A Simple Guide to Knowledge Base Software

by | Sep 15, 2022 | Knowledge Management

If you’re exploring the knowledge base  software market you have a pretty vast array of choices. Choices that are quite frankly…a bit confusing and in need of explanation.

This knowledge base software guide will walk you through the KB software landscape to help you select the right solution for your organization.

We’ll examine what to look for, explain knowledge base software in-depth, and expand on a few selling points and limitations of KB software.

What is knowledge base software?

Knowledge base software helps organizations create, organize, and manage a library of content—typically in the form of articles. In the classification of knowledge management tools, KB software is generally SaaS-based and a common tool used to store and find information.

Knowledge base software is ideal for small to medium sized businesses—a big step up from knowledge storage systems, but not capable enough for enterprises.

That’s where a knowledge management platform comes into play. Unlike a knowledge base, knowledge management platforms can actually serve as the ultimate source of truth; platforms contain advanced maintenance features and integrations that allow companies to surface knowledge anywhere, in any format. This makes a KM platform attractive to enterprises still using a knowledge base.

What to look for in knowledge base software

KB software can vary pretty widely based on the knowledge base software category.

In a nutshell, here are a few of the basic knowledge base features to look for in your evaluation:

1. Clean, intuitive interface

Ensure your knowledge base’s user interface (UI) is easy to learn and understand for all users, whether employees or customers. Since findability lies at the core of what knowledge bases promise, you can’t afford a clunky experience for users.

2. Tutorials

Especially for internal knowledge base solutions, look for vendors with video tutorials and how-to articles; these resources can help users navigate the KB independently.

Walk-through guides can also help simplify onboarding and training for new users. A good FAQ section will also save time and remove the frustration of reading articles and watching videos for certain answers.

3. Search capabilities

A knowledge base must include features that offer a great search experience; if users can’t find what they need easily and intuitively, it’s time to explore other KB options.

A good knowledge base should not only offer great search results (from the search bar), it should follow KM best practices and optimize for browsing behavior.

How a knowledge base handles categories, tagging, and taxonomies makes all the difference; after all, sometimes users would rather browse to find something if they aren’t quite sure what to search for.

4. Customization options

Every organization has unique needs and preferences—this includes everything from the design of the knowledge system to brand guidelines.

If you need to customize the look of your knowledge base and its components (like an external help portal), be sure you select one that can your company colors, logo, and images for branding purposes.

5. Analytics

Data-driven analysis provides valuable insight into the information users are looking for. Many knowledge bases don’t offer much insight into data points like how content is being used—be sure you account for this feature.

6. Integrations

Integrations with tools you use internally matters a lot if you want to encourage a knowledge sharing culture. The best knowledge bases will allow you to accomplish basic tasks like file sharing, collaboration in internal environments.

7. Backups

All your company’s hard-won knowledge is in your KB. Any knowledge base should have a good backup plan. No one should ever worry about losing critical information.

8. Scalability

Expect your KB to grow as your organization’s body of knowledge expands. It will need more room for information of all types and the ability to maintain a good information structure as the database develops.

As you look through different types of KBs, you may notice they emphasize various features depending on what they’ll be used for.

What are the different types of knowledge bases?

There are many knowledge-based software vendors from which to choose. Most allow you to get started for free, require a credit card, and are designed for internal use.

With these different KB types, generally knowledge bases will fall into one of these categories:

  • Hosted knowledge bases—standalone SaaS-based knowledge management software
  • Self-hosted—typically homegrown, open source, or legacy solutions

Since ‘knowledge base’ is such a broad term, another category of distinction is whether or not the knowledge base exists as a standalone solution or as a component of another solution.

Standalone knowledge bases

Knowledge bases in the SaaS category will fall into the standalone category.

  • Internal knowledge base software—designed for internal knowledge sharing
  • External knowledge base software—exclusive to surfacing knowledge to customers or visitors when they look for it (i.e. help portals)
  • Internal and external knowledge base software— KBs able to serve knowledge internally and in some external channels

Knowledge base as a feature

You may already use software with a knowledge base module or component; this could be a CRM, contact center platform, or chat solution. Often these solutions offer knowledge add-ons or modules, but still refer to these modules ‘knowledge bases’. While convenient, a knowledge base as a feature of another solution creates another silo of information to maintain (outside of your company’s source of truth).

Knowledge bases vs knowledge management platforms

Knowledge bases shouldn’t be confused with knowledge management platforms. KM platforms serve as a better source of truth because they can surface knowledge of all content types in both internal and external channels.

Knowledge bases typically don’t have the content governance controls of KM platforms used by large enterprises. What sets KM platforms apart is their permissioning, editing, workflow, and integration features.

Since content governance can be quite challenging, knowledge bases often struggle to provide accurate information over time due to the lack of maintenance features.

A knowledge management platform may use AI to help knowledge managers maintain knowledge; it can also surface or push answers to users in real time (as opposed to knowledge bases that require users to begin a search).

Common components of knowledge base software

Dedicated knowledge bases don’t live inside other tools and generally have these three components:

1. Human/computer interface

This component is more commonly called a user interface. The UI should be intuitive, easy to learn, and valuable for adding and finding information. Many KB programs have a flashy UI that’s difficult to use.

2. Knowledge base

At the core of any KB is the actual database for knowledge. The KB vendor should have controls over who can add and edit data.

3. Inference engine program

The inference engine applies logic and rules to the knowledge base to extract answers. A poor inference engine frustrates users who are trying to find accurate information quickly.

Knowledge collaboration

Knowledge collaboration is another common feature most KBs share, since capturing and collaborating with others is a key component of KCS methodology. Generally knowledge bases allow users to rate articles, tag users, and leave comments.

Even though most KBs collect feedback internally, few integrate knowledge (like articles) to other environments outside of the knowledge base instance.

Compliance is often a concern for enterprises that use knowledge bases (due to the focus on knowledge creation and collaboration vs. content quality). Knowledge bases also aren’t designed to store/create knowledge in a step-by-step content format (for example).

An enterprise knowledge management platform like Shelf will enable collaboration but also solve issues beyond the capabilities of knowledge base software.

Knowledge base software vs. knowledge management software

Knowledge base software is a subset of knowledge management software that helps small to medium-sized organizations share, capture, and retrieve information internally.

Other types of knowledge management software include:

  • Enterprise knowledge management platforms
  • Knowledge storage systems
  • Learning management system software
  • Document management software

How to choose the best knowledge base software

No matter the KB you select, ensure you have a long-term knowledge strategy and you have determined a knowledge base is the best solution

Check out our post on how to choose the best knowledge base software for your organization for a deeper dive into the knowledge base software on the market today.

For startups, simple KB software is a step up from knowledge storage systems like Drive and SharePoint. However, for public-facing knowledge that requires vetting and content governance, the KM platform is the better long-term choice for internal and external knowledge management.

If you need more capabilities than a knowledge base offers, it may be time graduate to a dedicated knowledge management platform; this will make it easy to integrate knowledge to ticketing solutions, contact center platforms, and other environments.

How that you have an understanding of knowledge base software, explore what the future of KM looks like!

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