Knowledge Management 101

7967019132_3e8442065c_z (1)One of the ITIL processes that tends to be glossed over is Knowledge Management which is a shame because it’s the process that can empower your people the most. Used effectively, Knowledge Management can empower your people, reduce Incident resolution times and increase customer satisfaction.

So what is Knowledge Management?

Knowledge Management is the process responsible for sharing perspectives, ideas, experience and information, and for ensuring that these are available in the right place and at the right time. The Knowledge Management process enables informed decisions, and improves efficiency by reducing the need to rediscover knowledge.

In other words, Knowledge Management is the process that takes all the information rattling around in our heads and puts it into a database / management system where it can be captured, shared and backed up.


What are the benefits? Too many to count!

  • How about increased engagement and staff retention? Take it from someone who knows staff attrition can be a nightmare especially in a Service Desk environment. Anything that can be done to improve morale and self esteem will increase engagement and help with staff retention. This can be in the form of training, mentoring or shift left.
  • Improved first time fix rates and improved Incident resolution times. If your people have the right skills, they will be able to resolve Incidents more quickly reducing call waiting times, improving up time and increasing ability to meet agreed service levels.
  • Less failed Changes. If service information is captured correctly the Change can be impact assessed more accurately and your team will be less likely to miss things. You know those wash up meetings where a Change has broken something because of a really daft reason? The meetings where the Incident and Change Managers are trying to write to the business explaining said daft reason?  It happens all the time. Off the top of my head I can remember a critical trade floor application being out of service for 8 hours because a time change wasn’t done correctly and the time the transactional website of a large retail back was down for over 2 hours because we forgot to restart a database as part of a planned Release. Both really daft things that caught us out because when we went back to look at our processes, they weren’t documented properly.


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Don’t get caught out, document your processes properly
  • Easier to find the right information at the right time – no more faffing about trying to find that key how to guide – it will be saved and linked to in one central location. This is particularly important in big organisations where things can get lost or misplaced within massive intranets.
  • No more reinventing the wheel. Having a Knowledge Management process means that reusing ideas, processes and experience is so much easier – making our processes repeatable and accurate using models and templates.
  • Getting the message out – again it’s about getting it right first time – the right information to the right audience.The Knowledge Base can be a great way to communicate with our customers;  think about it – if it’s the go to place for  everyone to check in use it to communicate new services or maintenance windows.
  • Promoting accurate, repeatable processes procedures and work instructions – a standard way of working that stands up to audit and external review. If everything is templated in a central location with an agreed review process, your processes and procedures will be accurate, useful and have a consistent look and feel.
  • Making niche or specialised knowledge more widely available. When I worked in second line support for a tech company 15 years ago, I was fascinated with Lotus Notes. It used to really bug me that every time we had a user call in with a Notes issue we had to sanity check and then bounce the call to third line support, so one day I went to see the e-mail team and asked them if there were some basic things they could teach me. There may have been some beer related bribery involved but I got some solid experience supporting the application and was able to share with the rest of the team. Also – when the Notes guys were looking for guinea pigs to try out a new instant messaging product – guess who was first in line? Everyone was a winner!
  • Empowering your customers and taking their experience to the next level – Self service and self help. We live in the world of Google, Amazon and Facebook; no one wants to spend 10 – 15 minutes on the phone to the Service Desk if it’s something they can take care of themselves so let’s start building this into our Service Desk functions!
  • Struggling to know what level of empowerment to aim for? This is how I’d love every business customer to feel when using IT services.
  • Speed of delivery– you can react quicker if you’re lean, streamlined and organised. If you have effective Knowledge Management in place you can be quicker to market – no more faffing about for a key document. RFP response template or spreadsheet – they’re all stored in one place.
  • Continual Service Improvement or CSI – improve improve improve. Knowledge Management drives CSI – gathering Data and processing Wisdom (more about this soon) enables us to focus on the most business critical areas to improve. Keep getting better. As the saying goes- knowledge is power so use it to ensure quality is inherent in everything you do.

What’s not to love?

How do I get started?

Let’s start with the basics. I know ITIL suggests the SKMS but being realistic – not everyone can afford a tool which has been hyped up to be effectively Google. Also – there is no one size fits all; the Knowledge Management requirements of a global investment bank regulated to the hilt will be completely different to those of a tech startup made up of thirty people so flex your approach accordingly.

If you don’t have a tool can you start capturing the basics on a network share or simple SharePoint form?

Have a chat with the Service Desk. Chances are they’re already doing some sort of Knowledge Management even if it’s pretty informal. Look at the shift left principle; empowering those the next tech level down from you to drive efficiency. If you work on the Service Desk, invite the second line support guys to your team meetings once a month to give you trouble shooting tips.  The first line support guys get to add to their skillset and second line support are freed up to concentrate on the more complex issues.

The main thing? Do something. Seriously – it’s that simple.

Anything you do will be better than not having anything in place. Start with the system that you know you’re on dodgy ground with support wise. Think about it – there’s always some quirky legacy system that depends on the expertise of one or two people. Having support rockstars is all well and good but what if they get sick or win the lotto and decide to relocate to Disneyworld? Ask them what their top ten support tips are and stick them in your Knowledge Base – even if it’s just a spreadsheet or word document. You’ve made a start in capturing key information about a difficult to support system so I’m calling that a win. At least it’s a start right? And that’s the thing – once you’ve made a start with Knowledge Management you can build on it over time until you’ve got a process that supports and empowers your people.


Up next I’ll be talking about the Knowledge Management process and the DIKW model so stay tuned. What are your thoughts on getting started with Knowledge Management? Let us know in the comments!

Knowledge Image Credit

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Joost Wapenaar is a Technical Product Consultant at TOPdesk, as well as the Project Manager for the implementation of KCS within the Support department. This is his take on using the shift left principle to empower others.



Our Support department receives around 5,000 calls every month. Our 40-strong group, who catch and resolve these calls as efficiently as they can, were given a rating of 8 out of 10 by our customers. That’s not too bad – still, we’re always looking into how we can make our services smarter, quicker and more scalable. And we think we found an answer.

Providing answers

We asked ourselves how we could improve the availability of existing information to our customers. Every day we find that we’re discussing a solution with a customer that was discussed with a different customer just the day before. Or we’ve spent time researching a problem that a colleague’s already figured out. There had to be a better way. In the search for a smarter way to share our knowledge, we discovered the principles of ‘Shift Left’ and ‘Shift Left Left’. Behind these two principles is the idea that you can give customers answers to their questions more actively. ‘Shift Left’ means that skilled technicians make their answers more available to less experienced colleagues, so they in turn can help customers using already posted solutions. ‘Shift Left Left’ is the next logical step: provide your customers with access to these solutions, and they’re able to find the answer to their question themselves.

Shift Left at TOPdesk Support

We didn’t have to change our methods much in order to start exchanging information between colleagues: being helpful to others is integral to our ideology. And the more knowledge you have, the better you can help someone; for example, we hold knowledge days to facilitate knowledge sharing from the second line to the first line. These days include sessions organised by specialists in which they might share knowledge about authentication, performance or a specific module.

With Shift Left getting under control, we wanted to take a step towards Shift Left Left: making our knowledge available to our customers.

Shift Left Left at TOPdesk Support

We answer many of our requests over the phone or by email. Customer satisfaction reports show that this method works well, but it’s not going to be scalable when we’re only sharing knowledge one-on- one. We also have a website with manuals: Although this platform can be used to enable service for many customers at the same time, it mostly contains generic information about TOPdesk and less about customer-specific situations such as error messages, workarounds, etc. In order to start implementing Shift Left Left, we had to figure out a way to share this type of knowledge with our customers as well.

Knowledge Centred Support

We soon encountered the concept of Knowledge Centred Support (KCS)*. This is a best practice for publishing and managing knowledge – a sort of ITIL for knowledge management – and assumes that the support department fills and manages a knowledge base with items that can be shared with end users. This changes knowledge management from a task done by specific people to a task for every person in the Support department – as a part of solving calls.

Getting started with KCS at TOPdesk

We first created a project plan for the implementation of the KCS method at TOPdesk. We set up a pilot in which we examined whether the KCS method would help the Support department work more efficiently. Ten of our forty support employees took part in this pilot. The introduction of the KCS method changed the way the pilot group worked. We had weekly evaluations to make sure the change was successful, discussing the challenges of KCS and how we could overcome them. The method was continuously adjusted and optimised. By working as a group and taking on individual challenges together, we successfully managed to go through this change. We also discussed the successes during our evaluations: what is the added value for us as the Support department? What gives us satisfaction and makes us happy? Because we were experiencing the challenges and successes as a team, the pilot was a success not only in numbers but also in process change. We were also giving weekly updates to our department about the changes within the pilot group and the effect on our work. Sharing the success of KCS with the entire department was essential to give KCS a positive image – and for it to remain so. These weekly updates made the people who were not taking part in the pilot very enthusiastic, and many wanted to join in with the implementation.

How does TOPdesk work with KCS?

When applying the KCS method, we used TOPdesk’s Knowledge Base module. We made a separate branch in the knowledge base to save items that were created for KCS in a fixed and recognisable place. The knowledge base at TOPdesk Extranet features hundreds of KCS items. The moment a customer asks our Support department a question, a call is logged. Based on this call a Support employee can search for relevant items in the knowledge base. When we find an item that answers the question, we add this to the call. When the item from the knowledge base is added, TOPdesk creates a link between the call and the knowledge item. This makes it possible to create selections and reports that provide insight into the way the item are used. Which items are used to resolve calls and which ones are used more frequently? If the item describes the answer for the most part, but perhaps is still missing some essential information, we can add this before we share it with the customer; thus the items are continuously updated. Are there not any items in the knowledge base that can answer the question? Then a new item can be created immediately when processing the customer’s question.

The results

Since the introduction of the KCS method at TOPdesk Support, we’ve written thousands of items with answers to customer questions. A large number of these items have been re-used many times to answer the same question. Using KCS has also shown us that we are getting more to grips with the Shift Left principle. Knowledge is now centrally stored in our knowledge base, making it available to both first and second line operators. Operators with less experience are now able to find answers to the more difficult questions in no time, helping them develop their knowledge more quickly. We have also seen that the average lead time of a calls has reduced and fewer calls are escalated to the second line. What’s more, the operators working with the method – in our case support staff – enjoy higher job satisfaction. When they answer a question, they’re not only helping the customer in one go, but they’re also sharing their knowledge with colleagues.

The future

Writing a large number of items shouldn’t be a goal in itself. The final goal is being able to process calls more quickly and give end users the opportunity to find their own answers. During this pilot we saw that the number of new items decreased and the number of calls with links to current items increased. The availability of our department’s knowledge is now better than ever before. The pilot results were very positive. Using existing items helped operators process calls more easily and quickly. At the start of the pilot we were resolving 10-15% of the calls with information from an existing knowledge source; at the end of the pilot this came closer to 40-50%. Because of the success of the KCS method during the pilot, we decided to get the entire Support department to start working with it. But if you then want to start working according to Shift Left Left, you need to give your end users access to your knowledge. You want to give them the ability to search the knowledge base. In this way, customers will increasingly be able to find answers to their questions, and will no longer always have to contact the Support department.


* Knowledge Centred Support is a methodology developed by the Consortium for Service Innovation. Everything in this article is an interpretation of this methodology and in no way suggests the correct one. All rights and interpretations belong to the Consortium for Service Innovation and can be found on


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