Knowledge Management System (KMS) Software by Examples
A Knowledge Management System (KMS) is the software or the tool for companies to capture, share, and find the knowledge of their organization. It is a valuable tool for any business operating in today's fast-changing data-driven world. As the central repository of your knowledge base, it helps automate the knowledge management process and creates efficiencies by providing employees with accurate information at the time they need it.
"Knowledge management (KM) is the process of creating, sharing, using, and managing the knowledge and information of an organization. It refers to a multidisciplinary approach to achieve organizational objectives by making the best use of knowledge." - Wikipedia
With trusted information and more clarity, employees can focus more on tasks to achieve the overall company objectives and goals, rather than wasting time looking for information they need for their jobs. The knowledge-sharing culture also increases team morale and helps reinforce the company values. Experienced employees getting recognized for contributing and sharing their expertise, and junior members get the mentorship and know-how so they can grow faster.
A knowledge management system is also often referred to as the technology part of knowledge management. But by no means, it is the only part. Generally speaking, there are three components of knowledge management - people, system, and process. This article focuses on the system aspect and uses some good examples to clarify the confusions and misconceptions around knowledge management.
Evolution of Knowledge Management System
The term knowledge management was first introduced in the late 1980s by Peter Drucker. In the late '90s, with the emergence of the internet, many companies experienced information explosion and realized the need for a system to manage their organization's No. 1 assets - their team knowledge.
Over the next three decades or so, companies tried different approaches to implement knowledge management systems. With each generation of tools, a great deal was learned and more changes and enhancements were implemented. Overall, we have seen four generations of KMS tools. In the chronological order, they are -
- Document Management System or Content Management System
- New generation KMS
Here we will go over each one of them in more depth and provide some examples to demonstrate their pros and cons. You will gain a good understanding of the key issues with the older generations of tools and why the new generation knowledge management systems are replacing them. If your company is considering a new implementation of knowledge management or wanting to upgrade your existing systems, this article will provide you with clear guidance to avoid costly mistakes.
With the internet explosion in the '90s, people started to look for information online using portals such as Yahoo. A web portal aggregates information on the internet and organizes it into a directory tree structure. Naturally, companies created their internal version of a web portal called "intranet" that can only be accessed within the company. Intranet was created so the employees can go there and find basic information.
Even though some companies still use the intranet today, however, the technology is largely outdated. It is now considered one of the least efficient ways for companies to manage and share knowledge. Systems based on the intranet are slow, cumbersome to use, and hard to navigate. And it is extremely hard to find the specific information your users need, resulting in a high level of user frustration.
Some of the biggest issues with intranets include:
Intranets are often controlled by company IT. Regular users only have read access. Even people who are responsible for the content do not have permission to directly edit them. For example, if a human resource manager wants to update some information about employee benefits, he/she has to file a ticket with the IT department and provide the changes in the ticket. The whole process can take weeks.
Because it is such a pain to update the content, many users simply don't do it or try to avoid it as much as possible. The result is that the intranet is cluttered with outdated materials. It further exacerbates the difficulties to find the information you need. Even worse, once you find it, you cannot trust it because it may be outdated.
Difficult to navigate
Most intranets are modeled after the consumer-facing web portals. They are designed as a taxonomy of several levels of hierarchies. The rigid structure makes it difficult to navigate on the portal. Users have to memorize the hierarchies and go through many levels of mouse clicks to get to the right information.
Intranets also don't offer flexibility for managing different types of knowledge. They come with a fixed set of templates and force companies to fit in one of them. This results in some awkward organization of knowledge, which makes the discovery even harder.
Most intranets are hosted on the company's internal network. They can’t be opened up to share with external teams, partners, or customers. They’re often located behind a corporate firewall and can’t be accessed off-site or on mobile devices without complex proxy setup.
Due to all the issues listed above, it is no surprise to see intranets are being replaced by true knowledge management systems today. Intranets hurt your team's productivity because it takes so long to find the information that users need. Furthermore, the information they found cannot be trusted due to stale content.
Examples of Intranet Vendors:
Document Management System
A document management system (DMS) is a system used to store, track, and retrieve documents. It was originally designed to digitize traditional paper documents and reduce paper use. You may also have heard the term Content Management Systems (CMS) or Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems. Although they were originally designed to accomplish different goals, later on, they started to expand their reach into each other. Today, there are quite a bit overlaps between them and people use these terms interchangeably when referring to systems to manage digital assets, records, and documents.
What are the main issues when trying to use a document management system to do knowledge management?
Not designed for collaboration
A document management system is designed to manage documents. Its focus is on creating, storing, and organizing documents and other digital assets, but less on sharing and collaborating on those content.
Documents are created as files by individuals and shared in a group folder if needed. This paradigm creates many knowledge silos as information is not being shared or not kept updated. It can result in knowledge loss and can cause major confusion.
Content creation and update is cumbersome
Because the system was not designed and optimized for team collaboration, trying to accomplish the same is often difficult and cumbersome. Users normally have to go through multiple steps to make the content visible to others, which significantly impacts their productivity and further discourages sharing in general.
Content management systems are commonly managed by a group or content creator or writers. As such, it may not be available to all employees and therefore creates a bottleneck for publishing information in a timely manner. The content managers who are responsible for maintaining the system often are overwhelmed and may take a long time to finish the changes.
Lack of flexible structure
Documents and content in a document management system are often saved in folders that are hard to modify. Folders in a file system do not natively support access control. More often than not, people use folders as a dumping ground to save the documents that they may need for the future, resulting in a lot of duplication and outdated content.
Examples of document management system and content management system vendors:
The wiki concept was popularized by the renowned website wikipedia.com which is a crowd-sourced online encyclopedia created by people from all around the world. The use of Wiki pages for company internal uses is a huge step forward compared to previous generation systems. It revolutionized knowledge management by making it much simpler to use and manage. The Wiki system is natively collaborative. It allows anyone to publish content easily and stores that information in a centralized database.
Since introduced about 10 years ago, Wikis have seen major adoption in technology-based companies, particularly software development companies, worldwide for documenting designs, processes, and manuals, etc.
However, using Wikis for knowledge management has the following issues that need to be addressed.
Not effective in capturing tacit knowledge (know-how)
Generally speaking, there are two types of knowledge - explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge, also known as. know-what, can be effectively captured using documentation. And Wikis are perfect for such use cases.
Tacit knowledge (also known as know-how), on the other hand, is mainly experience-based and hard to codify. It is estimated that 80% of your company's knowledge is tacit in nature. Tacit knowledge is also the most difficult to manage as it is often trapped in emails, chat rooms, and people's heads.
Lack of workflow leads to stale content
The main selling point of Wikis is being open and simple. But this can have negative consequences. Being open means that anyone can make any changes to the content at any time. Without proper control, it can get out of hands rather quickly.
Companies using Wikis often find that there are tons of duplicated content and outdated materials in their Wikis after only six months or so use. It becomes super hard to find the information people need. Once they found it, they don't know if they can trust it.
Examples of Wiki vendors:
AllAnswered - The New Generation KMS
AllAnswered is a new generation of knowledge management systems, offering an all-in-one solution for all your knowledge management needs. It was designed specifically to solve the issues mentioned above from previous generations.
AllAnswered is optimized to capture both explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. It utilizes modern Wiki pages for documenting explicit knowledge. For tacit knowledge, the most effective way to capture it has proved to be questions and answers (Q&As). Quora and Stack Overflow are two well-known examples of public-facing Q&A sites. AllAnswered supports similar Q&A features but designed for company internal use.
In order to keep your knowledge base updated, it is a must for your knowledge management system to have a robust workflow and life-cycle management. Content on AllAnswered can be reviewed on a fixed verification schedule or on an ad-hoc basis, so that its validity can be ensured and trusted. If certain contents are no longer valid, you may request it to be closed or deleted by admins. All open tasks are listed on the team dashboard and the specific content pages. Email reminders and notifications are automatically sent out to team members with pending tasks.
AllAnswered leverages the power of communities for collaborative knowledge sharing. You can create communities for projects, groups, or any topics. Communities can be either open or private. Open communities are open to all team members and private communities are by invitation only to keep certain information confidential.
AllAnsewered is also integrated with your existing tools and processes so that your team knowledge is at your fingertips whenever you need it. Key integrations include Slack, Microsoft Teams, Github, Jira, Bitbucket, Draw.io, Single Sign-On, etc.
We are seeing an average 18% productivity boost from our customer after using AllAnswered. Start your free trial or request a demo today.