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By Nancy Doucette
Feb 1998
New software application designed to be life preserver to industry awash in information

"Knowledge is power," according to 16th century philosopher Francis Bacon, and there's enough knowledge on the Internet to "power" just about any industry. But like any resource, the "power" has to be channeled to be truly useful. Enter Echo', a Web-based knowledge management application from InfoMation Publishing Corporation, based in Burlington, Massachusetts. Echo uses standard browsers (Internet Explorer or Netscape, release 3.0 and higher) to retrieve and integrate information from a variety of external and internal sources, including the World Wide Web, news feeds, Internet news groups and in-house company resources. It continually updates information and delivers only the information and data users want. The end result is a customized intranet, Internet and/or extranet solution.

InfoMation's newly named president and CEO Bob Portrie intends to take the Echo product to the several vertical markets which the organization is targeting. The insurance industry is among the three most important vertical markets, he says. And that's a good fit for Portrie given that just prior to his joining InfoMation Publishing in December 1997, he was president and chairman of AT&T InView, a business focused on developing and marketing technology solutions for the insurance industry.

InfoMation Publishing's mission is to "solve the problem of information overload...by building best-of-breed knowledge management applications." Barbara Shelhoss, vice president of marketing for InfoMation Publishing, explains that Echo "provides less information of higher relevance." In other words, less is more.

The knowledge management concept seeks to relieve the growing problem of information overload. Described by some as a crisis, the idea of "so much information, so little time" overshadows the "we don't know what we don't know" philosoph of several years ago. Ignorance is no longer bliss. In fact, it can be dangerous. But so can too much unchanneled information. Studies of individuals who are overwhelmed by too much information show that they don't become more discriminating about their information choices. Just the opposite occurs. They turn them off entirely. A deluge of information often leads to too little information actually being absorbed and used. It's not push technology

Early efforts to address information overload came in the form of so-called push technology. Users do not have to go to a particular Web site to retrieve information. Their "profile" determines what information is retrieved for them. Where push technology falls short is in the area of serving the organization. It does fine helping individuals manage their information, but it does not enable information to be shared.

By managing an organization's internal and external information, Echo brings to life InfoMation's trademarked philosophy: You are what you read. In other words, employees are kept up to date on internal corporate information, business-critical information reaches the proper people, and information is shared. So instead of pockets of information and knowledge, where only certain individuals have access, Echo expands that access and addresses an organization's management issues. This offers oversight capabilities that may not exist with push technology. Managers can control who can get to what resources and who is using them. Echo also enables managers to create role-based profiles so the right information is delivered to the proper individuals.

"Push technology is like drinking from a fire hose," Shelhoss explains. "We're trying to direct a fine, water fountain stream."

Portrie continues: "Echo hones in very specifically on the needs of the individual-that individual could be the corporation; it could be the end user."

For example, he continues, an agent using push technology would receive a ticker tape running across the bottom of the computer screen providing stock information or basic news. With Echo, the user would specify what stock information (s)he is interested in and, for instance, information about workers comp-in the states in which the agency does business. At the start of the day, the user would then receive an e-mail message announcing the availability of relevant articles based on the user's parameters.

The user then launches Echo and views the material when it's convenient. The left-hand side of the screen recaps the user's selected categories. An abstract of the material appears on the right-hand side of the screen. The full information is available by way of a clickable link which takes the user to the Web site of the information provider. If there is no relevant information under a particular heading that day, that is reflected as well.

Portrie says Echo can also include information from specific insurance companies. XYZ Insurance could provide its agents access to some of its information via a custom database. The information could include company announcements or manual changes. The information is fresh and customized to the agency's needs.

Copyright Rough Notes Co., Inc. Feb 1998 Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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