What is Knowledge Management? A Simple Explanation for Any Employee

by | Nov 3, 2022 | Knowledge Management

If you’re waking up to the topic of knowledge management—you’re not alone. Interest in knowledge management has been on the rise since around 2020. As a result of a pandemic, many employees were forced to adjust to working remotely and had to figure out how to use their company’s knowledge base or other KM product.

Until pretty recently, you may have had the luxury of tapping a coworker on the shoulder for knowledge, but today employees need answers effortlessly; knowledge needs to live outside of someone’s head, in a knowledge base that supports modern businesses.

So what exactly is knowledge management, how has it evolved, and how can it benefit your business? In this post, we’ll start from the top and define knowledge management and why it’s become so important as of late.

What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management is a broad term that encompasses people, process, and technology needed to collect, create, share, and maintain knowledge; knowledge at its core is simply practical information based on a person’s understanding and awareness of a topic.

As we dive deeper, you’ll learn knowledge management includes concepts like a knowledge management framework, a knowledge management system, knowledge management software, and a knowledge management team.

Knowledge management framework

Your knowledge management framework is the foundation for your knowledge management system. It provides the outline and documentation for everything knowledge management: including people, processes, technology (the system) plus policies on things like knowledge sharing, creation, and governance.

A knowledge map is often used in the framework phase to illustrate how all these components relate to one another.

Knowledge management system

A company’s knowledge management system refers to the rules by which people, processes, and technology work together to manage knowledge in an organized way.

A KM system is sometimes used as a synonym to refer to knowledge management software, but this term is best defined in the context of people and the knowledge sources they must manage. Knowledge management is very much a human-centric concept, so any KM system must involve people.

Knowledge management team

The heart of your knowledge management system is your knowledge management team. The head of your KM team is the knowledge manager, critical to your company’s success in managing and distributing knowledge. Some companies have certified knowledge managers, others have operations managers that own knowledge management for the company.

In addition to the knowledge manager, other common roles related to knowledge include:

  • A technical administrator who will handle the technology needed for users, integrations, configurations, analysis, and security
  • Subject matter experts who can ensure the accuracy of the knowledge under their domain
  • Content creators and editors
  • Contact center supervisors
  • Trainers who can provide education and support on using your KM platform
  • Contact center agents who will use your KM system to provide customer service
  • Customers who can access your knowledge for self-service education and support

Knowledge management tools

Knowledge management tools can include any type of technology that plays a role in creating, accessing, and sharing your company’s collective knowledge. Your knowledge management framework should outline the tools you’ll be using in your KMS. Below are a few common tools.

Knowledge base

A knowledge base is any tool that can store and maintain your information. For small companies, a knowledge base may be the extent of their initial knowledge management system.

Knowledge sharing platform

For your company to benefit from your accumulated knowledge, it has to be shared. A knowledge sharing platform will facilitate basic collaboration and documentation. These are often used by small companies that are just starting to expand their knowledge management systems.

Knowledge management platform

A knowledge management platform is a sophisticated tool that integrates with other tools — like a knowledge base — to surface knowledge in various internal and external environments (often with the assistance of AI technology). A knowledge management platform is more feature rich than most KM tools and is an effective solution for enterprise knowledge management systems.

The knowledge automation platform is a subset of the knowledge management platform; this type of solution can automate knowledge work and learns from each user interaction with knowledge.

Project management software

Project management software falls into the category of products where knowledge management is a feature. PM software that helps employees work together typically designed for marketing, engineering, and project-focused departments. These tools tend to manage basic information as opposed to knowledge; knowledge that can be shared must be vetted and properly managed—not the main use case for PM software.

Tools like project management software may include a rudimentary knowledge base built in, but these knowledge base ‘modules’ are not intended to be maintained as a company’s source of truth. When designing a knowledge management system, it’s best to use a knowledge base or enterprise knowledge management platform as your starting point.

Internal project management software is, however, invaluable for organization; keep in mind if answers are needed in PM, ticketing, or other SaaS products it’s best to integrate knowledge as opposed to creating another silo.

Benefits of proper knowledge management

Knowledge management not only serves as a method for collecting and assessing your organization’s collective knowledge, also serves as a springboard for innovation. The benefits of knowledge management include:

1. Capturing, preserving, and centralizing knowledge

If you don’t have an organized system for storing and retrieving knowledge, much of your company’s knowledge is at risk of being lost. For instance, if your star performer is poached by another company, they’ll take their knowledge with them unless you’ve captured it before they leave.

As such, a primary function of knowledge management is to capture knowledge so it can be accessed by anyone, not siloed off to only a few people.

2. Readily-available answers

When you have an efficient knowledge management system, your employees will know where and how to find the answers to any questions. Whether they’re trying to find out when the cut-off is for benefits signup or answer a customer’s question, they should be able to surface information with minimal effort.

Knowledge management platforms are already eliminating the need to search for information. While searching for answers is a necessary feature of knowledge management software, it should be a last resort. A modern knowledge management platform will automatically surface answers based on any type of user input—making the search bar a last-resort option.

3. Creating a knowledge sharing culture

Knowledge hoarding is a significant problem for many organizations–and difficult-ti-use knowledge bases are a big reason why.

With a highly usable knowledge management software, it’s much easier to document important processes; usability is critical if you expect people to actually use and contribute to your knowledge base.

Knowledge management buy-in at all levels of your organization can take time, but there are several benefits to a knowledge sharing culture we recently discussed.

If employees routinely leave feedback and contribute to your company’s source of knowledge, chances are employees and customers will find good answers they need a whole lot faster.

3 steps to better knowledge management

Knowledge management as we’ve discussed involves people, process, and technology—three key elements that must work together.

If your company’s knowledge management strategy is nonexistent or less than ideal, check out our post on conducting a knowledge management assessment.

Here are three simple tips if you’re just starting out:

  1. Set up a knowledge management team. This is a good first step if KM has not been a priority for your organization historically. Starting with your knowledge manager and working down to individual contact center agents, consider the roles and responsibilities of everyone on your team.
  2. Create a knowledge management framework. A knowledge manager can help you create an overarching KM framework that documents all the knowledge-related processes, technology, governance documentation and everything else you need. Many organizations like to create a knowledge map to visualize how all these components relate to one another.
  3. Select the right technology. Finally, you’ll need to select the right knowledge management software—this could be either an enterprise platform or basic knowledge base depending on your business. Always look for knowledge management software designed to make knowledge work easier—many solutions on the market don’t include these automation capabilities.

As knowledge management evolves, expect simple knowledge products (that only store and return knowledge) to take a back seat to modern solutions.

The knowledge management technology of the future will deliver answers to people based on context (no searching required)…and automate a ton of knowledge management work along the way.

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