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Knowledge Management: Best Practices

Expert.ai Team - 12 July 2016

The proper implementation of a knowledge management initiative can provide many benefits to an organization. It can help boost sales, increase productivity, improve customer satisfaction, build better relationships with partners and vendors, help cut costs, etc. All of this is possible because fast and accurate knowledge management systems deliver long lasting value when designed and deployed using best practices.

Best practices for knowledge management: where to begin?

Start small, be realistic and define objectives. Successful knowledge management initiatives are premeditated, not exceedingly optimistic, and have well-defined goals. If not done carefully, attempts at knowledge management will ultimately cause more harm than good. Identify one department or organization that would be most accepting to the introduction of new initiatives and start there. Starting small will minimize risk and will allow the project to be more easily managed. Plus, the first project, if successful, will be a valuable learning experience to improve future roll-outs and become a role model for other departments’ future adoption of the new techniques.

Knowledge Availability and Structure

The most effective knowledge management systems have a very high capability of gathering and expanding on information from many different sources. A centralized knowledgebase exists within the system that consists of valuable information from documents, databases and other existing sources (other departments, user manuals, employee handbooks, etc.). From this, the knowledge management system pulls information for use by individuals seeking answers.

The proper taxonomy of information is essential. It will enable the system to present the right information at the right time and help users to find what they’re looking for. Organization of content in order to increase its findability and usability is key. The system’s architecture should be one that provides accurate information in an appropriate manner. In other words, if a good knowledge management system is asked a basic question, it will provide a simple answer. Just as if more complex problem is searched, it will provide more information to allow the development of a more comprehensive and knowledgeable answer for the end user.

Content Should Be Meaningful and Concise

Meaningful content is more easily understood by the final party. Let’s use knowledge management in customer service as an example. When customers inquire about an issue they will most likely talk in terms of symptoms, but the language of the customer service agent will most naturally be in a technical sense because of their more extensive understanding of the product. To bridge this language gap, there should be a comprehensive list of synonyms for agents’ technical language so that customer solutions can be written in a basic, easy to understand wording.

Content is concise when an accurate and comprehensive answer can be constructed from a small volume of information. This is achieved when the right balance of quantity, quality and volume of information is struck. If there is too much information given on a topic, time is wasted wading through the information to find what is needed. If there is too little information given, the desired answer will be too vague or not there at all.

Maintaining and Expanding Knowledge

A knowledge management initiative is not something that can be implemented and then forgotten about. In order for the system to stay effective it must be continually updated, expanded and maintained. New content added, current content checked for errors/room for improvement, and unused/obsolete content removed. All of this should be done on a regular scheduled basis to ensure the continued accuracy and validity of the knowledgebase.

Effective knowledge management systems should be able to produce accurate solutions to inquiries of the users, but there are always gaps in knowledge. Missing parts, or incomplete/inaccurate answers are recorded by the system to be later improved upon. Often times it most efficient to rework content to solve this problem, but often times the creation of entirely new content is necessary.

Generating new content in order to not only improve, but also expand the knowledgebase is imperative to the success of the knowledge management project. The new content must be accurate and produced in a timely manner, but in that lies a delicate balance. Organizations have to strike a balance between getting content out to those that need it, exactly when they need it and running the risk of having errors in that content.

More than Just Technology

There is much more behind a successful knowledge management system than just the technology implementation. When a knowledge management plan is put into action, ensuring the right cultural change is equally important as choosing the right tools and technology. The technology of the knowledge management initiative is only a mechanism and is only as good as the people who are using and improving the knowledge system.

Ultimately everyone in an organization must be invested in the change associated with the knowledge management initiative, but it must start at the executive level to set the example. From there, support, initiative and evidence of cumulative benefits must then be seen and shown by all levels of employees. Without the right people, processes and support any sort of knowledge management progress is impossible.

Final Thoughts

Many factors come into play when establishing and maintaining a successful and scalable knowledge management initiative. But with patience, planning and some proper guidance its implementation can be successful and will ultimately lead to profound positive effects on your business and its future.