What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management definition

Knowledge management is the process of gathering, analyzing, storing, and sharing knowledge that is created within an IT service desk. It is designed to assist service desk teams to make the right decisions throughout the service life cycle and the incident resolution process by efficiently controlling and handling the flow of information.

ITIL® 4 defines knowledge management as the one central process responsible for providing knowledge to all other IT service management (ITSM) processes. ITIL 4 lays the groundwork needed for integrating knowledge management with all other processes in the ITSM framework.

For instance, let us consider incident and problem management. Knowledge management is tightly bound with incident and problem management practices, as it manages the solutions and known errors databases, which play an integral role in finding the resolutions for the tickets raised.

Why is knowledge management important?

What is the importance of knowledge management

Every time an IT technician resolves a ticket, a new solution is created. Knowledge management is the practice of documenting these solutions and making them accessible to the technicians when needed. The lack of an established knowledge management process can have multiple adverse effects, from prolonged resolution times for simple issues to longer business downtimes during outages.

For example, a major outage in a web-performance company led to thousands of users facing a bad gateway error when trying to access multiple websites across the globe, causing prolonged business downtime for themselves and their customers. After hours of analysis, the team found that a web application firewall (WAF) upgrade led to its CPU usage spiking up, which caused this issue.

And the resolution was to reverse the WAF upgrade that led to the CPU spike. Unless the analysis, its details, and the resolution of this incident are documented, the IT team will have to reinvent the wheel every time they face a similar issue at the cost of many hours of business downtime.

Having a knowledge base with solutions to simple incidents and making them accessible to end users can promote the culture of self-service and DIY amongst end users, saving time for the IT service desk technicians.

For example with the sudden increase in the number of people working from home, there could be a sudden surge in the number of requests to configure VPN settings. The IT service desk team can save themselves from the tsunami of VPN requests by publishing an article about how users can configure VPN settings themselves. This would allow the IT service desks to focus on critical IT projects that can enable a productive remote work environment for the organization as a whole than just configuring VPNs for individual employees.

Knowledge management roles and responsibilities

Roles and responsibilities of knowledge management

Knowledge management roles are created to facilitate the continual service improvement (CSI) of procedures, metrics, policies, and documentation.

First, there are those that contribute articles. To build a knowledge repository, solutions articles are a must. Generally, when technicians resolve a ticket, they transcribe the steps they took as an article. Any subject matter expert or end user in the organization can create solution articles.

Once articles are submitted, the appropriate experts review and approve the articles. Upon approval, the knowledge manager publishes the article in the knowledge base. The role of these subject matter experts is to review and approve articles to maintain high quality solutions articles in the knowledge base.

The knowledge manager is a process owner with a deep understanding of knowledge management practices. The knowledge manager makes sure that the process of collecting, reviewing, approving, and grouping solution articles in the knowledge base is performed effectively.

For example:

A user raises a request in the service desk for information on how to remotely configure a VPN from home. If a knowledge article on VPN configuration is already available in the knowledge base, the user can follow the steps in the article and avoid raising a ticket altogether. The following are the roles involved in the life cycle of a knowledge article.

Article contributor:

This can be anyone in the service desk, including a technician or a subject matter expert. In this scenario, if a technician notices that many users request the same information on VPN configuration, the technician can write an article on VPN configuration and submit it for review.

Subject matter expert (SME):

Subject matter experts are those that have expertise and knowledge in their specific areas or departments. An SME will review and amend the submitted article as needed. If the article submitted meets the standards in terms of technical accuracy, language, and relevance, it will be approved. If not, it is rejected.

Knowledge manager:

The knowledge manager decides in which category approved articles will be published so that users can easily find the articles they need. The category "Remote work incidents" is chosen for this article on VPN connections. Once the article gets published, it gets tracked periodically to monitor its performance through reports to ensure the relevance of the content is maintained and its quality is improved when possible.

DIKW model for knowledge management

Data information knowledge wisdom

The data, information, knowledge, and wisdom (DIKW) model explains how IT service desk teams can generate knowledge based on their everyday activities. This also shows how the transformation of data into information, knowledge, and wisdom occurs along with the relationship between them. This model is also known as the DIKW pyramid or DIKW hierarchy.

Data

Data is the collection of discreet facts about events in the form of numbers, characters, and specific or relative values that the organization can gather. The key activities to be performed at this stage are:

  • Identifying a reliable source to get data
  • Archiving and deleting the appropriate data

Information

This stage is about adding context to data. The key activities to be performed in this stage are:

  • Converting data into information while maintaining data integrity
  • Managing information the right way by making it easy for end users to search and use.

Knowledge

Knowledge is derived from experience. It may involve expertise, values, and judgments of members of the IT service desk team such as the knowledge managers, subject matter experts, technicians, or end users. Knowledge created in this stage facilitates smart decision-making.

Wisdom

Wisdom is the culmination of data, information, and knowledge. It adds value to knowledge management. This value is created though dynamic planning, problem solving, strategic planning, and discernment.

Example scenario

Zylker, an electronics company with over 1,500 employees, is on a recruitment drive. Over the weekend, many new talented individuals were recruited for different teams. But at the start of the week, when the IT team onboarded the first employee and assigned them to a team, the file management (FM) application failed and none of the teams were able to access any files in the organization.

While the other teams were virtually having an extended weekend, the IT team had to quickly look into the cause of the failure.

For the above situation, let's breakdown the incident and organize it into a DIKW hierarchy for knowledge management.

Data:

The IT teams received an incident ticket from the application monitoring tool 'TOMCAT_THREADS_EXHAUSTION'

Information:

The application monitoring tool sheds more light on the ticket with "File server ; Connector port:8332 [Tomcat Busy Threads Percentage:100% , Threshold :90%]

Giving information about the alert helps IT teams make sense of data. In this case, the FM server memory usage has been maxed out.

Knowledge:

Here is where the analytic skill set of the IT team is needed. After checking the logs of the FM server, the team found multiple parallel requests from the browser client requesting data of all the members of the team where the new employee was just assigned.

The team then checked the knowledge articles that describe the background processes that occur when a new employee is assigned to a team. They learn that a complete background refresh occurs for the data of all members of a team when a new employee is assigned to it. The background refresh tries to update data of the team members in browser client cache. These requests flooded the FM servers and led to a downtime.

Wisdom:

Wisdom comes from experience and learning what to do when faced with situations like the one described above.

As an immediate fix, the service desk team removed the unnecessary requests from the browser clients and got the service back up and running. As a permanent fix, the team removed the background refresh logic by fetching only the newly added user data and not the entire team member list.

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ITIL service knowledge management system

Service knowledge management system

Apart from solution articles, other details like user/technician data, analysis from the reports, metrics monitored, and many others fall under the umbrella of "knowledge." This knowledge present in the service desk usually lacks structure and is hard to document. Preserving the integrity of the knowledge in a database is also challenging. These challenges are solved using service knowledge management systems (SKMS).

The SKMS is the central repository of the data, information, and knowledge that the IT organization needs to deliver services. The SKMS stores, manages, updates, and presents all information that an IT service provider needs to manage in a full life cycle of IT services.

A configuration management system (CMS) and a configuration management database (CMDB) are also a part of SKMS. The CMS contains all configuration items (CIs) within the service desk along with the relationships between those items. The CMDB contains all configuration data related to an organization's IT infrastructure. The relationship between SKMS, CMS, and CMBS is illustrated in the image below.

ITIL CMDB SKMS

The SKMS represents all the knowledge within the service desk, helping tie together all the information needed to deliver a service. It makes it easier for technicians and end users to access information they need when they need it.

The SKMS is virtually divided into four distinct layers. These four layers are built in to most service desks.

Data and information layer:

This layer of SKMS focuses on storing all the data in an IT service desk. This layer houses various databases such as the CMDB and the known error database (KEDB). This layer also includes other configuration, management, and audit tools and applications.

Information integration layer:

The data entered gets integrated into the service desk in this layer. From the data stored in the data and information layer, this layer gives relationship and structure to data. For instance, the CIs and their relationships with other CIs can be accessed from various parts of the service desk, such as an incident ticket.

Knowledge processing:

The knowledge base exists in this layer, where any knowledge required can be accessed. The knowledge processing layer acts as a interface for the user to analyze and obtain reports of the all the information present.

Presentation layer:

All the knowledge gathered and analyzed is presented to the end users in this presentation layer. For example, the self-service portal can act as the presentation layer. Knowledge is structured in a conceivable format for ease of access and use. With visual materials and other features like browse and search buttons, this layer helps users get all the knowledge they need.

Four levels of Service knowledge management system

What are the activities involved in knowledge management?

Knowledge management process

The key knowledge management processes are knowledge management strategy, knowledge transfer, and information management.

Knowledge management strategy:

To meet knowledge management goals, the knowledge manager must formulate a strategy to identify the types of knowledge needed. The first step to creating a knowledge management strategy is identifying the knowledge gaps existing in the IT service team. The knowledge gap is defined as the difference between the knowledge an IT service desk needs and the existing knowledge it uses currently.

Some of the ways to get the relevant data internally from the IT service desk are:

  • Recognizing patterns and trends in recurring incidents.
  • Identifying categories/sub-categories with most incidents.,
  • Surveys from end users or customers.

Knowledge from external sources can be obtained from databases, websites, customers, suppliers, competitors, and partners.

The right knowledge management strategy also includes finding the best methods to:

  • Gathering, storing, and sharing trustworthy and reliable data to improve the quality of decision-making.
  • Improving the quality and efficiency of service provider activities, reducing costs, and increasing satisfaction by reducing the need to rediscover knowledge.
  • Gaining a clear understanding of the value of various IT services provided to customers.
  • Maintenance of the SKMS.

Knowledge transfer

Knowledge gathered, analyzed, and stored needs to be shared to other teams when they use various processes in the service desk such as incident, problem, project management, etc. Communication channels that are best suited for the type of knowledge that is being shared must be created to enable knowledge collection and transfer.

When an experienced IT technician retires, all of the critical IT service desk knowledge they've accumulated over the years leaves the with them. In order to prevent that, a knowledge transfer plan must be created. Since only so much can be stored by writing or shared verbally, a person’s experiences, observations, and insights are hard to transfer. In this case, the transfer of knowledge should happen through:

  • A mentoring program.
  • Work shadowing, which is an observation-based method in which the individual acquiring knowledge will shadow the person who has the knowledge.
  • Paired work, which puts two employees together—one new employee learning from one experienced employee who's leaving the company.

The effectiveness of tacit knowledge transfer and the learning curve can be measured by conducting exams and tests. The effectiveness of the explicit knowledge transfer done within the service desk is measured with metrics such as incidents that request for knowledge, average diagnosis and repair time for incidents fixed in-house, and incidents resolved by referring to knowledge articles.

Information management

If the acquired knowledge isn't made available to the entire service desk, it gets isolated, valuable knowledge does not get analyzed, and it fails to make the transition from the individual to the service desk. However, not all knowledge should be made publicly available. Having role-based access to articles is one way to restrict access to sensitive information.

Also, with methodologies like knowledge centered services (KCS), service desks can leverage a sophisticated workflow that views solutions rendered as valuable assets. KCS focuses on capturing, structuring, and storing knowledge in the workflow. It also focuses on making knowledge easily available and usable by the target users.

This means when a technician provides a solution, the solution gets added to the knowledge base under the right category, so that it will pop up when the key search terms are used whenever a user looks for an article.

KCS combines and elevates customer support and knowledge management in a service desk with efficient workflow.

How to Implement knowledge management?

Knowledge management best practices

Identifying knowledge management objectives

The first step in creating a knowledge management system is to evaluate and find what information would add value to the IT service desk and provide the most benefit.

This information can be gathered by:

  • Performing a knowledge gap analysis to understand what technicians currently know and what they need to know do the same job efficiently.
  • Checking the frequently asked questions, key search words, customer service experiences, and results from survey reports.

These collections of knowledge also help improve the services delivered, which can be achieved with both short-term and long-term objectives. These objectives ensure that the resolution or the process of creating a value in the service desk is always on the right path towards the final goal.

Creating a knowledge sharing culture

Usually the technicians with the most knowledge or the one who produced the desired output is rewarded. This sometimes creates a culture of hoarding information.

Therefore, it's important to create a knowledge sharing culture. One of the ways to make knowledge sharing the norm is to reward contributors for every article that gets published in the knowledge base.

Another way is to create a role of "knowledge-management champion" in every department. This title would apply to those who promote knowledge sharing through webinars, newsletters, etc. Enhancing the knowledge management system with game design elements can also help end users embrace a culture of knowledge sharing.

Using the right technology/solution:

For successful implementation, knowledge management activities along with knowledge management best practices (knowledge classification, retention, and measurement) must be efficiently established. A knowledge management solution will enhance and automate all the knowledge management activities in a service desk.

A built-in knowledge base in help desk software allows technicians to access or save solutions right from within the ticket without having to navigate through multiple windows. A built-in knowledge base also provides easier access to end users via the IT self-service portal.

There are lots of solutions available in the market, but it's important to choose a solution that aligns with your the business. Choose a knowledge management solution based on your organization's knowledge management objectives.

Maintaining knowledge

After the three above-mentioned steps are completed, the current state of knowledge management within the IT service desk must be assessed to understand areas of improvement.

Some of the ways to maintain quality knowledge management are:

  • Identify and keep track of the existing sources of information
  • Audit and store knowledge in a systematic way with the necessary backups
  • Update articles and check for the relevance of the solutions periodically
  • Assign proper roles to users to oversee the activities in the knowledge base
  • Measure the knowledge in the knowledge base, and assess its effectiveness

By implementing knowledge management and its best practices, knowledge articles are automatically created as a by-product of resolving issues. Additionally, this content improves based on demand and usage.

Also, the knowledge base is a repository for the service desk team’s collective experiences. As a result, there is an improvement in response times and the quality of information available for end users and technicians alike.

Key performance indicators for knowledge management

ITIL knowledge management metrics

Some of the KPIs that are used to evaluate knowledge management process are given below:

KPI Details
Number of articles created: It is necessary that new articles are created as required and the solutions are constantly updated. By monitoring this, the knowledge manger can attain an optimal growth rate of the number of articles over a period of time.
Number of times an article is used: This metric helps find issues that are recurring. This leads to the creation of a permanent solution, which can be devised for these issues.
Number of approved articles: Solutions get added only after they're approved by the subject matter expert. This metric gives an idea of the quality of the articles that are in the knowledge base.
Number of incidents resolved with a particular knowledge article: This metric shows how effective or how important that article or solution is. Articles should be updated regularly.
Satisfaction rate of the user: At the end of the day, a solution in the knowledge base is meant to resolve a user's question. The satisfaction level of the user is one of the most important metrics.
Average time taken to find materials: This measure helps to improve the structure of the knowledge in the knowledge base.
Number of accesses to the knowledge base: This metric, when compared with the "Number of people who used one or more article" metric gives insight into the number of people who accessed the knowledge base but couldn't find the article they were looking for. By itself, it showcases the popularity of the knowledge base as a first point of support among your end users.
Knowledge base contributions categorized by roles: This metric gives the idea of who enters the most solutions. This enables the knowledge manger to allot the right access/permissions.
Errors reported by staff or detected at audit: These give an idea of how much improvement can be done to the knowledge base.

How to choose a knowledge management solution?

Knowledge management tools

IT service desk teams often spend a lot of time in their ITSM solution, so it's recommended that service desk teams look for ITSM solutions that have robust built-in knowledge management. Below are some of the key capabilities that can complement the knowledge management efforts of the IT service desk team.

Integration with the self-service portal:

Self-service portals are the hub for end users to request IT services and report any issues. So it's important that the knowledge management solution is available within the self-service portal. Most IT service desk solutions with built-in knowledge management capabilities enable this, offering features like solution auto-suggestion to help end users find solutions to trivial issues. This also helps improve the productivity of IT technicians by reducing the number of tickets being logged in the IT service desk.

Smart knowledge creation:

To build a robust knowledge base within the service desk, the ITSM solution used must allow easy creation of knowledge articles by technicians. This means that the knowledge management solution you choose should allow technicians to automatically push a solution into the knowledge base from within the ticket itself, without having to jump from one window to another.

Workflow:

Having workflow capabilities in the service desk makes updating, deleting, reviewing, approving or rejecting, and publishing of the knowledge articles a seamless task. An ITSM solution must have the capability to let technicians manage knowledge by configuring it at any stage of the life cycle. The right solution must also be able to organize knowledge articles under configurable topics, that way end users and technicians can not only get their articles added in the knowledge base, but also easily browse and access relevant articles.

Creation of new roles and restricting access permissions:

An efficient knowledge management solution must enable the knowledge manager or the administrator to assign or restrict access/privileges to technicians to the solutions or category of solutions. This access privilege must vary from view only privilege to full control privilege. A good ITSM solution enables setting the access privileges for technicians, which can be done based on the roles allotted to them. It should also offer the capability to create new roles to configure or customize the access/edit privileges to various knowledge articles.

Integration with ITIL practices:

Knowledge management can be used to its full potential when an IT service desk has the capabilities to integrate it with other ITIL practices. While resolving an incident in a service desk, a technician must be able to derive and use solution articles from the knowledge base and submit new resolutions or workarounds in the knowledge base. With the right ITSM solution, this can also be done through self-service. Feedback on solutions obtained can be fed to the knowledge management system.

A streamlined approval mechanism:

It is imperative that the newly added solutions be approved by the concerned technician in order to be viewed by the requesters in the self-service portal. This is a capability found in ITSM solutions with the built-in knowledge management solution. This helps maintain the quality of the article added. The right IT service desk also provides reports of the metrics that give detailed insights into the performance of the articles.

Feedback mechanism:

A closed‑loop feedback process is important to increase the quality of the knowledge base in the knowledge management solution. This can be achieved in the IT service desk with a report drawn from various metrics or a simple facility to "dislike" or "like" articles. This information gives more insight into how well articles are performing. These insights help the knowledge manager decide whether a knowledge article is unhelpful, too complicated or technical, out of date, wrongly served as an answer, or if it's problematic in any other way.

A closed‑loop feedback process is important to increase the quality of the knowledge base in the knowledge management solution. This can be achieved in the IT service desk with a report drawn from various metrics or a simple facility to "dislike" or "like" articles. This information gives more insight into how well articles are performing. These insights help the knowledge manager decide whether a knowledge article is unhelpful, too complicated or technical, out of date, wrongly served as an answer, or if it's problematic in any other way.

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Glossary

Knowledge management glossary

Knowledge management

An ITIL process aimed at gathering, analyzing, storing, and sharing knowledge within an organization. Its primary purpose is to improve efficiency by reducing the need to rediscover knowledge.

Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL)

A set of detailed practices for IT service management (ITSM) that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of the business.

Service desk

The point of communication between service providers and the organization’s users.

Service desk manager

The person who oversees day-to-day activities of the service desk and is responsible for its performance.

IT technicians

Those who diagnose, repair, and maintain hardware and software components to ensure the smooth operation of computer systems. They are the primary point of contact for IT support within a company.

Continual service improvement (CSI)

A method to identify and execute opportunities to improve IT processes and services, and measure these efforts taken over time.

Web application firewall (WAF)

A firewall that protects web applications from a variety of application-layer attacks, such as cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and cookie poisoning.

Virtual private network (VPN)

A tool that gives users privacy while browsing the internet by creating a private network that connects remote users to a company's internal network.

Configuration management system (CMS)

A set of tools and data that is used for collecting, storing, managing, updating, analyzing, and presenting data about all configuration items and their relationships. A CMS may manage more than one physical configuration management database (CMDB).

Configuration management database (CMDB)

An ITIL database that stores all relevant information about the hardware and software components used in an organization.

Incident

An unplanned interruption to an IT service, or a reduction in the quality of an IT service. Failure of a configuration item, even if it has not yet affected a service, is also an incident (e.g. failure of one disk from a mirror set).

ITIL® is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limited. IT Infrastructure Library® is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limited.

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