Remember in school when you took your exams, and you had to look back over the notes you had taken? It helped if those notes were organized, categorized, and presented in a way that you could later understand.
If you screwed up your notes and kept them under your bed, you deeply regretted it later. Or perhaps you kept notes on your computer, but failed to label them properly or accidentally deleted them. As a result of these painful experiences, you learned to file your notes properly so you could review them at a later date, and maybe even lend them to someone else.
Yet many businesses are still using the “under the bed” filing system when it comes to their important knowledge. They don’t have appropriate Knowledge Management solutions in place, and valuable knowledge is being lost.
But what precisely is a Knowledge Management (KM) solution?
Short History of Knowledge Management Solutions
The Knowledge Management field was first conceived by Peter Drucker in the 1950s, but it only took off as a discipline in the 1990s. Knowledge Management tools originated in the enterprise, but now any business can now benefit from Knowledge Management solutions.
According to Process Excellence Network, successful businesses are knowledge businesses. This means that instead of producing physical products, businesses are differentiated by their ability to transform knowledge into a competitive advantage. Enter Knowledge Management solutions.
It’s important to manage your information, since “Information only becomes knowledge in the hands of someone who knows what to do with it,” said Drucker. Most businesses are drowning in data, that we desperately need to use to our advantage. This need is pressing.
Technically-oriented companies can cut costs by around 10% by using better Knowledge Management techniques. These solutions can broadly be divided into knowledge base software, wikis and internal collaboration tools.
Onto our discussion of the different types of Knowledge Management Solutions.
Knowledge Base Tools
Not curating your knowledge with a proper Knowledge Management solution wastes your team’s time and lowers their morale. Employee engagement plummets as staff feel you don’t care about them. That’s why you should invest in a knowledge base solution.
The worst kind of solution to Knowledge Management is when employees are forced to seek out the relevant member of staff to find information they need. Lack of centralized resources slows people down, information gets lost, and efforts are continually duplicated.
Currently, employees spend almost 20% of the working week searching for and gathering information, when they could have spent this time being more productive.
An internal knowledge base is a centralized repository of information for your staff that is also read-only. This means that a specialized team of writers and editors curate your content for the benefit of a potentially unlimited audience. You software comes with a back-end Content Management System (CMS), and a front-end UX-optimized knowledge base website. And much more.
“We need to have a place to put information and communicate it to others, and a lot of that information is going to be unstructured information,” says Keith Swenson, Vice President of R&D at Fujitsu. You use your knowledge base to present your unstructured information to users, in a format that is easy to browse and search.
Our own knowledge base software Helpjuice has been developed for businesses of all sizes who want to supercharge their Knowledge Management efforts.
Internal Collaboration Tools
Internal collaboration tools are a little different – they allow members of your team to share knowledge in real-time, working together using instant messaging, document sharing, video chat, project management, scheduling, and search.
Some examples of popular internal collaboration tools are Microsoft Sharepoint, Slack, or Confluence. They often come with capabilities to publish a knowledge base, but this is not their primary focus. For example, Sharepoint can be hacked to produce an internal knowledge base for teams, but it’s not easy to post content or customize it.
Internal collaboration tools can be further divided into subcategories containing solutions that focus on one specialized aspect of collaboration. For example, Asana is project management software, while Zoom is video chat software.
Improve your company culture by making collaboration processes more accessible and visible to every team member. But our collaboration needs have changed as the way people work has changed. We have an abundance of communication and an inability to manage it effectively.
Remote teams especially have a burning need for collaboration tools, while two thirds of all companies are now embracing remote work. Remote or not, every company can benefit from better collaboration. Internal collaboration tools help us move beyond email to a more holistic collaboration experience.
Wikis are type of software that allows any user to post or update content. Wikipedia or Stack Overflow are famous examples of wikis, and Wikipedia runs on Mediawiki. We’ve already published another in-depth post on the value of wikis for your business.
Sometimes these solutions can be the right choice for your company, but they still require significant time investment to implement. Wiki content can also quickly become unmanageable or outdated if you don’t allocate significant resources into maintaining it.
Wikis and forums can be a great Knowledge Management solution for some companies, who already have an active and knowledgeable user base. Contributors must be incentivized to post to your wiki, which might not happen if your staff already consider themselves busy with other priorities.
Wikis are not self-sustaining repositories of knowledge. And perhaps a knowledge base can be a better choice than a wiki since it’s managed by dedicated writers.
“The truth is that the real value comes less from managing knowledge and more—a lot more—from creating and exchanging it,” says Lowell L. Bryan, Director of McKinsey & Company.
Benefits of Knowledge Management Solutions
There are many benefits of having an internal knowledge base or other KM solution. We’ll go into just a few of them here.
The first of these is they can be used to prevent the loss of valuable information from your company. If you capture your company’s knowledge for future reference, this removes it from existing only inside your employees’ heads. A searchable record of content can reduce the time employees spend looking for information by up to 35%.
Taking better care of your knowledge results in fewer problems, more productive staff, and higher profits.
Secondly, you can create a competitive advantage as successful application of knowledge predicts a successful company in an advanced economy. Rather than competing on product or price, businesses can differentiate themselves with their unique store of knowledge.
Thirdly, employee engagement is an area where many businesses are struggling to improve. Employees become disengaged when they lack the ability to do their jobs properly, and feel that their company is not investing in their development.
Businesses who can boast highly engaged employees are 21% more profitable. Use Knowledge Management solutions to boost employee morale and reduce the likelihood of staff leaving – and also taking valuable knowledge with them.
As we mentioned earlier, Knowledge Management solutions help teams to collaborate better with each other. When many of your staff members are likely to work from an off-site location, either employed remotely, as a freelancer, or contracter, ready access to accurate knowledge becomes even more crucial.
Knowledge is Power and Profit
Some companies may struggle to see the ROI in managing their knowledge, but “For companies and their employees alike, knowledge is power—and profit,” says Lowell L. Bryan again. The solutions we have mentioned represent more profit for your business.
But remember – different Knowledge Management solutions have been developed for distinct purposes. A knowledge base helps you share important information from a relatively centralized resource (although you may have more than one). Internal collaboration tools empower your staff to share their knowledge in real-time, and look back over their collaboration history at a future date. Wikis are crowdsourced, collaborative information repositories.
It’s likely that your business can benefit from using a variety of Knowledge Management solutions. You should mix and match to find the best combinations. It’s worth tailoring your software solutions to your unique circumstances, and even considering the unique needs of individual teams.