When we work, we’re often unaware of the vast amounts of knowledge, insight, and understanding that inform our jobs and the tasks we are completing. Every organization has documentation on policies, procedures, and systems; product features and benefits; analytics and CRM data. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The true knowledge is in how people do their jobs, how the culture works, how the customer data pertains to the way customers connect to the products and services.
Knowledge management software lets us combine the implicit and explicit knowledge—databases—with the tacit knowledge in our heads that may be lost through employee attrition, “knowledge hoarding” or siloed systems. A well-implemented knowledge management system will streamline the sharing of digital knowledge as well as “tribal knowledge” and other information that traditionally doesn’t necessarily have a home.
But how does knowledge management software work, and which one is right for your organization? To figure that out, here are seven things you need to know about knowledge management software:
ITIL stands for Information Technology Information Library. It is a globally accepted framework of best practices and vocabulary for using information technology to support business goals, strategies, processes, and so forth. As noted by ITIL owner Axios, the first version, developed in the 1980s, was a library of books that gave best practices for processes. The British Government was initially the primary user. But around 2000, ITIL became the cornerstone for IT service management (ITSM) with two core publications that covered ten processes and the service desk. Subsequent evolutions provided ways to manage the end-to-end lifecycle of services with 26 processes, supported by four organizational functions and aligned with international ISO 20000 standards.
In February of 2019 Axios released ITIL V.4 which focuses on practices rather than processes and is designed for more flexibility, co-creation, and ecosystem development. Axios calls its Service Value System “a flexible operating model for the creation, delivery and continual improvement of services. The service value chain defines six key activities: plan; improve; engage; design and transition; obtain/build, and deliver and support.”
Axios and other Accredited Training Organizations offer ITIL Certification from Foundation to Master levels.
ITSM stands for Information Technology Service Management. IT Service management marries the functions of IT with the needs of various departments to get work done.
ITSM concerns what software might be used for knowledge management, for example, and how it’s used. It would also cover which platform the company uses for customer service, managing finances, supply chain, HR, etc., the hardware and software it runs, on as well as the user interfaces and training. Commonly this relies on ITIL best practices, but not always.
KMWorld magazine describes the four major functions of knowledge management software as content management, expertise location, lessons learned, and communities of practice.
At any company, there’s tons of content created around company knowledge. This includes employee handbooks, training on processes, or information about products and services that could help customers. Organizing, indexing, and maintaining this base of content in a way that’s easy to access and understand is a key function of any knowledge management software system.
Let’s say you want to automate a process that has previously taken hours of work on the part of several other employees. What’s the best software for this process; how it would integrate with other systems; how it would affect employee’s jobs and what the repercussions of that would be; how to tackle that change management issue; how much money it would save the company – answers to these questions are probably floating in one or more peoples’ heads at your company.
Tracking down these answers through meetings, emails, or Slack would take a ton of time, but with a good knowledge management system, locating sources of expertise at your company is easy and streamlined.
You’re losing customers in a particular geographic area; customers are contacting you twice as much by phone as using the less expensive self-help option; your turnover in a particular office is triple what it is in other offices…. When problems arise in your business, you need solutions quickly. Luckily, odds are that your organization has seen this or a similar problem before, and found a way to diagnose the source of the problem and maybe find a solution.
Knowledge management is about making better decisions because knowledge is freely shared, well organized, and easily accessed. The knowledge employees have is crucial to the effectiveness of that system. A good knowledge management system allows employees to share lessons learns with the company and save a lot of money and headaches.
The easiest way to describe communities of practice is a sort of social media for the organization. Knowledge management systems should create a place for people who share similar areas of practice or expertise to discuss problems, solutions, insights, options. There should also be some kind of moderator or manager to ensure it stays professional and doesn’t deteriorate into something unhelpful for the organization.
Knowledge management articles might be written for internal or external audiences. They might teach employees about a new process or system that’s being implemented and how to use it, or they might be written for customers to teach them how to use your product, or to inform them about your company’s environmental policy or social outreach. Any written piece that provides insight, explanation, or understanding would be considered a knowledge management article.
People looking up knowledge management articles first and foremost want answers, quickly, so they can get back to the task that inspired them to find the article in the first place. They don’t want to wade through what writers and editors call “throat clearing”—lots of chatty non-information—get to it.
Begin by identifying:
Create a list of knowledge management topics around a particular issue, process, etc., and decide which topics are best grouped into one article and which are best as separate articles. Compose a list of important SEO keywords but do not sacrifice clarity, accuracy, or brevity to load up keywords.
If you are the expert, write the article either from first or third person, according to editorial guidelines for your organization. If you are not the expert, research the topic from impartial, authoritative, recent, inside, and outside sources, and link to them.
Since it’s going to be read online, write simply and conversationally. This means you don’t need fancy turns of phrase; but you also don’t add personal vernacular like “ya know what I mean?”
Knowledge management software solutions can be robust and powerful, but that kind of knowledge management is often found in a platform that can be expensive. There are examples of free knowledge management software with less functionality. Capterra, a peer review site, lists several:
Each has a different number of free users. Most offer a mobile option. Bitrix24, Flowlu, and ProProfs each have a monthly subscription cost to upgrade whereas Freshdesk and Zoho have monthly subscriptions per user to upgrade. These last two companies also have unlimited storage, whereas the other companies’ storage is limited.
KCS is a registered trademark of the Consortium for Service Innovation and stands for Knowledge-Centered Service. (It previously stood for Knowledge-Centered Support). KCS is a methodology for creating knowledge content based on actual issues that come up with customer service agents and representatives. As the Consortium site said, “The Practices and techniques in the Solve Loop focus on reusing, improving, and if it doesn’t exist, creating knowledge articles as a by-product of responding to requests: knowledge work.” In a sense this is open-source knowledge content in that anyone providing service in the organization can contribute to the knowledge base.
Clearly, this is only a primer for knowledge management software. There are several enterprise solutions that operate on best practices and help turn all the knowledge of everyone in the organization into fuel for value-creation. The more effectively knowledge is used, the more employees, as well as customers and shareholders, will gain.