Benjamin Franklin said that "an investment in knowledge pays the best interest." I rather agree with him. I may be a bit biased though: My work is in Knowledge Management, and I am the team lead. To say that I am invested in learning and knowledge may be an understatement.

Knowledge Management is a relatively new field--so if you're wondering what it is and what we do, you're not alone. Briefly, it's been described as "the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge." As part of DIT, we're concerned with managing IT knowledge and sharing it through the IT Knowledge Base.

The IT Knowledge Base is our team’s pride and joy, and the crux of our work. It's hosted by ServiceNow, a powerful cloud computing platform. ServiceNow isn't just for creating knowledge bases and articles, we also use it for our ticketing system to track issues and customer requests.

This year, when I learned I would be attending ServiceNow's annual conference, I saw it as an investment by the Division of IT in our team as a whole. The conference, simply called Knowledge, is a multi-day event with opportunities for hands-on learning, lectures, and networking. It's held in Las Vegas, NV and runs from about 8:30AM-5PM (with optional after-hours events) for three days (or five, if you attend the pre-conference).

Going to the conference was awesome and exhausting. I came home with a lot of takeaways, but two sessions stand out in my memory in particular. I'd like to share my takeaways from those two sessions with you today.

#1 Getting to KCS

Knowledge-centered support, or KCS, is a new and exciting idea in the fields of information management and customer service. The KCS Academy defines it as "a set of practices for creating and maintaining knowledge." At its core, KCS requires a democratization in the knowledge creation process. Everyone becomes a knowledge creator.

This is a major shift in the way many companies approach knowledge management. And as we all know, change is scary. But KCS is a huge opportunity, as it's been shown to have so many positives. Organizations using KCS have seen happier customers, happier employees, and faster incident resolutions.

But sea changes aren't easy, and the path ahead isn't always clear. As we consider implementing KCS at DIT, we're eager to hear about the experiences of those who have already made the journey.

For that reason, one of the best sessions at the conference was "Knowledge First Everything," presented by Walmart's Product Owner of Knowledge Management Joshua Rowell and ServiceNow representative Eric Bull. This session explored how Walmart went from 0 to KCS and the lessons learned along the way.

Walmart makes an excellent test case for enterprise level roll out of KCS. (They employee 1.5 million employees in the US alone--making them comparable in size to the Department of Defense.) They found that implementing KCS successfully required two things:

  1. People who were passionate about their work.
  2. A clear and easy-to-use process.

First, crowdsourcing is easiest when people are passionate about the subject matter. Of course, not everyone is going to be passionate about their job. Nonetheless, Walmart made an effort to identify passionate (or at least compliant) people in every department.

These people became knowledge champions and worked directly with knowledge management on the articles in their field. Furthermore, individual employees within the knowledge management group were assigned specific subject matters, and worked with the knowledge champions one-on-one. So their first important finding: Passionate, or at least responsible, people were integral to their KCS success.

The second important finding was that if there's an unclear process for creating knowledge, no one will use it. Walmart set a high bar: A 1-1 ratio of incidents to knowledge articles. If an incident didn't have a knowledge article attached, the incident became a "stub" and the stub was assigned to an appropriate group for revision. If a stub failed to become an article in an expected period of time, the escalation path was straightforward and invited an increasing number of eyes on the issue.

The knowledge curators and champions also put in place methods for ensuring compliance from individual content creators. As mentioned, the democratic process of KCS relies on everyone doing their part to create knowledge. When compliance or escalation failed to encourage a creator, curators escalated emails, phone calls, and in person visits.

#2 Keeping the Knowledge Base Healthy With Dashboards

Getting to KCS isn't enough. There are a number of processes built into KCS that ensure knowledge base health, but knowledge workers must take a proactive role as well. In "Knowledge Base Content Health Made Easy with Responsive Dashboards," NetApp IT Knowledge Manager Jennifer Dell-Ernstorm showed us how knowledge teams can demystify their knowledge bases by using great dashboards.

In her work, Dell-Ernstorm uses dashboards for a variety of purposes:

  • To provide immediate insights into key metrics;
  • To improve transparency;
  • To extend limited KM resources;
  • To identify and address uneven team performance.

Dashboards are so useful because they allow all interested parties to look at the same information at the same time. Dell-Ernstorm found that teams were not running regular reports on the metrics that mattered, or didn't know which metrics mattered to begin with. This caused some articles to sit for ages without review, allowing them to become outdated. It also meant that workloads were unclear, and low-performing teammates skated by unseen.

Dell-Ernstorm brought light where there wasn't any with dashboards that measured article rating trends, monitored feedback systems, and managed review and submission queues. She also created tiered dashboards aimed at different types of knowledge creators. For example, a knowledge creator doesn't need in-depth metrics on the knowledge base as a whole, but may want to know how her own articles are doing or be notified when she has feedback.

Return on Investment

I took to heart what I learned at the conference. Although much of what we learned about implementing KCS will take longer to implement, we've already incorporated lessons from "Knowledge First Everything" into our plans for rolling out KCS. More immediately, I created and shared a multi-tabbed dashboard with my colleagues.

I've found it incredibly useful in keeping track of the many activities going on at one time. We quantify recent article ratings and monitor low performing articles. In our work on search engine optimization, we've been better able to track outlying searches and act on them. Also, it’s now possible to quickly visualize how a single search term performs over time.

In the future, I plan to roll out user-specific dashboards to content creators. This will be especially important as we get closer to implementing KCS.

I hope that the time and energy spent at the conference and on these efforts is reflected in the knowledge base. I hope you find our articles recently updated and useful. I hope your searches are more accurate and the results are more relevant. And I hope that your technical problems are short-lived and easily solved!

Leighanne Ellis, DIT Knowledge Management Team Lead
Published On: 
Wednesday, August 29, 2018