Knowledge management: a guide for small businesses

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Knowledge management energizes your organization by making information easily accessible and applicable to your business. Learn the basics of knowledge management in this guide.

The rise of the Internet towards the end of the 20th century created a new demand for knowledge management (KM). Its growing importance meant that knowledge management required its inclusion in the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).

ITIL encompasses IT management best practices. The UK government recognized a lack of IT standards in the 1980s and created ITIL to fill the void.

Today, ITIL processes are widely used standards for delivering IT services to an organization and its customers, a concept known as IT service management (ITSM).

For your IT team to successfully execute ITSM, a strong knowledge management process must exist in your business.

An overview of the history and evolution of knowledge management

Knowledge management involves the process of collecting information from an organization and making it readily available for business use. KM encompasses the creation, storage, use, sharing and management of an organization’s knowledge, data and information.

It strives to improve the efficiency of a business by reducing the need to repeatedly reacquire knowledge.

Knowledge management systems in various forms, from enterprise libraries to learnings, have been around for quite some time. KM as a discrete discipline took off at the end of the 20th century, with the rise of computers.

Companies have begun to organize information into computer systems, creating knowledge bases, intranets (an internal-only Internet for business use), and other repositories of information that staff and software systems can access.

Since then, KM has evolved from informal attempts to accumulate, store and disseminate knowledge within an organization to a methodical approach that seeks to build a competent workforce as well as improve systems and computer processes.

The ITIL approach to knowledge management uses the DIKW model (data, information, knowledge, wisdom). In this model, data generated by computer systems is transformed into information, which means context is added to the data.

This information turns into knowledge through analysis, and finally, it turns into wisdom and insights that the company uses to make better business decisions.

Benefits of knowledge management

Knowledge management is an essential component of an organization and its IT systems. The main advantages of KM are shown below.

1. Increased business efficiency

The main goal of knowledge management is to create a more efficient organization by making business information easily accessible. When this goal is achieved, your business operates more efficiently and effectively.

This surfaces in multiple ways. Data at your fingertips enables better, more informed decision-making. Employees can be more productive and consistent when they can quickly navigate to steps in a workflow or view company policies and procedures.

2. Improved computer systems

IT systems possess a high degree of complexity, which makes workflow steps difficult for IT teams to remember. A knowledge management process captures these steps, reducing mistakes and mistakes.

IT change management processes occur with greater reliability when documentation is available describing how system components influence each other. Troubleshooting technical issues becomes easier when your IT team can reference information that provides a known solution or workarounds.

3. Better customer service

Technology inevitably encounters problems. A problem that disrupts the customer experience can lead to a decline in customer retention. Quick resolution is the best way to retain customers.

Technical troubleshooting documentation helps an IT team resolve issues quickly, sometimes even before a customer notices a problem.

Knowledge management also addresses non-technical challenges. Customer support staff have the information they need to properly and efficiently respond to customer inquiries, reducing any risk of complaints from ignorant employees.

The four knowledge management processes

ITIL V3 describes four distinct processes required to successfully implement knowledge management in organizations.

1. Knowledge Management Strategy

Before you can implement knowledge management tools and processes, you need to define a strategy.

  • Identify the data to capture and process. For example, you might want to collect customer feedback or track recurring technical issues to help identify systemic issues.
  • Determine where and how your data is stored. Do you place it in a data warehouse (an information system for analyzing data)? Is this warehouse in the cloud?
  • Define how the organization accesses this data. Is it through separate reporting software? Do you use a corporate intranet?

When you outline a strategy, document it and add it to the KM repository you create to ensure team members understand how the KM process works in your business.

2. Knowledge transfer

Knowledge management can only add value when you establish the knowledge transfer processes within your organization and to your customers. The stages of the knowledge transfer activity help to achieve this objective.

  • Identify business groups requiring access to information. Are there sales reps who need information on the road? Do customers need access to a self-service portal to access a knowledge base of your products or services?
  • Look for knowledge gaps in your organization. Determine solutions to eliminate these shortcomings. Do some departments not have access to information relevant to their work? Are training courses compulsory? Does your company need to define formal communication channels?
  • Build a communication plan to raise awareness and disseminate information to necessary stakeholders and knowledge consumers in your organization.

3. Information management

In the DIKW model, information only becomes knowledge if it is properly processed and managed, transforming the data into a usable form. Another key element is easy access to specific and relevant information that users need. The information management activity focuses on these components.

  • As different pieces of data are captured and stored, consider how to translate the data so that IT systems can process it. For example, if you store data as text but your software can only understand numbers, this incompatibility blocks the use of the data.
  • Knowledge management resources include a database to house the data, but this data still requires configuration in order to make it accessible. Does that mean you have to split the data before putting it into the database? Are there any pieces of data that you don’t collect that have become important to the business? If this is the case, you will need to review the composition of your database.
  • Define processes to collect and organize data, then transform it into information as defined in the DIKW model. You will want to use computer management software to automate these processes as much as possible.
  • Document your information management policies and procedures so team members can maintain the systems that make data work for your organization.

4. CMS Management

The DIKW model of ITIL uses the Service Knowledge Management System (SKMS). SKMS refers to the set of IT systems and tools that collect, store and make data accessible in a structured way so that people in your organization can use the data.

SKMS represents the database or knowledge management architecture used by your company. It combines multiple systems into a single supersystem that pulls data from multiple sources. The goal is to make this data easy to access for analysis that transforms information into knowledge.

Let’s look at an example knowledge management system to understand the role of SKMS. ITIL’s Configuration Management Database (CMDB) collects data about technology assets to which the IT team can apply changes. Another database may contain customer information collected through CRM software.

When a customer submits a service request to report a technical issue, SKMS allows your IT team to reference CMDB information, determining if recent IT changes may have caused the issue, and then review CRM customer data to see if the customer has reported the problem before.

If so, the issue may suggest a deeper, systemic technical challenge requiring issue management to resolve.

Final words on knowledge management

IT knowledge management underpins several ITIL processes that are essential to ITSM success. When your IT group deploys system changes, the ITIL release management process is smoother and less likely to encounter issues because your team has easy access to documentation outlining the proper workflows.

Your team can speed up the ITIL incident management process by using KM to discover workarounds to technical issues.

Given the key role of KM in ITSM, some companies employ a knowledge manager who focuses specifically on maintaining a company’s KM capabilities. Whichever way you choose to approach it, add knowledge management to your IT processes and the entire organization benefits.

Donald E. Patel