A Small Business Guide to Knowledge Management

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

Updated June 26, 2020

The internet’s rise toward the end of the 20th century created a new demand for knowledge management (KM). Its growing importance meant knowledge management necessitated inclusion in the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).

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

Today, the ITIL processes are widely used standards for IT service delivery to an organization and its customers, a concept known as Information Technology Service Management (ITSM).

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

An overview of the history and evolution of knowledge management

Knowledge management involves the process of collecting an organization’s information and making it easily accessible for business use. KM encompasses creating, storing, using and sharing, and managing the knowledge, data, and information of an organization.

It strives to improve a company’s efficiency by reducing the need to repeatedly reacquire knowledge.

Knowledge management systems in various forms, from corporate libraries to apprenticeships, have existed for some time. KM as a discrete discipline took off in the late 20th century, with the rise of computers.

Companies began organizing information into computer systems, creating knowledge bases, intranets (an internal-only internet for business use), and other information repositories for staff and software systems to access.

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

ITIL’s approach to knowledge management uses the data, information, knowledge, wisdom (DIKW) model. In this model, data generated by IT systems is processed into information, which means context is added to the data.

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

Benefits of knowledge management

Knowledge management is a core component to an organization and its IT systems. The key KM benefits are noted below.

1. Increased business effectiveness

Knowledge management’s primary goal is creating a more effective organization by making business information easily accessible. When this goal is achieved, your company operates with greater efficiency and effectiveness.

This surfaces in myriad ways. Data at your fingertips leads to better, more informed decision-making. Employees can be more productive and consistent when they can quickly access the steps in a workflow or review company policies and procedures.

2. Improved IT systems

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

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

3. Better customer service

Technology inevitably encounters issues. A problem that disrupts the customer experience can lead to a decline in customer retention. A quick resolution is the best means of retaining customers.

Documentation on resolving technical issues enables an IT team to fix problems quickly, sometimes even before a customer notices an issue.

Knowledge management also addresses nontechnical challenges. Customer support staff have the information they need on hand to answer customer inquiries correctly and efficiently, reducing any chance of a complaint about unknowledgeable employees.

The four knowledge management processes

ITIL V3 outlines 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 must define a strategy.

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

As you outline a strategy, document it and add it to the KM repository you’re creating to ensure team members understand how the KM process works at your company.

2. Knowledge transfer

Knowledge management can add value only when you establish the processes to transfer knowledge across your organization and to your customers. The steps in the knowledge transfer activity achieve this goal.

  • Identify the business groups requiring information access. Are there sales reps who need information on the road? Do customers require 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 gaps. Do certain departments lack access to information relevant to their work? Are training sessions required? Does your company need to define formal communication channels?
  • Build a communication plan to raise awareness and circulate information to the necessary stakeholders and consumers of your organization’s knowledge.

3. Information management

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

  • As different data elements are captured and stored, think through how to translate the data so IT systems can process it. For example, if you’re storing data as text but your software can only understand numbers, that incompatibility blocks use of the data.
  • Knowledge management resources include a database to house data, but that data still requires configuration in a manner that makes it accessible. Does this mean you need to break apart the data before you put it into the database? Are there data elements you’re not collecting that have become important to the business? If so, you’ll have to revise the makeup of your database.
  • Define processes to collect and organize data, then transform it into information as defined in the DIKW model. You’ll want to use IT 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. SKMS management

ITIL’s DIKW model employs 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 manner so people in your organization can leverage the data.

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

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

When a customer submits a service request to report a technical issue, SKMS enables your IT team to reference the CMDB information, thereby determining if recent IT changes may have caused the issue, then to look at the CRM customer data to see if the customer reported the issue previously.

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

Final words about knowledge management

IT knowledge management underpins several ITIL processes critical to ITSM success. When your IT group rolls out system changes, ITIL’s release management process is smoother and less likely to encounter issues because your team has ready access to documentation outlining the correct workflows.

Your team can accelerate ITIL’s incident management process by using KM to learn workarounds for technical issues.

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

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The Motley Fool has a Disclosure Policy. The Author and/or The Motley Fool may have an interest in companies mentioned.