Quick Guide to Knowledge Management Tool Selection

"Tomatoes don’t go in fruit salad"
“Tomatoes don’t go in fruit salad”

In this extended article, Barclay Rae provides an independent guide to Knowledge Management and in particular Knowledge Management tool selection.

Knowledge Management can be many things – from simple useable checklists to complex context-sensitive and case-based toolsets.

Some of the most effective knowledge solutions can be very basic, like lists of contact details, account numbers or simple spreadsheets.

The key to success is in getting people to use these sources and continuing to use them (and find them useful).

Good practical design is key to building tools that provide information and knowledge quickly, intuitively and appropriately – and that are regularly and continuously used.

For IT Support in particular this means:

  1. Getting the right level of information – accurate, up to date, relevant, useable
  2. To the right person – being aware of the support model and the levels of knowledge held at different support levels
  3. In a language and format that is appropriate for them – technical or not, plus summary or detailed, as required for the relevant support level and skillset
  4. Quickly and when and where they need it – Without need for long searches or trawling through long lists of options, delivered at the point of service or action as required.
  5. Context is everything – too technical or not technical enough, out of date, inappropriate, complex, slow – tools must be able to understand and deliver on these within a clearly context, otherwise the ‘knowledge is useless or even dangerous.

So, what is Knowledge Management?

This is the process or discipline that ensures that teams have relevant information to hand, to assist in having a clear understanding of a situation. Knowledge Management is the process that manages the capability to provide that information, based on accurate and relevant data. If the information is available at the right place and time, then those people accessing it can make more informed decisions and also speed up the support and resolution process – i.e. by reducing the need to escalate.

What Does Knowledge Management mean in ITSM?

Knowledge management is not just about getting information fast when trying to solve incidents, although this is a good practical starting point for many organisations. Data gathering, solution design, process design, knowledge transfer are all key elements – across all of IT and beyond. Knowledge should be able to be applied at all parts of the service ‘supply chain’ to ensure that this is built in a robust, complete and effective way. ‘Knowledge Management’ can be Data, Information, Knowledge or Wisdom (see list below) – all differing levels of content or applied and documented understanding that provides value in terms of improvements in service quality and efficiency.

  • DATA – Ten tomatoes
  • INFORMATION – He bought ten tomatoes
  • KNOWLEDGE – A tomato is a fruit
  • WISDOM – Tomatoes don’t go in fruit salad

Tools capture, store and make that information available, and relevant. Getting the right information to the right person – at the right level when they need it – is the goal. The easiest elements to identify and apply ‘knowledge articles’ to are Incidents, Problems and Service Requests. This should also be extended to Changes, Releases, CIs, Services, offerings, processes and workflows – all aspects of service delivery, where information and knowledge is needed. Key elements for tools should be in the ability to easily create, approve, review, update store and make available knowledge articles – i.e. secure curation. In addition the integration of these knowledge functions to other areas of ITSM should be seamless. Integration and alignment with other internal and external sources of knowledge is also useful, as is any formal approach or verification around approved techniques for KM – e.g. like KCS (Knowledge Centred Support). Like many aspects of ITSM technology and practice (and software in general) the value and success of this rests as much with the approach and focus around implementation, culture and governance, as it does with functionality. Vendors need therefore to possess understanding, skills and expertise in implementing these solutions and be geared up to pass on these skills to clients for successful implementation.

Knowledge Management Functionality

Knowledge Creation – systems should have the facility to easily create ‘knowledge articles’ (KAs). These can be original records (i.e. specific work instructions or content), and/or packages of content including documents. Linking – Content can be intelligently and seamlessly linked to external sources – tech manuals, wikis etc. Knowledge Curation – there should be definable process workflows to control the lifecycle of KAs as follows:

  1. Creation of record – ad hoc or as part of a defied process (e.g. release, change)
  2. Approval of record – functional escalation to pre-defined approver or approver group
  3. Publishing/Release of record
  4. Presentation of record – use of KA as designed and required
  5. Review/update of record
  6. Removal / archiving of record
  7. Tracking and assessment of use of record

Knowledge Sharing – promotion of process and information across systems and channels as required. Presentation of KAs:

  1. To multiple staff levels by login
  2. Presentation from searches (queries/predictive) on key classifications – type, impact, product, service, symptom, error message etc.
  3. Presentation of options based on case-based search criteria and probability
  4. Presentation as integral components of ITSM processes:
    • i.     Incident Management – issue resolution, triage
    • ii.     Service Desk – work instructions, manuals, fault fixing
    • iii.     Problem Management – known error records
    • iv.     Change Management – procedures and guidance
    • v.     Configuration Management – procedure and guidance
    • vi.     Services and Service offerings – Procedure and guidance
    • vii.     Request Fulfilment – Procedure and guidance
    • viii.     Release and Deployment Management – Procedure and guidance
    • ix.     Transition – Testing & Verification – testing notes guidance
    • x.     Service Introduction – support notes and guidance
  5. Vendors should show innovation through integration and interaction with new products and areas of technology – e.g. integration with Knowledge lockers like Evernote, Onenote, etc
  6. Self-help access to users via self-service portals – providing user friendly versions of internal KAs
  7. Crowdsourcing – links to Incident and Problem Management processes for access to outstanding issues and inputs to create known error records

Knowledge Development – ability to update and improve knowledge articles and also to assess the value of usage as input to predicting new records or record types Intelligence – Systems should show innovation by learning from existing records – types, content and usage – and prompting to create new KAs.

Vendor Approach

  1. Vendors should demonstrate a clear understanding of how to approach Knowledge integration within their (and with other) products
  2. Innovation in approach and delivery are a differentiator – e.g. beyond simple functional KA creation and management
  3. Project management and tool implementation should include guidance, training, workshops etc. on strategic and technical aspects of Knowledge Management
  4. KCS accreditation and proof of capability desirable

General Knowledge Management Requirements

  1. User-configurable forms, tables, workflows
  2. Should be able to create user-defined rules for creation (e.g. mandatory fields) and lifecycle management (e.g. who, how when revised and updated.
  3. Lifecycle activity should trigger escalation processes – (e.g. automated emails/ texts to approvers, reminders etc.)
  4. Role-based security access – to allow control of access and level of information by login
  5. Ability to provide multiple levels and formats of information in KAs – i.e. bullet points for senior technical levels, scripted specific details for junior / non-technical staff.
  6. Vendors should provide expertise and guidance in the implementation of the tool and relevant processes and project requirements around Knowledge Management – e.g. with workshops and training as well as implementation consultancy.
  7. Open system for real-time integration with external ITSM.
  8. Vendors should have established proven links with other ITSM tools and modules, Incident, Problem and Change Management, CMDB and Service Catalogue.

Barclay will soon begin a competitive review of Knowledge Management technology. If you offer technology in this area and would like to participate in our next review please contact us.

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