other knowledge management subsystems to view the seek.

A series of example webpage interfaces suitable for implementing a handoff sheet for use in the above situation will now be described. Figure 10A shows an exemplary display 1000 showing a handoff sheet. The handoff sheet includes a list 1001 of unresolved seeks including the representative question eg, 1002, the details of the seeker 1003, an identification number for the seek 1007, and any comments 1005 which have been provided by users of the system which may assist a facilitator or administrator, or the seeker to identify relevant people within the organisation to assist with their current problem or situation. As will be seen, the handoff sheet webpage essentially operates as an online message board to which users may contribute comments to assist in identifying an appropriate sharer within the organisation. In order to add a comment the user selects the "Add comment" link 1006 associated with the chosen query. If the user wishes to add a new seek to the handoff sheet they select the "Add new seek to handoff sheet" link 1007 on the upper right hand side of the webpage. If the user chooses to add a comment to the handoff sheet a form as shown in figure 10B is displayed. The online form 1010 includes a text insertion field 1011 into which the user's comment can be entered. By mouse- clicking on the "Submit" button 1002 the user's comment is added to the handoff sheet. By clicking on the "Add new seek to handoff sheet" link 1007 the user is provided with an online form as shown in Figure IOC. This form 1020 allows the user to enter the details of a seek to be added to the handoff sheet. This will typically be done by typing a reference number corresponding to the seek into the field 1021 of the online form. The user is also allowed to add an initial comment 1022 which may be of assistance to people using the handoff sheet. For example, the user's comment may set out what steps he or she have already taken to identify an appropriate sharer. It is also possible for a user to add a seek to the handoff sheet using the webpage depicted in Figure 9E. By selecting the link 955 "Add to handoff sheet" at the top right of the page. The inventors have identified that a "demand driven" approach to knowledge management is more effective than the traditional "supply driven" approach that is used in the prior art knowledge management systems described above. A "demand driven" approach to knowledge management is one in which an organisation's knowledge or know-how is not collected until it is needed. The inventor's recognition that a demand driven approach to knowledge management is advantageous is based on insight that the most useful type of knowledge possessed by an organisation, in particular in an operational context, is the personal knowledge and experience that the individual members of the organisation can apply to solve or assist with a problem or situation, rather than knowledge that is contained in a database of context-specific documents that have been generated in the course of business. Thus the preferred embodiment of the present invention attempts to identify one or more people that may possess knowledge and/or knowledge that could be shared with a seeker to assist him or her. This is contrasted with the prior art "supply driven" approach to knowledge management in which documents are identified and provided to a person using the system. The adoption of this so-called "demand driven" approach to knowledge management can allow tailored, accurate and verifiable knowledge to be more easily obtained with minimal administrative overhead. In this regard a demand driven knowledge management system may improve the efficiency of use of the knowledge management system for both the system's administrators and users. For example, administrators no longer need to collect documents for storage in the database, providers of knowledge no longer have to create documents or the like for storage in the database, and users of the system can be provided with relevant knowledge when they require it. Moreover when using a "demand driven" system the knowledge supplied to a person seeking knowledge is more likely to be up-to-date than the knowledge stored in a supply driven knowledge management system. Unlike stored documents which are rarely, if ever updated or checked for currency, the know-how, skills and experience of the individuals who provide knowledge in a demand driven knowledge management environment are used by them on a day-today basis and as such are constantly kept up-to-date. Even if the knowledge is not up-to-date the seeker of the knowledge is well placed to check its currency by questioning the person who supplied it. The inventors have also identified that a the preferred embodiment of the system in which direct, preferably at least substantially real-time, communication between the seeker and sharer take place, a more efficient and effective transfer of knowledge can occur. By effectively setting up a

"conversation" between the parties the person seeking the knowledge can pose questions to the holder of the knowledge until they have the knowledge that they need. In comparison to a traditional supply driven knowledge management system in which the knowledge is provided in a "static" form e.g. as a document, using a dynamic form of knowledge exchange allows the nature, extent, and complexity of the knowledge provided to the seeker of knowledge to be tailored to his or her needs.

It has also been found that when direct sharing of knowledge between a sharer and seeker occurs there is a likelihood that the interaction between the sharer and seeker will result in a better solution to the seeker's problem than if the sharer addressed their problem using a static form of knowledge such as a document obtained from a traditional knowledge management system. Another advantageous feature of the preferred embodiment, in which the knowledge management process is facilitated by an expert user or administrator of the system, is the process of validation of the potential sharer prior to him or her communicating directly with the seeker. The process of validating the sharer of the knowledge increases the likelihood that the person seeking knowledge is going to receive useful accurate and relevant knowledge. The process may also assist in identifying the optimal sharer, from a group of potential sharers. Application of the present invention has been described in the context of a single business situation in which the sharers and seekers are members of the same organisation. It will be appreciated that users of the system, i.e., facilitators, seekers and/or sharers may comprise any group of individuals, for example a network of affiliated companies, a body of professionals, a learned society or educational institution, a government body, a club or any group of individuals having potentially useful knowledge that may be drawn upon. It will be understood that the invention disclosed and defined herein extends to all alternative combinations of two or more of the individual features mentioned or evident from the text or drawings. All of these different combinations constitute various alternative aspects of the invention. The foregoing describes embodiments of the present invention and modifications, obvious to those skilled in the art can be made thereto, without departing from the scope of the present invention.

Patent Citations
Cited PatentFiling datePublication dateApplicantTitle
US5862223 *24 Jul 199619 Jan 1999Walker Asset Management Limited PartnershipMethod and apparatus for a cryptographically-assisted commercial network system designed to facilitate and support expert-based commerce
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Classifications
International ClassificationG06Q30/00, G06N5/02, G06F7/00
Cooperative ClassificationG06Q30/02, G06N5/022
European ClassificationG06Q30/02, G06N5/02K
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