Over the last couple of years, the importance of knowledge management to IT service management (ITSM) and service desk operations in particular has increased. IT organizations are tasked with "doing more with less (people)" - or the growing complexity of the IT estate, including the continuing impact of bring your own device (BYOD) and "shadow IT." There's now also the need for effective knowledge management, or better knowledge exploitation, within corporate IT self-service capabilities.
However, knowledge management isn't easy. Over ten years ago, the "knowledge is power" mindset limited our ability to get team members to share knowledge. Nowadays, the advent of consumer-world social media networks has helped - with many of us wanting to be seen or to be sharing - but there are still many obstacles to traverse in making knowledge management work within your corporate IT organization.
So please read on for ten tips on how to improve your service desk's knowledge management, traversing these obstacles along the way.
10 Tips for Getting Better at Knowledge Sharing and Exploitation
- Think of knowledge management as a capability not a process. You might already know of statements such as "Knowledge management is the process of creating, sharing, using, and managing the knowledge and information of an organization." But it's really a people, process, and technology thing; and thus, it's best to think of it as a corporate capability over a process (and sadly, employed incorrectly, that process can often be an add-on process that people never have time for).
- Realize that knowledge management is about people and engendering the right behaviors. Any knowledge management initiative will fail if people aren't "brought along" using organizational change management (OCM) techniques. So ensure that the standard OCM elements - such as selling the change (the "What's in it for me?" or WIIFM factor), providing consistent and frequent communications, and offering the required level of education and training - are taken seriously.
- Recognize that the links between people and what they know is very, very complicated. The industry-renowned management consultant and researcher, Dave Snowden, has some profound conclusions about real-world knowledge management. These include: "Knowledge is volunteered, never conscripted," "We only know what we know when we need to know it," "We know more than we can say, we say more than we can write down," and "The way we know things is not the way we say we know them." So, bear this in mind when capturing knowledge.
- Make knowledge management a business-as-usual activity and be sure to motivate people. To succeed with knowledge management, it needs to be embedded within existing business processes. People often talk of the need to create a knowledge-sharing culture, but this is not as easy as it sounds. In addition to the embedding, operational metrics and employee recognition and reward frameworks need to change to reflect the importance of knowledge management. Without this, knowledge management will always be done after the day's "real" tasks have been accomplished, if done at all.
- Ensure that you have the right technology breadth to support the people and processes. You will hear a lot of talk about having a knowledge base - or a knowledge base for service desk agents and another for end-user self-help - but don't limit your technology thinking to knowledge storage. Your ITSM or service desk tool will most likely provide a knowledge base but it also needs to be able to help with the ability to easily capture, find, and manage knowledge too.
- Look beyond traditional ITSM-tool knowledge management capabilities. It's great that knowledge management capabilities are now a standard feature of such tools but, firstly, not all service desk and ITSM tools were created equally. Thus, don't assume the tool's capabilities will fully meet your organization's knowledge management needs. Secondly, newer technologies such as machine learning provide a wealth of knowledge management opportunities. From automatically creating knowledge articles from tickets, intelligent search based on past search success, to using the technology to identify gaps in the knowledge base(s).
- Consider employing a trusted knowledge management methodology. For example, Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS) - which is by far the most well-known knowledge management methodology for ITSM and service desks. It seeks to create knowledge (content) as a by-product of resolving issues, with content evolved based on both demand and usage, and a knowledge base housing the collective experience to date. The bottom line is that there's no need to "reinvent the wheel" with knowledge management.
- Look at using the Level Zero Solvable (LZS) technique for self-service/self-help. A common mistake made with self-help capabilities is launching a knowledge base before it's fit for purpose. LZS can help to prevent this. It's a measure - the percentage of incidents that could have been resolved by the end user via self-help - that can be used to gauge the chances of self-service success by predicting the level of end-user success with the knowledge base. Read the linked-to HDI paper to find out a lot more about LZS.
- Learn from your mistakes (and the mistakes of others). If you've previously been less than successful with knowledge management, don't ignore your past mistakes (or successes) when trying again. Knowledge management is also a great opportunity to learn from the failures and successes from other parts of the organization or your peers in other companies. So look to benchmark with others or, as a minimum, use others to sense check your plans.
- Take small steps while gaining ground quickly. As with many other IT initiatives that seek to introduce new ways of working and enabling technology, a big bang approach can be nothing more than the quickest route to a big failure. Knowledge management, as per bullet 2., is an organizational change project and as such it will benefit from starting small, learning from mistakes and successes in smaller groups, to understand what works best for your organization.