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Knowledge Crucible: Thembinkosi Semwayo

An academic develops a solution that improves information access

Juliet Pitman

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Thembinkosi Semwayo of Knowledge Cruciable

It was John Naisbitt who so succinctly summarised the challenge caused by the internet’s information overload. He described it as “drowning in information but starved of knowledge” and, when you think about it, that’s exactly the situation that the glut of information on the internet has brought about.

The problem is that there’s simply too much information to access in any meaningful way. Typing the words ‘business coaching’ into Google, for example, yields no fewer than 6,6 million results.

But the problem is not just confined to the internet. Businesses, particularly those that deal with vast quantities of information such as law firms, also battle with information overload and the challenge of gaining easy and meaningful access.

But now, thanks to Cape Town-based academic-turned-entrepreneur, there may be an easier way of managing information overload. Thembinkosi Semwayo is the CEO of Knowledge Crucible, a company that specialises in providing data modelling, business mapping and technological solutions to companies who need to access important information quickly and efficiently.

It’s an intricate, complex system but Semwayo highlights the key points: “We go into a company and conduct an analysis of what information is most important and relevant to them. Based on this analysis we identify specific key terms that pertain to that company and its business and then ‘tag’ these on their documents using something called electronic highlighting.

They can conduct a search of all their documents in a range of different formats, using these key terms.” But Knowledge Crucible’s solution goes a step further than ordinary search solutions. By cross-indexing the key terms, and making strategic use of synonyms as well as the key terms themselves, it is able to generate more refined search results that are contextualised within the business.

The concept developed out of Semwayo’s PhD research in knowledge engineering at the University of Cape Town. “I presented a paper on it in Spain during 2002 and many of the delegates there were from corporate companies.

They expressed interest in the commercialisation of the concept,” he explains. The company was formed when Semwayo presented the idea to the Cape Information Technology Initiative (CITI) which provided him with the grant necessary to get the enterprise off the ground.

“The grant meant we had access to office space, telephones, broadband internet and the like for a period of nine months. CITI covered 100% of these costs for the first three months, then 75%, and so on until the nine month period was up,” he explains.

The company also received assistance from Cape Venture Partners, a business acceleration, mentoring and training company for technology start-ups. “They gave us valuable entrepreneurship training and mentorship and helped us with financial and business management skills as part of our incubation programme. It was extremely useful.”.

Semwayo says the company’s biggest challenge has been getting the message about his solution out there and educating potential customers. “Initially we had a tough time explaining to customers how we could help their businesses but it has become easier as we’ve implemented the solution in various clients’ companies.

We’ve done work for the Southern African Development Committee, the Competition Commission and various government departments. They all have vast quantities of information they need to access quickly and once they realised how we could help them, word spread.

So we’ve grown fairly rapidly but thankfully we got some big contracts early on which means the company has carried itself.”Looking to the future, he’d like to see Knowledge Crucible’s solutions break into the SMB market.

“There is a world-wide trend towards making search of and access to information easier – doing so is becoming critical to businesses, including the small to medium ones. It’s a rapidly growing technology field and we’re right at the forefront,” he says. Contact: +27 21 409 7084, www.kcrucible.co.za

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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