I had an interesting conversation the other day. An organization that does both research and manufacturing wants a system that will help them see knowledge across all their products. Their project will focus on one specific aspect of these products - the most important (and expensive, if it goes wrong) aspect. They've got information stored in a variety of places, and they need it all collected together and organized in such a way as they can ask interesting questions, like "which of these five options is best?" with "best" defined on the fly. Or "Where have we had problems with this type of operation?" Whatever the system is needs to be able to handle chemistry information (materials, reactions, mixtures), chemical processing information (time sequence of steps, hierarchy of operation groupings), and use data (quality-of-operation).
There is also a lot of unwritten information associated with these processes that is understood amongst the developers and researchers, "tribal knowledge" as the person termed it. This isn't tacit knowledge so much as it is just stuff that doesn't fit nicely into formal reports. At the very least, a system for these people will need to help make the connections from the process descriptions back to the people who created the processes.
As the person described it, I heard some very familiar themes. These are very similar to questions we have asked in my previous work. I have a fairly good idea of what he wants to do, I just haven't seen any products that would actually meet their needs. I am encouraged by the work of the World Batch Forum on BatchML, an XML for batch processes. Some of the other discussion makes it sound like they want "business intelligence" that understands chemistry.
I'd love to hear about similar projects - particularly if there are software products that might get me closer to a solution for them.
And did I mention that they want this thing in three months?
p.s. For those that don't know Cuisinart is a kitchen appliance maker, best known for their food processors.