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Service Technology

What Is Knowledge Management?

How Does It Evolve and What Are Its New Applications?

6 min read
By Omar Fdawi

One of the questions we get asked a lot at TSIA, especially from those new to the support industry, is “what is knowledge management?” Although defining the term isn’t much of a challenge, understanding the scope to which it impacts businesses definitely is.

In this blog, I’m going to get into the basics of what exactly knowledge management is, how companies are evolving it, and how non-traditional organizations are finding useful applications for it.

What is Knowledge Management?

Knowledge management in organizations is the controlling of facts, lessons, or best practices learned by employees that can be captured to benefit the whole organization.

I find that breaking down concepts into their individual words helps me understand them better. In this case, we have two words to look at separately: knowledge and management.

Knowledge: Capture Employee Expertise You Can’t Find Anywhere Else

In TSIA’s 2017 State of Knowledge Management report, John Ragsdale, Distinguished VP of Technology Research, defines "knowledge" as the following:

While everyone has access to explicit knowledge, that which is generally known and well documented in product manuals, release notes, and best practice guides, tacit knowledge–that which we learn through performing our jobs–is locked inside our heads.

The knowledge management process is partly about capturing the implicit knowledge that employees have learned on the job and is otherwise difficult to find online or published anywhere. Very often, the value of this knowledge is unique to a single organization and can give your company a competitive advantage without you even realizing it. Implicit organizational knowledge could be anything from how to best resolve a support ticket for a unique customer demographic to something as simple as frequently asked questions not included in product documentation.

The core concept of knowledge management is incenting employees to share that tacit knowledge, so every single fact, lesson, or best practice learned by an individual can be leveraged by the entire company.

The more support reps have access to this knowledge, the easier it is for them to collectively resolve customer’s support tickets. Eventually, this will help increase first call resolution rates, customer satisfaction scores, and a variety of commonly measured metrics.

Management: Make Knowledge Easy to Find and Reference for Everyone’s Benefit

Management can be defined as controlling, regulating, or administrating any given task or resource. The key word here is “control," meaning control over what comes in, what gets removed, and how it is maintained over time. A boss who manages employees is an example; they decide who gets hired, who’s not a fit, and who might benefit from additional training.

Therefore, knowledge management means controlling content. But in order to successfully manage knowledge in a way that’s similar to managing employees, support leaders need to properly capture, share, and maintain that content.

Developing a knowledge management strategy should be a top priority. This means not only finding the optimal method of motivating employees to document knowledge–which is often done through incentive programs–but also ensuring that there are resources dedicated to updating and reviewing the content over time. Ignoring this can result in content becoming outdated and more difficult to find, eventually creating a negative experience for the end-user, whether it’s a customer or an internal employee.

This is made easier through the implementation of tools such as “knowledge portals” offered by solution providers such as Upland, Grazitti Interactive, and many others. Knowledge management systems often come in the form of wikis, libraries, or databases meant to conveniently store content needed to troubleshoot products.

Overall, knowledge management helps employees and customers help themselves (which they’re happier doing anyway), and assists support organizations in potentially shedding millions of dollars in expenses with deflection.

Knowledge Management Challenges

If knowledge management is so important, why don’t all organizations implement it? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Support leaders can’t just find a solution provider, implement the tool, and call it a week.

The real challenge lies in what companies do after they have implemented a knowledge base. After all, knowledge management programs fail all the time. That’s not to say you shouldn’t bother trying, it just means you need to have a plan.

Knowledge programs are becoming more common enterprise-wide and, as a result, companies are now looking for a quick measure of how mature their knowledge management initiatives really are. To help guide companies through this challenge, and based off data gathered from thousands of inquiries and surveys, TSIA has created the Knowledge Management Maturity Model.

What is the Knowledge Management Maturity Model?

A chart showing the different Management Maturity steps as discussed below
Knowledge Management Maturity Model
 

The TSIA Knowledge Management Maturity Model is a framework to help executives self-assess the maturity of their knowledge management initiatives. It’s essential because it helps support leaders understand where they currently stand and identify the proper steps needed to take their knowledge base to the next level.

There are four phases to knowledge management maturity:

  • Recognition
  • Instantiation
  • Value Realization
  • Strategic

The goal is to advance your team from a novice “recognition” phase to the most advanced “strategic” phase. In addition, each phase is broken down vertically into four areas of focus:

  • Corporate Culture
  • People
  • Process
  • Technology

These are the areas where support leaders need to focus their resources and be the most open to change.

For example, a company may find it’s fully capable in the areas of people, process, and technology, but lacking in a collective knowledge sharing culture. Having the right corporate culture in place is paramount to getting support reps to willingly, effectively, and consistently contribute knowledge. Therefore, companies may decide this is where they want to focus their initiatives in order to strengthen their knowledge program.

Knowledge Management Maturity Model in Action

Interestingly, TSIA is already noticing our member companies maturing into more strategic phases over the last year. In 2018, when we asked companies “in which of the following phases would you place your company?” we found that 38% of respondents considered themselves to be in the “recognition” phase, while 13% selected “value realization”.

A year later, when asked the same question, we were pleased to find that 29% of companies now identified with the “recognition” phase, while an astounding 18% selected “value realization."

Remember, the “value realization” phase includes companies whose executives are seeing return on investment for knowledge management programs, are experiencing improved support metrics, and have optimized publishing processes, amongst other things. That’s a 40% increase in companies realizing knowlege management value year-over-year!

Knowledge Management Goes Beyond Customer Support

Support Services has traditionally been the focus of most knowledge management programs because of its ability to increase agent productivity and the enormous cost savings that self-service deflection brings with it. However, TSIA’s member companies are finding new use cases beyond support, leveraging knowledge management for professional services teams,  business development, and more.

Professional Services and Project Management

Professional Services teams have shown interest in knowledge management because of how much capturing new best practices improves project performance. When TSIA member companies were asked, “How do you capture new ‘best practice’ content and ‘lessons learned’ at the end of each professional service customer project or engagement?” 53% replied saying they have a formal project review meeting and capture content at the end of each engagement.

This is essential because it allows successful project managers to capture notes and techniques that a future project manager can use to handle a similar implementation. Ultimately, this helps reduce risk of error and increases both implementation CSAT and average billable utilization for project management organizations.

Sales

Project managers aren’t the only teams taking interest in knowledge portals—sales teams are getting more involved as well. According to preliminary results from the 2019 Sales Tech Stack survey, 78% of sales organizations say they are using a knowledge/content management solution. 64% say they are planning to invest in one in 2019-2020. This means even sales organizations that currently have knowledge management solutions are considering investing additional resources into it.

Knowledge management can help sales organizations stay up to date on product info, produce faster content retrieval, and more effectively capture best practices on sales processes. It's very interesting to see from a group not traditionally associated with knowledge management solutions and highlight the universal benefits of easily accessible shared knowledge. 

What's Required for a Successful Knowledge Management Program

Although knowledge portals offer benefits enterprise-wide, companies still need to focus on the right areas if they expect a return on their investment. At a high level, companies investing in knowledge portals need to have a plan for the people, process, and technology in three critical areas: storage, publishing, and unified search.

Storage

For starters, companies need have policies in place for how knowledge will be stored. When our Professional Services member companies who captured knowledge management data were asked, “Where do you store the ‘best practices’ and ‘lessons learned’ content that you capture from professional service projects and engagements?”, 55% said they use a content management system such as SharePoint or Documentum. Companies must decide who is going to capture what sort of data and at what moment. After that, they need to decide where it will be stored, as it needs to be accessible to everyone.

Publishing

Second, companies investing in knowledge portals need to have a plan for their publishing and maintenance processes. Not only do leaders need to decide how they will motivate employees to capture data, a process needs to be put in place for how that content is reviewed, validated, and updated. Otherwise, a lack of quality control will cause the knowledge base to be filled with duplicate and poor-quality content, making it increasingly difficult for employees to find the answers they need. This becomes even more important once customers are given access to the same knowledge bases support reps are using. If you want customers to solve their own problems, you need to make it intuitive for them.

Unified Search

Lastly, you can have the best knowledge management content in the world, but it won’t do you any good if you can’t find it. Luckily, more than half of TSIA members have implemented some approach to unified search, which indexes content in any repository and offers a single search, with filtering options. Over the last 5 years, this approach has moved from a pacesetter to a standard practice.

 December 12, 2019

Omar Fdawi

About Author Omar Fdawi

Omar Fdawi is a former senior research associate for TSIA, focusing primarily on enterprise technology. Although having spent over half his career in sales and sales operations, he also has background in data analysis, process improvement, and financial reporting. His previous experience includes working in software, banking, mass media, and food manufacturing industries. He has a passion for automating business processes and helping companies become more profitable.

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