April 30, 2008

KnowledgeTree business model hits many a niche

Author: Lisa Hoover

These days, effective document management means accessibility from anywhere on the planet, electronic storage, reliable backup, and instant document modification updates. KnowledgeTree offers all that and more. It's available in several editions, including an open source community version (which we reviewed last year) that businesses can tailor to their individual needs.

You can install KnowledgeTree in-house on your company's server or use it as an online, hosted service. With it, you can create, edit, and store documents from Linux, Mac, and Windows computer. KnowledgeTreeLive, the hosted version, can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection and a supported browser -- Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer.

The KnowledgeTree Community Edition, licensed under the GNU GPLv3, is available as a free download. It allows users to access documents from third-party WebDAV clients and use the same document management features as the other versions, including drag and drop, versioning, and search. Licenses for commercial versions of KnowledgeTree are available on a per-named-user basis and start at $120 per year. The Community Edition offers many of the same features as the paid versions, but lacks integration with popular Microsoft applications like Word and Excel. The main difference between the two, however, is that the paid versions come with technical support, while the Community Edition does not.

The hosted version, KnowledgeTree Live, is $30 per user per month, and you need a minimum of three users to get started. All data is stored on Amazon's S3 storage service, which provides 10GB of space for each registered user. Businesses using the Community Edition can arrange for KnowledgeTree's tech support to migrate all their data to the Live service and, in the event they wish to later discontinue the service, restore a full backup of all data into the open source edition.

Though the Live version was only recently released from beta, KnowledgeTree's other versions have been in use for more than a year. DHL Global Mail uses the software as a workflow and versioning system that's tied to an in-house system to provide a business continuity and disaster recovery program for the Americas Region of its mail service.

DHL's director of quality, Dan Wilder, says, "We use it for Microsoft Word documents to manage change, then publish these documents in PDF format to the field for use in execution. We have defined a complete end-to-end solution that incorporates KT as the document management system."

Wilder says the deploying KnowledgeTree was "neither difficult nor easy," and the biggest challenge was "to meet very specific needs to bulk import the 24 elements of metadata associated with [our] documents. We looked at other solutions and ultimately decided upon KnowledgeTree because its workflow management met our needs, along with its open API to enable eventual interconnection between other applications within this program and others that are being developed."

Wilder advises companies that are considering deploying this software make sure to plan, and then plan some more. "Thoroughly review the intended use, read the information on KnowledgeTree, then design an implementation plan to achieve the desired results. It sounds easy, [and] some items are, while others are not -- it all goes back to proper planning."

Though the company has many large customers, Knowledge Tree CEO Daniel Chalef says small businesses ought not to overlook what KnowledgeTree can offer, because "typically the larger organizations utilize KnowledgeTree at a department, branch, or team level, where the challenges they face are similar to smaller organizations.

"We expect a wide range of customers to leverage KnowledgeTreeLive, ranging from ... three to five users to much larger organizations -- we've had sales queries for 50+ users. We believe the service as a software system has strong potential for growth in the professional services space."

Building the Live version on top of the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud presented some challenges to KnowledgeTree's development team. Chalef says in addition to the goal of keeping the same core architecture, Live's development also required a "mind shift" when considering how to overcome the lack of persistent storage within EC2 and ways in which to store data in the cloud.

"We developed some innovative and exciting approaches to cater [to those issues]," he says, "and in so doing, we developed technologies that we can leverage on-premise. For example, [in Q2, we will] provide our on-premise appliance users with an overnight backup into the cloud. Web-scale computing, whereby you can scale to meet very sudden and large load, is itself a large challenge, and Amazon provides a great platform to meet this challenge."

In keeping with KnowledgeTree's commitment to the open source community, the company encourages developers to use its APIs to develop plugins that will increase the software's functionality. More than 25 language pack are already available, as are integration tools for SugarCRM, ProcessMaker, and Drupal.

"We encourage integration points with other, complementary open source applications. The more value we as open source vendors can provide our customers, the better," Chalef says.

To learn more about why the creators of KnowledgeTree value the open source community, and why they decided to offer an open version of their software, be sure to watch the video of Robin 'Roblimo' Miller's interview with Chalef and co-founder John Thorne.


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