What Is an Internal Knowledge Base? Why Understanding It Matters

by | Knowledge Management

What Is an Internal Knowledge Base? Why Understanding It Matters: image 1

Spend time assessing the knowledge management landscape and you’re bound to come across the term ‘internal knowledge base’. Internal knowledge software is often where companies begin to evaluate once they graduate from free tools and can’t manage all the chaos!

Startups often start with an internal knowledge base before they think about sharing knowledge with customers and the outside world; Internal KBs give employees a place to search for knowledge from company experts—and add their own information.

In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into what an internal knowledge base actually is, why this term is used, and how an internal knowledge base relates to other kinds of knowledge management tools.

What is an internal knowledge base?

Ideal for small companies, an internal knowledge base is a type of standalone knowledge base software that exclusively helps employees store and find information. Information stored in an internal KB may or may not be confidential.

Many people use internal knowledge base software because of its knowledge sharing ability and integrations with internal communication channels—like Slack or Teams.

The internal knowledge base is a common type of knowledge management tool a company will use once they move away from using knowledge storage systems like Google Drive, Dropbox, or other storage systems.

Unlike a knowledge management platform, an internal knowledge base won’t include enterprise integrations and content maintenance functionality—but is still a step-up from basic document storage.

What to include in an internal knowledge base

An internal knowledge base should only contain information employees need to know to perform their jobs effectively. This includes knowledge pertaining to the product or service, or benefits related information.

If a knowledge base contains customer-facing knowledge, it technically shouldn’t be classified as an internal KB. Some knowledge bases focus exclusively on external, customer-facing help portal content, but many don’t. If you need to surface knowledge internally and externally, a knowledge management platform is the best choice.

That being said, below are a couple of types of information that make sense to include in an internal knowledge base.

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1. Information about your company

You may want to include info on your company’s office addresses, press contacts, stock symbols, websites, reports, and data.
You can also provide information about the company’s organizational structure and how to contact different departments and people.

2. Onboarding procedures

As a precursor to a dedicated LMS platform, H.R. teams commonly use internal knowledge bases to store information about training for new employees. Often they carve out a section of the KB to store onboarding info like who to contact with questions, and company PTO policies.

3. Compensation

Internal knowledge bases may also include information about compensation, tax documents, and yearly performance reviews. While many HR platforms contain downloadable files, your organization may want to add or sync these documents.

4. Benefits

Include information about benefits available to your employees, such as when the open enrollment period is and where and how they can sign up or change benefits.

5. Product information

From product roadmaps to ideas, an internal knowledge base can help teams keep track of release notes and important updates that need to be known company-wide.

6. Market research

Consider adding in a section to store info about your target market to help multiple departments. Simply add industry research reports and other helpful docs to a shared folder.

7. Technical support

Your employees need a place to self-serve if in need  of technical support. Consider giving your IT team a way to share documentation on VPNs, or what to do if equipment is damaged or quits working.

8. Cybersecurity awareness

Given the high cost of cyberattacks, every company should have cybersecurity awareness practices defined. Your internal knowledge base can include information about cybersecurity hygiene and best practices to supplement training.

Pros and cons of an internal knowledge base

There are a few reasons to consider an internal knowledge base, there are also significant limitations to understand.

Other solutions like a knowledge management platform, (or even another knowledge base) will include more customer or external-facing capabilities. Here’s what to know.

 

Pros

  • Good for small teams who need to store simple content types
  • Encourages knowledge sharing internally
  • Many are helpful as project management tools
  • Easy to try
  • Some be used as a personal knowledge base

Cons

  • Inability to make content customer-facing later on
  • Lack of knowledge governance features
  • Inability to surface knowledge to agents inside CRMs or contact center platforms
  • Limited content types; knowledge usually can only be added as cards or articles
  • Not designed for scale, lack of APIs

How to select the best internal knowledge base

As a general rule of thumb, an internal knowledge base should allow your employees to find what they need quickly and easily—and ideally integrate with other software applications they spend time.

For this reason, internal knowledge bases sometimes come in the form of ‘knowledge modules’ inside of purpose-built software like workflow management software. For example, design teams may prefer a simple, visually appealing solution like Notion to store important information; dev teams may prefer Confluence.

These purpose-built tools help teams access knowledge inside tools they already use, but often create knowledge silos. If content produced by one team needs to be accessed by members of another team—your knowledge admins will struggle. No one should have to continually provision users AND maintain multiple internal knowledge repositories.

Other internal knowledge bases on the market are standalone knowledge bases with no other function. For small companies without any other deployed knowledge solution, this is the best route.

Your company should only have one recognized source of truth people recognize—no matter if you go with an internal knowledge base or full-scale enterprise KM platform as your knowledge management tool of choice.

How to evaluate your knowledge management options

If you are in the knowledge evaluation process, many vendors claim their solution acts as a ‘source of truth’. But here’s the catch: simple internal knowledge bases make it nearly impossible to replace other products (or integrate with them).

If you decide on an internal knowledge base, it should theoretically as your source of truth for internal information—but understand that getting people to stop using or maintaining products like Confluence, Notion, and even SharePoint can be a tough task.

You need a full knowledge management platform for an actual source of truth; a platform designed to act as a server for knowledge, an infrastructure.

All this said—if you are just starting out and don’t even have a knowledge solution in place, an internal knowledge base can be a great first step.

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