The complete guide to knowledge management for businesses

Back in the day, a business’ knowledge management system may have consisted of a Rolodex, shelves of lever-arch files, and a stack of notepads. In 2021, the ability, and often the requirement of organizations to hold vast amounts of data, creates a complex web of knowledge where data must be centralized, accessible, and secure. This may sound like a simple enough task, but with possibly billions of data points across a large number of platforms, the smooth operation and security of a business knowledge management system is a full-time job.

Woman working from home

What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management is the term used to describe how a company collates, stores, manages and uses all the information it holds.

This may include knowledge and data from every corner of the business and every department, as well as materials for customers too. Examples of the data contained in a business knowledge management system may include:

Internal knowledge examples:

  • Accounts
  • Taxation
  • Client data
  • Employee records
  • Product inventories
  • Sales orders
  • Risk assessments
  • Safety information
  • Comfort information
  • Job descriptions
  • Payment processes
  • Company information
  • Internal processes and wiki

External knowledge examples:

  • Educational and training tools
  • How to guides for customers
  • FAQs
  • Tutorials
  • Qualifications and certifications
  • Product information and tours

Why knowledge management should be important to you

Effective knowledge management processes have a significant impact on a business’ ability to perform. A badly organized knowledge management system can have a negative impact on efficiency, productivity, and employee happiness.

There are a number of key features which need to be designed and implemented in any knowledge management plan to ensure your organization gets the most from it. From easy access to training materials within the system, through to reduced spend and improved productivity through easy-to-access internal communications, a well implemented system benefits employees at all levels.

Creating a robust knowledge management system within a business stands to provide short and long term benefits to any company, helping increase employee satisfaction, improve efficiency and increase revenue.

10 most important things to know about knowledge management

The benefits of a well-designed and well-maintained knowledge management system include:

#1. Improved employee knowledge and training

Give your staff easy access to the knowledge they need to complete their work to an improved standard. When your knowledge management is up to date and easy to use, employees gain access to more training materials and more information about their role to help them progress. A well-built knowledge management system helps your workforce find the information they need quickly and easily, and discover new materials to increase their knowledge and skill set.

Search flyout

#2. Streamlining processes and decision making

Give boards, management teams and inter-departmental groups the information they need to make decisions more quickly and efficiently through your knowledge management system. The ability to have relevant data at their fingertips during the decision-making process can vastly decrease the time it takes to make decisions at all levels of business.

#3. Enhanced customer service

Empower your frontline staff with the knowledge they need to respond to customers quickly, and with the right information. This is a huge factor in the rating of any customer service department. The frustration customers feel when presented with inaccurate information or a slow response due to systematic issues is palpable. Having an efficient knowledge management system in place to support your representatives in their work can have a measurable positive effect on your brand reputation, customer satisfaction, and employee wellbeing.

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#4. Reduced incidence of mistakes and errors

Refine your knowledge management system to vastly reduce the instances of mistakes and errors in your business, thereby reducing costs and cutting wasted time in your organization. Known issues can be documented so as not to be repeated, and documentation can be updated to help prevent common mistakes. An efficient knowledge management system safeguards against mistakes by making the updated information easily accessible as new solutions and corrections are identified.

#5. Improved internal communications

Drive your internal communications forward and fuel better collaboration and communication at all levels of your organization. A well-oiled knowledge management system can transform your internal communications from strategy to accessibility, and onboarding to performance reviews.

#6. Increased employee happiness

Transform your workforce and improve the workplace experience by creating a positive environment through knowledge management. Improve knowledge and confidence among employees and reduce staff turnover by fostering an open and accessible workplace knowledge base which allows your staff to access everything and everyone they need, when they need them.

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#7. Refined onboarding processes

Create a world-class onboarding strategy using your knowledge management processes. Give new starters everything they need for an amazing onboarding experience and a great start with your organization.

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#8. Increased efficiency and productivity

Supercharge business productivity and efficiency by developing a knowledge management system which saves employees time and increases efficiency in the business. Access to the right information at the right time is a critical element of a happy and productive workforce, and a well-designed knowledge management strategy can have a sizeable positive impact on revenue.

#9. Promote innovation and sharing

Give your workforce a knowledge management system that improves collaboration and internal communications, and champions innovation and idea sharing throughout the company. Gaining insights and commentary from all areas of the business is an invaluable way to see the ‘bigger picture’ and address the challenges employees face which may affect their productivity, happiness, or financial efficiency.

Ideation mobile

#10. Preserve knowledge

Ensure that when a staff member leaves for pastures new, the knowledge they hold does not exit the building with them. Expert knowledge and how-to operations can easily be lost if only one member of staff holds the information. By creating a well-defined, easy to use knowledge management system, employees can add their knowledge to the database for others to share and see in years to come.

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Challenges of modern knowledge management

Overcome common challenges presented in knowledge management using our tried and tested solutions:

Issue Solution

Low adoption rates and lack of awareness

Ensure all employees are informed of the new tool from the initial announcement of the intention to build a new knowledge management system, through to training on how to use it.

Security

Knowledge management systems need to be designed to allow easy sharing and collaboration while protecting the information which is only to be shared with specific people or groups. Set permissions and security groups to help ensure the right documentation is seen by the right people.

File storage

The management of documents within your knowledge management system is a crucial function which requires careful consideration. Employ a document management system that fits into your business structure and ensure it is maintained and updated frequently.

Version control

Sharing knowledge is only useful if the information is kept up to date. Ensure your system has version control built into it to allow live collaboration on documents without overwriting critical information.

Ease of use and ability to locate information

If staff cannot locate what they need quickly and easily, your Knowledge Management system is not working. Carry out user testing regularly and add intelligent search functionality to help users find what they need.

New and outdated technology

Older tech platforms will inevitably become outdated, and new ones are constantly being created. Stay up to date with security and other updates on older tech, and make sure your Knowledge Management is ready for new platforms as they become available.

Measuring effectiveness

Spend some time learning and understanding the analytics of your Knowledge Management system to help track progress and monitor improvements.

 

Features of Knowledge Management

The term ‘knowledge management’ encompasses a wide range of elements, tailored to suit the organization they are working within or the project at hand. However, there are a handful of core features which are common to most knowledge management systems.

Accessibility 

Give all members of your workforce equal access to your knowledge management system by making sure it is available and useable on all devices. From the HQ accounting team to the delivery driver out on the road, all members of staff should be able to access the information they need at any time, and enjoy a great user experience in the process. Your knowledge management should naturally contain a search facility to help users when they cannot see what they need, and be tested for accessibility for differently abled members of the workforce such as those hard of sight or hearing.

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Scalability

Build your knowledge management processes with a view to scale up. Ensure that as your business grows, your systems and processes can grow with it. By making sure your systems are flexible and scalable at the start, you stand to save the business a large amount of time and budget when the competition are having to replace their less sophisticated systems.

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Organization

Organization is the key to a good knowledge management system. A good data library built with a systematic approach should be able to cater for all members of staff, and a well-maintained system will offer required information at the touch of a button for every employee.

Maintaining a consistent level of organization is key to effective operation. Somewhat ironically, the information and data for the knowledge management system itself should form a key part of the data library. Should the knowledge manager part ways with the company, it is imperative that rules and structures are maintained and kept in place, at least until the new manager has bedded in.

Collaboration

Inspire your employees to engage more deeply with their company and give them the confidence to speak up with ideas, feedback, and opinions on a wide range of company issues. Use your knowledge management strategy to fuel innovation and spark conversation among your staff. Great ideas can come from collaborations and any one of your staff could be harboring a great idea just waiting to be shared.

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Customization

Create a custom knowledge management system designed around the needs of your business. Every market is different, and every organization within it has unique needs and specific requirements. A great knowledge management strategy and subsequent system should have the ability to flex and form a comprehensive database and accessibility tools which fit your organization perfectly. 

Integration

Remove the headache of a system change by choosing a knowledge management platform which integrates with your existing tools. No doubt your employees use a raft of tools and databases which are unconnected, taking up time and causing frustration in the process. Replacing these multiple tools with one, overarching system would cause issues in any workspace, so how to replace them without…replacing them?

The answer is a knowledge management system which integrates with existing tools and centralizes the information therein. By integrating with existing systems, for example, Dropbox, Asana, Office 365, or Google Suite, your knowledge management platform can pull data from all of these tools into one, unified system.

"Developing a knowledge sharing culture is a consequence of KM, not a prerequisite. "

Google workspace

Understanding knowledge management

Getting to know your knowledge management system is a complex task. The most important aspect to consider is that your knowledge management is an often overlooked but powerful tool for your business which can be leveraged to improve performance across the board and get ahead of the competition.

A well designed, maintained, and utilized knowledge management system can help improve the happiness of both customers and staff, reduce costs and improve revenue for your organization.

The knowledge management cycle

Knowledge Management Cycle by Valamis Source: Valamis

Valamis, a platform designed to provide personalized learning experiences have created a simplistic but effective diagram to explain the knowledge management cycle.

Discovery - Stop valuable knowledge escaping your business by considering all sources including individual employees, and ensure all sources are noted and logged.

Capture - Ensure this knowledge remains in the company for future staff to utilize by adding the information to a shared system where it can be accessed by others in the organization.

Process - Review the best place within your knowledge management system for this information to sit and test its accessibility.

Share and benefit - Let the appropriate staff know you have added a new data element to their library and how to access it so they can benefit from this new information.

"Knowledge is the new capital, but it’s worthless unless it’s accessible, communicated, and enhanced."

Hamilton Beazley - Chairman at the Strategic Leadership Group

Getting started with knowledge management

Step one - Design a change strategy to move from your existing knowledge management processes to a new, improved platform. Ensure you speak to users at all levels about their needs and requirements, and identify pinch-points which cause them stress and delay in existing systems. Ensure that your new processes address these issues and capitalize on the good points of the existing system. 

Step two - Kick-start knowledge management in your organization with an integrated tool like Unily. Aggregate the knowledge and data from a wide range of internal tools into one central database which is accessible to all and easy to use on all devices.

Step three - Manage your database regularly, keep updating and adding new information and improving systems to get the most from your knowledge management platform, and use employee feedback to improve usability.

Step four - Keep streamlining. Look for ways to make systems and processes more efficient and help your workforce find the data they need instantly.

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Transform your knowledge management system with Unily

Unily can help your organization develop a customized knowledge management system designed to engage your employees, drive collaboration and increase productivity and happiness in the workplace.

Get started. Get your free demo.

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