Selecting the perfect knowledge management solution for your company is a pivotal decision. The challenge lies in identifying the right features, usability, while being mindful of acquisition and operating costs, support, and the long-term viability of the chosen manufacturer. With an abundance of IT software vendors worldwide and numerous knowledge management tools available, it can be overwhelming. So, how do you make the right choice? What questions should you ask? And what steps should you take once you've found the best knowledge management software?
Part 1: Finding the Right Knowledge Management Software for Your Company
In many organizations, valuable knowledge is scattered across various platforms like email programs, wikis, and intranets. An online knowledge management solution is the key to efficiently managing your company's knowledge before the problem of unclear information becomes too severe. At Serviceware, we've witnessed our customers respond up to 73% faster to customer inquiries after implementing a knowledge management solution. This efficiency arises from the system's ability to allow employees to access the company's knowledge in a structured and efficient manner. Knowledge management solutions stand out from other tools by clearly distinguishing between authors and users. Trained authors contribute knowledge content and manage it, while users access this knowledge to carry out their work and provide feedback to the authors. However, the critical first step is selecting the right tool.
Step 1: Manage Requirements
Your initial step should be to collaboratively, with relevant stakeholders, determine how you want to enhance the use of knowledge in your company and establish your objectives. To gain a precise understanding of your goals, it's essential to define your software requirements as accurately as possible. This process is known as requirements engineering.
Specify your requirements in a clear and comprehensive manner, possibly generating a requirements specification document. This document should include:
- A process description with expected results
- The participating departments
- Definitions of roles
- Software functionalities weighted by relevance
- Any necessary consulting, training, or support
- The required quantities, such as user licenses
Step 2: From Long List to Short List
After specifying your requirements, create a list of knowledge management software vendors that have the potential to meet your needs. Use review platforms like Capterra or G2Crowd for research, or perform web searches for "knowledge management solutions" or "knowledge management software." Many software vendors provide detailed information on their solution's functionality, interfaces, and unique features. Some even offer free trials. Testing the software will give you valuable insights into its capabilities.
Create a simple checklist with yes/no criteria to help you narrow down your list to three to five vendors. Consider questions such as:
- Is the product available as a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution?
- Does it have interfaces with other software applications?
- Does the company offer training and online help resources?
- Is the solution scalable?
Step 3: Send an RFP (Request for Proposal)
The next step typically involves soliciting quotes from vendors. Your purchasing department may issue a Request for Proposal (RFP). Collaborate with your procurement department to prepare a list of questions and a requirements specification in advance to effectively evaluate the responses you receive.
While RFQ (Request for Quotation) involves specific companies submitting offers for a project, RFP aims to make competing offers comparable, focusing on quality and pricing. An RFP typically includes:
- A detailed scope of work and a bill of quantities (licenses, users, etc.)
- Desired service levels
- Quality criteria
- A price sheet
- Any additional obligations
- A project plan
Requesting quotations or proposals provides a comprehensive view of what the market offers and aids in making an informed decision.
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) – Are Free Solutions an Alternative?
Some software platforms offer free versions with limited functionality to get started. However, it's essential to consider that free software may end up costing more in the long run than a properly deployed paid solution. Assess all applicable direct and indirect costs, including:
- Acquisition or rental of software and possibly new hardware
- Operating costs
- Support and updates
- Custom modifications
- Time savings resulting from smart features, etc
By taking a holistic view of all costs over the long term, you can make a more informed decision. Dedicated knowledge management platforms often offer functionalities that free solutions may lack, such as integrations with your company's existing systems and a focus on structuring your organization's knowledge.
Part 2: The Key Steps to a Successful Knowledge Management Rollout
Now that you've chosen your desired software, it's time to effectively deploy and introduce the new system – a task that's best tackled by a dedicated team. Collaboration between management, IT, departments, and editors is essential because the success of your knowledge management system hinges on a smooth rollout.
There are ten crucial steps every company should follow when implementing a new knowledge management solution. Knowledge management providers often offer consultations to guide customers through the process and help them navigate the associated organizational changes. If you've initiated a free trial, engage with your vendor's onboarding team; these services are often available during the trial period. The rollout will primarily focus on efficiently collecting and structuring existing knowledge so that all employees can easily and intuitively access the information they need, such as through a navigation tree in the knowledge management solution. Here's a brief overview of the ten steps you should consider:
- Strategy: Collaborate with your colleagues to determine which knowledge to manage and what to exclude. Making this strategic decision early on is critical. It also helps you identify the location of knowledge and prepare it for integration.
- Structure: Brainstorm important keywords and gather them for an overview. This step involves planning how to structure your knowledge. Use these keywords to categorize information into groups, which can be represented, for example, through branches on a navigation tree. Keep the keywords concise and precise, avoiding generic terms like "other," "general," or "more."
- Organization: Define roles and permissions for users, specifying who can edit knowledge and who can access it. Set up user groups based on these criteria. Knowledge management systems typically feature three user types: administrators, editors, and users. Additionally, you can create specific views for different company divisions to ensure users only access relevant information.
- Test: Begin by adding editors to the knowledge management system and provide training. Many knowledge management vendors offer workshops for editors and administrators conducted by their trained consultants.
- Gather Knowledge: Populate your knowledge management system with the keyword structure developed in step two. Your knowledge tree will start to take shape.
- Templates: Establish a style guide and templates before editors start creating content. This ensures that knowledge remains readable and consistent. Many systems offer basic templates that can be customized. The style guide should include guidelines for writing entries in the system to maintain consistency.
- Editorial Team: Start entering knowledge into the system. Editors add content according to a plan, with assigned time periods and milestones for updates. Consider setting expiration dates on entries to keep the knowledge database up to date.
- Training for Administrators: Provide training for administrators, ensuring they have an in-depth understanding of the knowledge management system to respond to employee questions and provide guidance.
- Quality Check: Review the system's settings to ensure they align with your goals and the texts adhere to the style guide.
- Training for Users: Train users and emphasize the importance of submitting suggestions and reviews. Feedback from users is valuable in the initial stages to enhance the quality of information.
By following these ten steps, your knowledge management system's content and technology will thrive. Onboarding experts are often available to provide support to your team. At Serviceware, we offer expertise to guide you from the beginning, assist with implementation, and provide best practices and training.
Change Management – Transforming Change into Success
With the ten steps outlined above, you've laid a strong foundation for the success of your knowledge management system. You have solid software, a clear structure, and up-to-date content. Users typically grasp the system quickly, but effective communication can further expedite their adoption. Here are some communication tips:
- Announce the new software in advance through emails, internal social media platforms, or intranet, explaining its purpose and benefits.
- Offer training sessions to interested parties before the rollout; these individuals can later become your advocates.
- Make essential knowledge exclusive to the knowledge management system to encourage regular use.
- Provide seminars on knowledge management to open your employees' minds to the concept.
In your communications, stress the importance of ongoing discipline from all participants to maintain professional knowledge management. As knowledge becomes more current and valuable, it will create synergies throughout the organization.
At Serviceware, we've witnessed our customers respond up to 73% faster to customer inquiries after implementing a knowledge management solution.
Part 3: Expanding Knowledge Management Across the Enterprise
You've already witnessed the impressive benefits of knowledge management within your department, and now you're eager to extend this proven system not only to other teams but across the entire enterprise. By providing access to various departments, including service technicians, HR, Sales and Marketing, Research and Development, and even international subsidiaries, you're ensuring that they, too, can leverage the advantages of the knowledge management system. Here are some tips to ensure a smooth expansion.
- Internal Marketing
Share the success of the knowledge management system within your department and provide information to other interested departments. You might consider approaching departmental managers directly and explaining how you deployed the system.
- Reputation & Evangelists
Invite influencers from other departments or divisions to explore the knowledge management system. International subsidiaries may have a vague idea of practices in other countries, so provide testimonials from users describing how they utilize the system.
- Project Manager
Having a project manager familiar with the system from the initial rollout is incredibly beneficial. This individual can coordinate all activities and possesses in-depth knowledge of the system. If the project manager is new, it's advisable to assign a knowledgeable editor or administrator from your department to support them.
As the system expands, employee training remains essential. The advantage is that you don't have to train all employees across the entire organization simultaneously. It's recommended to conduct similar introductory workshops for editors, administrators, and users to ensure everyone is aligned. Your initial projects have already uncovered best practices.
Expanding Knowledge Management – Ready to Proceed
First, identify the new stakeholders in that part of the organization, organize existing content, train editors, administrators, and ultimately, users. Since you're already familiar with knowledge management, the process should be relatively straightforward. Experienced consultants are also available to guide you through the process or offer individual workshops.
Adding New Topics to the Existing Structure
Now is an excellent time to determine which content will be accessible to various user groups. Many knowledge management solutions allow you to segment content for international subsidiaries, departments, or industry segments, offering different views to different groups. This ensures that users see only the content relevant to them. For example, a division in France will access information pertinent to their teams, while the UK parent company manages the basic information available to all groups.
Benefiting from an Optimized Knowledge Management Process
When additional departments begin using knowledge management, they can benefit from the experiences and best practices established during the pilot project. The existing "knowledge tree" structure is easy to adapt and reuse. Templates with editorial guidelines for texts and documents remain applicable. Editorial workflows have been established, making it easy to update content as needed. Knowledge management thrives on these updates and the discipline required to keep everything current. Once the process is internalized, knowledge stays up-to-date, benefiting the entire organization and all its departments.
Step 4: Integrated Knowledge Management: Unlocking Organizational Potential
One of the primary advantages of knowledge management solutions is their ability to seamlessly integrate organizational knowledge into existing systems. Vital information is centralized and distributed wherever it's needed.
Modern knowledge management offers a single source of truth that can be connected to existing help desk, ticketing, CRM software, or even chat solutions. This ensures that information remains up-to-date and is maintained in one location while being effortlessly delivered to the systems employees work with or even directly to customers. Often, knowledge management solutions provide apps and integrations for popular software systems on the market, or they allow for the integration of proprietary applications through APIs (application programming interfaces).
The Significance of Integrations
Integrating software systems is typically a time-consuming process, especially for the IT department and the relevant business unit. Consequently, integration projects are often deprioritized, leading to the risk of software silos forming, which can hinder enterprise growth. Companies with software silos face several challenges:
- Maintaining numerous systems and versions can be costly.
- Employees often struggle to respond promptly as the multitude of overlapping programs lack a clear source of data and information, resulting in reduced transparency.
- Productivity dwindles, and the chaotic array of programs can lead to paralysis, fostering inefficiency, errors, and slower work processes.
Companies that embrace integrated software environments gain a substantial competitive advantage. Employees can respond more swiftly to customer inquiries with direct access to integrated knowledge management systems within ticketing or chat systems. Customers also benefit directly from integrations, such as accessing FAQs on a company's website to find answers and solve issues independently, reducing the need to wait on hold.
Website Integrations - Empowering Customers
Companies can enhance their customer service by offering targeted web FAQs and self-service areas, allowing customers to find answers themselves. Experience shows that customers often prefer this channel over calling customer service. It is crucial for service-oriented companies to avoid locking knowledge in silos. With integrations like APIs, organizational knowledge can be consistently maintained and tailored to meet customer needs. This can involve setting up a help center or integrating an FAQ into a service app. Reports can provide insights into customer search preferences and content quality ratings.
Here's an example: A European parcel service feeds knowledge from its management system directly into its customer app. During the ordering process, customers can access FAQs within the app to obtain context-based answers to common questions, such as weight limits for packages. Editors contribute these answers to the knowledge management system, benefiting both service center employees and customers. When information changes, updates are made for everyone's benefit.
Effective Integration Strategies
It's important to note that knowledge management systems don't automatically integrate upon launch. The initial step should be consolidating existing sources of knowledge to create a reliable knowledge base. Once this foundational step is taken and support for daily customer service is in place, integrations with CRM systems, ticketing systems, or external systems like chat solutions can be created as needed, using flexible and open interfaces.
Creating a Connected Future
Knowledge management is more than just a standalone solution; it forms a part of a fully integrated system landscape, serving as a single source of truth. It supports a company's long-term development. When developing your knowledge management system, ensure that your company's knowledge is and remains accessible and usable in various ways.
Part 5: Nurturing Knowledge Management for Ongoing Success
Knowledge management software brings daily benefits to your work, but its continued effectiveness relies on regular maintenance. In this section, we'll outline the essential methods you need to keep your knowledge management system up to date and fully operational.
After just a few weeks, you'll observe the following positive developments: The implementation of knowledge management has yielded initial results, and the investment is set to pay off quickly. Fewer customers are reaching out to your service hotline because they're already finding answers online. Your employees are accessing information effortlessly, enabling faster customer responses. Your service teams are receiving higher ratings, as they have all the necessary manuals on their tablets, right on-site, instead of needing to contact the office for support. While this is excellent progress, it's crucial not to become complacent because knowledge management is a dynamic system that requires consistent attention to achieve optimal effectiveness.
Extracting Valuable Insights from Content
Shortly after the initial rollout and at regular intervals thereafter, take time to analyze your knowledge. Most knowledge management systems provide reports that offer insights into how your knowledge content is being utilized. These reports can provide information about trending topics that are relevant for the development department. For example, your ERP system may be reporting strong sales figures for a specific product, yet your service team is frequently accessing the product manual. This could be an indicator that customers have numerous questions, and the product's usability may need improvement. Reports can also identify whether employees require additional training or what qualifications new hires should possess.
Simplicity is Key
While it's essential to make your knowledge management system user-friendly during the initial rollout, maintaining this simplicity over the years is equally important. To achieve this, many knowledge management vendors adhere to standards and proven collaboration practices to ensure smooth updates, whether they involve system updates or software updates on the customer's end that interface with the system.
However, regarding content, establish standards and procedures from the outset to keep your system clean on a daily basis. The following tips will help you maintain the system's integrity:
- Regularly identify new topics relevant to your knowledge management system, either as they emerge within your organization or from feedback provided by your colleagues. Adapt the structure accordingly or consider organizing quality workshops to ensure alignment. Don't hesitate to seek assistance from your consultant.
- Content should be easily understandable and well-researched, which can be challenging when new editors bring their own methods. Create a style guide and templates for editors to follow, and consider "train the trainer" sessions offered by knowledge management providers to empower your team. This expedites the onboarding of new colleagues. Don't forget to inquire if your vendor offers such training.
- Conducting quality workshops after your knowledge management system has been in place for some time can be beneficial. These workshops can be carried out in collaboration with consultants who will assess your system's adherence to specified standards, the maintenance of templates, and compliance with style guides.
- Consider appointing a dedicated knowledge manager for your company or establishing a central editorial team instead of allowing individual departments to create entries. At larger enterprises, a centralized editorial team offers advantages over assigning these tasks to departmental personnel.
The Advantages of a Centralized Editorial Team
One key factor affecting content quality is whether you opt for a centralized or distributed editorial staff. In the case of distributed editorial staff, designated individuals within your departments write the knowledge management texts regularly. However, when these employees have heavy workloads, knowledge management can often become a secondary priority or an additional burden.
In a centralized editorial team, designated knowledge managers create all knowledge entries for the entire organization. Departments provide information and technical texts, and the editors enter them into the knowledge management system, ensuring adherence to the style guide. Entries are reviewed using the system's approval process. Knowledge managers in centralized editorial teams typically have backgrounds in journalism or receive appropriate training for writing. One advantage of this approach in large companies is that knowledge remains consistent, and knowledge managers can focus solely on keeping documents up to date.
Knowledge management delivers rapid and tangible benefits, and with consistent dedication it becomes feasible to maintain a high standard of daily performance.
If you'd like to engage in a conversation with the minds behind this article, please don't hesitate to reach out to us. Your feedback and insights are highly valued. And if you'd like to give Serviceware Knowledge a try, we offer a 30-day free trial.