What Is a Knowledge Base? Here’s What it Is (and What it Isn’t)

by | Knowledge Management

What Is a Knowledge Base? Here’s What it Is (and What it Isn’t): image 1
Knowledge is arguably your company’s most valuable resource—essential for success in today’s business environment of rapid development and continual change.

So why use a knowledge base?

One reason your organization should use a knowledge base is that it helps employees find valuable information; knowledge is simply processed and structured information resulting from the awareness or understanding of a subject. Knowledge bases came to exist in the software form as a by-product of the information age and the need to make relevant information available to employees.

Knowledge bases have evolved with time, creating the knowledge management platform category for enterprises—there’s no denying the real-world impact organized knowledge continues to have in business.

A Cornell University study on call center worker stress concluded that respondents with low stress levels had free discretion to use their knowledge and not scripts to answer questions. Evidence exists to support using a knowledge base to run a more efficient business, it’s just a matter of what what knowledge base technology to choose.

To help you choose, we’ll start with the basics. The term ‘knowledge base’ means a few different things depending on who you ask or what product you encounter online, so there’s a bit of confusion in the market.

In this post we’ll clear things up, define knowledge bases for what they are (and what they are not) so you’ll be confident your organization has the right knowledge management solution in place.

What is a knowledge base?

The term knowledge base refers to any specific location where employees organize, store, and retrieve knowledge-specific content types like articles. Knowledge base software on the market today is primarily designed and optimized for internal employee use only.

On the spectrum of knowledge management tools, knowledge bases are a notch above knowledge repositories; a knowledge repository simply stores files—even though employees can sometimes find important answers in a repository, this type of solution isn’t ideal for quickly searching and retrieving accurate information.

In today’s market, dedicated knowledge base software is what most people refer to as a knowledge base; decades ago a company’s ‘knowledge base’ could have been nothing more elaborate than a spreadsheet or searchable database of essential company information.

Any solution that you can categorize as a knowledge base will fit into one of these two categories:

The AI Survival Guide for Knowledge Managers Read this guide to future-proof knowledge management in the age of AI.
  1. Dedicated knowledge base software: Applications explicitly written to serve as knowledge bases fall into this category. Most companies use third-party knowledge base vendors or homegrown KBs Both open-source and hosted KB software options exist.
  2. Knowledge as a feature: Knowledge modules sometimes exist natively within CRMs, ticketing software, contact center platforms, and other SaaS solutions. Knowledge modules bypass the process of integrating knowledge from a source of truth into the application, creating knowledge silos that are difficult to maintain.

What isn’t a knowledge base?

A knowledge base can help employees search for and retrieve information—but a knowledge base is not a solution designed to surface knowledge in public-facing support channels where customers spend time. That’s the job of a knowledge management platform, typically used by enterprises.

Knowledge bases vs. knowledge management platforms

A knowledge management platform is different from a knowledge base because a platform is suited for enterprises with complex knowledge requirements.

A KM platform can serve knowledge in more content types than a knowledge base (think decision trees or FAQs for breaking down processes). Platforms are also a better source of truth for knowledge in the enterprise because knowledge can be created once, and infused in CRMs, contact center platforms or other places—not just internally.

To take it a step further, a new type of KM platform—the knowledge automation platform—can process and use big data to help make decisions; including keeping knowledge up-to-date and accurate.

The future of knowledge management technology must automate knowledge work and deliver better answers; most knowledge bases still only contain search and retrieval features the market has seen for years—for larger, data-driven companies a different product is needed.

Why use a knowledge base?

Knowledge bases are still a good option for many companies new to knowledge management and looking for a searchable knowledge hub—a knowledge base still serves a purpose in the overall knowledge management system at growing organizations.

The growth in the KB category is the result of companies needing a way to manage information that previously went uncaptured and unused when employees retired or left.

You may or may not need a knowledge base depending on your company’s current growth stage. Check out our buyer’s guide for modern knowledge management if you’re in the KM market.

A dedicated knowledge base is a step up from free knowledge repositories and makes it easier to create, find, and keep track of knowledge.

Take a look at these knowledge base pros an cons:

Pros

  • Simple to use for small companies
  • Widely available, entry-level and free options
  • Organizing useful information from other sources
  • They help create a knowledge-capture and sharing culture internally

Cons

  • Most can’t surface knowledge to any internal or external channel
  • Answers can be inaccurate due to limited content maintenance features
  • Fewer content types you may need (like decision trees or FAQs)
  • No Answer Assist capabilities
  • Inability to integrate with enterprise CRMs, contact center platforms, and external sources
  • Lack of AI to improve knowledge and automate work

Are you outgrowing your knowledge base or KM solution?

The knowledge base is just one type of knowledge management solution you will encounter in a company’s KM system. Companies—especially for B2C companies with complex interactions—usually outgrow knowledge bases or SharePoint sites at some point.

If your organization must serve answers to thousands of employees and customers, it may be time to upgrade from a knowledge base to a knowledge management platform that can infuse knowledge within agent environments like the contact center, or third party website channels.

There is ROI associated with implementing a knowledge base for your organization, especially for enterprises with thousands of customer interactions. Always refer to the latest industry report prior to your knowledge evaluation!

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