What is knowledge management?

The ITIL 4 body of service management best practice guidance offers a clear purpose statement for knowledge management:

“…to maintain and improve the effective, efficient, and convenient use of information and knowledge across the organization.”

Source: AXELOS, Knowledge Management ITIL 4 Practice Guide (2020)

Where knowledge, or a knowledge asset, is defined as"

“…an organization’s specific information resource that is important for that organization’s operations and value co-creation.” Although “It is important to understand that ‘knowledge’ is not simply information. Knowledge is the use of information in a particular context.”

The ITIL v3/2011 definition of knowledge management was more detailed and likely more helpful in terms of understanding:

“The process responsible for sharing perspectives, ideas, experience and information, and for ensuring that these are available in the right place and at the right time. The knowledge management process enables informed decisions, and improves efficiency by reducing the need to rediscover knowledge.”

Source: ITIL v3/2011 Glossary of Terms

Knowledge management provides organizations with a formalized way to consistently handle their knowledge assets to ultimately have “better, faster, cheaper” operations and outcomes by making better use of what the organization collectively knows. Teams can achieve this by integrating knowledge considerations into their processes. This could be harvesting knowledge from process outputs, leveraging knowledge as an input or reference, customizing modern technology to present and integrate with sources or training teams to manage knowledge in ways that serve the organizational vision and goals.

In addition to the best practices available in ITIL 4 and other frameworks, ITSM tools have long provided native knowledge management capabilities. First, to offer ITSM practitioners the knowledge that they don’t personally have, especially IT service desk agents. Second, to allow end-users to self-help.

These capabilities have evolved from simple access to knowledge, to knowledge being suggested and presented in an automated fashion, to the use of intelligent automation to understand the context and interact with the knowledge consumer. For the latter, machine learning and natural language understanding (NLU) is employed, with various delivery channels to deliver the knowledge. Including within an ITSM tool ticket, as part of a chatbot conversation, sent via email, and as part of self-service interactions (which might be done on a mobile device).

What is knowledge management?
What knowledge management isn’t

What knowledge management isn’t

Knowledge management isn’t simply the capture and codification of knowledge.

Knowledge only has value when used and reused - whether this is making individuals, operations, or outcomes better. In many ways, the term “knowledge exploitation” better articulates what’s needed.

What knowledge management entails

When knowledge management is broken down, there are several discrete activities

  • Knowing what (relevant) knowledge ist
  • Getting people to share their knowledge
  • Making knowledge accessible when it’s needed
  • Ensuring that knowledge is always accurate, timely and relevant

There are various ways to support these activities. For example, the best practice of the Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS) approach to knowledge management. More on KCS can be found here.

ITIL 4 also offers practical guidance on what’s needed for knowledge management. This guidance is shared in the Knowledge Management ITIL 4 Practice Guide that includes three knowledge management processes:

  • Establishing and maintaining the knowledge management environment
  • On-demand information discovery
  • Information model management and integration

The change optimization process is concerned with continually improving the change enablement practice, change models, and standard change procedures.

For many, the first of these can be a stumbling block for organizations seeking to introduce or improve their knowledge-sharing capabilities. Read on for tips on getting started with knowledge management

What incident management entails

The benefits of knowledge management

There are many benefits for an organization with an effective knowledge management capability. These include:

The benefits of change enablement/management reflect these needs:

  • Better business operations and outcomes, especially when organizations grow in size and complexity. This includes: - Increased operational efficiency - Greater consistency - Minimized lost productivity - superior employee experience
  • Cross-training skills
  • Reduced operational costs thanks to the greater operational efficiency, reduced duplication of effort, and lower-paid staff being able to undertake more-involved work
  • Reduced risk and impact of knowledge loss due to staff turnover and new employees can be onboarded more quickly
  • Increased staff morale because work is easier, less time is wasted, and more challenging work can be undertaken
The benefits of knowledge management

Knowledge management in ITIL 4
vs. knowledge management in ITIL v3/2011

The ITIL 4 Service Value System

ITIL 4 brought with it some knowledge- management-specific changes. These include the introduction of new knowledge management concepts such as “absorptive capacity” - an organization’s “ability to recognize the value of new information, to embed it into an existing knowledge system, and to apply it to the achievement of business outcomes.”

The practice guidance PDF also goes into deeper detail on how organizations succeed with knowledge management. This detail makes the ITIL 4 knowledge management guidance far more practical than the theoretical guidance within

How to start with knowledge management

Like any other service management capability, knowledge management might need to be justified financially or in terms of return on investment (ROI). The benefits outlined above can be used to create your business case, such as quantifying the impact of knowledge availability on IT operations and business outcomes. This quantification includes the reduction in the operational “unit cost” for ticket handling, plus it might be possible to quantify the positive impact that faster resolutions have on business operations and outcomes. This includes using knowledge in major incident scenarios, when the potential business impact is far more significant.

How to start with knowledge management

In addition to articulating the financial benefits of knowledge management, there are some key steps successful organizations usually take:

  • Agreeing on a department or corporate scope of knowledge management
  • Making knowledge management an important organizational strategy and a key part of operations rather than a “bolt-on”
  • Focusing on the use and reuse of knowledge, not just collection and storage
  • Recognizing that the introduction of knowledge management is a people change
  • Employing organizational change management (OCM) to facilitate the required people change
  • Understanding the difficulties of accurately capturing people’s knowledge - these are well explained here
  • Sharing knowledge as part of day-to-day operations and making it as easy as possible
  • Creating knowledge articles around the needs of the knowledge consumer, not what the knowledge creator knows
  • Leveraging technology to make knowledge sharing easier
  • Continually assessing the validity and value of knowledge articles
How to start with knowledge management
The Relevance of ITIL to ITSM Tools

Knowledge article tips

There are also things that successful organizations do when creating their knowledge articles. These include:

  • Recognizing that some knowledge has already been captured to fulfill other needs, e.g. resolutions documented in incident records
  • Using customer demand - which can be identified through ticket trend analysis - to drive article creation rather than simply getting staff to document what they know
  • Changing individual and team performance measures to reflect the importance of knowledge capture, sharing, and use
  • Sharing knowledge across teams in order to upskill and cross train teams, often a part of "shift-left" initiatives
  • Make it easy for users to access knowledge articles
  • Articles should be written succinctly and avoid lengthy knowledge dumps
  • Creating knowledge articles for self-help, not just staff use
  • Documenting and sharing known errors and the associated workarounds from problem management activities
  • Employing more than text-based articles – for example, making knowledge sharing include other media such as videos but also putting people in touch with the people with the appropriate knowledge (perhaps a subject matter expert) when needed

How ITSM tools help with knowledge management

One could argue that knowledge management is the backbone of ITSM - because it is involved in many other ITSM processes and one of the most widely adopted. The need is also likely even greater right now because remote working has removed the opportunity to ask the person next to you or across the room something when you need a quick answer or guidance.

Technology has long helped enable corporate knowledge management needs, and is even more critical now as teams, departments, and organizations have moved to digital operations. But how does technology help in specific terms?

The following knowledge management features all help. It's important to note that some of these features must be leveraged together in order to realize the benefits. For example, industry-leading knowledge capture capabilities add little value if people can’t access and use knowledge when they need it.

  • Mechanisms that make knowledge capture easy. This might be an easy way of taking a documented resolution from an incident ticket, ideally with a single click, importing a document, or adding a video, supplementary text and metadata. ITSM tools increasingly use machine learning and NLU capabilities to capture knowledge from other sources.
  • Enabling a review process for knowledge editors and contributors to improve upon the quality of the content and the usefulness of the article
  • Offering multiple ways for people to find and access knowledge. This Offering multiple ways for people to find and access knowledge. This IT personnel, employees and /customers. It’s also essential hat the shared knowledge is created to match the language, expertise, and needs of the knowledge seekers across different groups and delivery models.
  • The ease of creation for agents and other staff to request, create and update articles as part of their daily activities. For example, the ITSM tool might offer templates for knowledge capture related to different use cases that help the knowledge-article author write great drafts and then get back to work.
  • The ability for knowledge seekers to provide feedback on the knowledge articles they access. This capability could be “thumbs up or down” mechanisms or scoring knowledge articles based on their helpfulness and/or ease of use.
  • Knowledge related metrics, analytics, and reports that can be used to assess knowledge usage. This insight can also identify knowledge gaps where additional or revised knowledge articles are needed. Analytics to evaluate search results and other user behaviors can greatly assist in this manner.
How ITIL will enable your organization

Frequently Asked Questions

Knowledge Management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge.
A Knowledge Management system is a software platform that allows organizations to easily store, retrieve, and share institutional knowledge.
Knowledge Management systems can help organizations keep their users informed and savvy enough to solve certain issues by themselves. Another competitive advantage of knowledge management software is the ability to cut costs by deploying tacit knowledge about best practices and company guidelines.
No, knowledge management systems collect and organize knowledge using software tools to facilitate more sharing and retention of knowledge within organizations. Meanwhile, information management systems accumulate an organization’s data to create value for either the company or its customers.

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