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Knowledge Management Systems

Knowledge Management systems offer ways to optimise the utility of intellectual capital and intangible assets by capturing, preserving and organising institutional knowledge in a measurable format. Knowledge Management tools allow successful strategies to be transferred and replicated throughout an organisation. Implementation can be inwardly focused on faster learning, new knowledge creation, and innovation, or directed outwardly, providing a self-guided service path for customers. Knowledge Management software is related to Business Intelligence software and Document Management software. Find the best knowledge management system for your organisation in Australia.

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Knowledge Management Systems Buyers Guide

Introduction

Knowledge management software serves as a centralised database or a repository for storing documents, audio and video files, and other important information. Essentially, the main underlying purpose of a knowledge management system is to organise business information to be shared internally and externally, meaning employees and customers can both access it. Controls are also included, ensuring certain information can be shared with employees only, while other information can be shared with customers only or with both groups.

Structure and organisation are at the very core of knowledge management solutions, and in almost all cases, the repository is fully searchable, making it quick and easy for users to find exactly what they are looking for. Ultimately, a knowledge management system is designed to help businesses make more effective use of the abundance of information that is available to them and to reduce unnecessary friction as much as possible.

Examples of the types of information that may be organised and stored within knowledge management solutions are spreadsheets, presentations, database files, audio files, video files, PDFs, e-books, text files, and more. These items can be categorised and catalogued through the use of tags, making them easier to find and easier to group together with similar file types or with files of all types that cover similar topics. In many cases, information from these files can also be shared in real-time with other users, aiding collaboration efforts.

Having access to a knowledge base of this kind can be beneficial for speeding up internal processes, or providing important updates to customers and stakeholders. The nature of the software means it is often categorised alongside tools like content management systems and document management software. However, it is worth noting that these solutions also perform similar functions to knowledge base software and help desk software too.

In terms of the core features included, most knowledge management systems of this kind will provide a broadly similar range of tools and options, although the quality and functionality can vary quite substantially. Nevertheless, in general, users of these software solutions will be able to:

  • Create, store, and manage documents in a central repository to speed up knowledge retrieval
  • Make use of a built-in search function in order to quickly and easily find the information and files needed
  • Control permissions and manage precisely who has access to the different files, folders, and information
  • Access a variety of supporting tools, assisting with communication, collaboration, and editing

What is a knowledge management system?

Knowledge management software functions as a centralised repository of information, which is fully searchable, making knowledge retrieval more efficient for businesses. It is designed to assist companies and their employees with the organisation, management and preservation of business information, with a view to making it more accessible. The software can also be configured, with access controls allowing different types of information to be shared internally, externally, or both, depending on the needs of the business and its customers.

Although precise features vary, most solutions will provide support for a range of file formats, including text documents, audio files, video files, and spreadsheets. As a result, many software solutions in this category can serve as a single location to access important information, regardless of the way in which it is stored. While many solutions are comprehensive in nature, some do have a more specific focus. A good example of this would be customer support knowledge base software, which centres around knowledge, information, and data directly related to technical support and customer service issues.

Regardless of the focus, however, a key part of knowledge management systems is the organisation of information so that it can be found more easily. The various data, files, and other information contained within such a system can also be catalogued through a combination of assigning file categories and using tags.

What are the benefits of knowledge management software?

The benefits of knowledge management software are predominantly focused on ideas of organising and preserving important information so that it can be accessed or referred back to in the future. In this sense, knowledge management is about ensuring that insights gathered through a combination of experience and time are not lost while also making sure information can be found quickly and easily when it is needed. With that being said, some of the more specific, tangible benefits associated with knowledge management software tools include their ability to:

  • Make information more accessible: knowledge management systems can be used to organise and categorise a variety of different files and other methods of storing information, with a view to making it quicker and easier to access. Cataloguing functions allow for tags to be added to files so that associations between different files can be made, while software solutions tend to include built-in search capabilities, along with menus that can be navigated by users so that they can find what they are looking for. In organisations that have to store vast quantities of data and other information, a knowledge management system may be the fastest way to find an individual file.
  • Solve customer issues quickly: another important use for knowledge management software tools is linked to customer needs rather than internal needs. Businesses often receive questions, queries and other communication from customers, and these can be quite complex to respond to. For instance, instructions may need to be provided or technical information conveyed, and it is often best if these issues are resolved using standardised instructions. Therefore, employees can make use of the knowledge management tools to find answers to common questions and to resolve issues. Additionally, many solutions provide self-service features, allowing customers to actually access the information themselves rather than having to turn to the customer service department.
  • Improve employee knowledge retention: in many organisations, knowledge management applications are used to reinforce information that is initially presented in training and coaching sessions, meaning the software has the potential to improve knowledge retention and boost competency levels. Using the self-service features provided in many solutions of this kind, employees can quickly and easily refer back to information they have learned without needing to ask managers or other senior employees for assistance. Some of the knock-on effects of this include faster resolutions to basic work-related issues, less disruption in the workplace, and increased productivity.
  • Aid continuous improvement: businesses aim to achieve continuous improvement, but this is not always possible, for a variety of reasons. Over time, information can become lost or forgotten, while the constant acquisition of new data, new knowledge and new strategies can eventually overwhelm companies too. Knowledge management can assist within this by organising and preserving information, making it easier to share knowledge and allowing information to be updated continually so that it never becomes outdated. All of this can help to provide a competitive advantage and can help to eliminate the kind of inefficiencies that often obstruct further progress.

What are the features of knowledge management software?

The features of knowledge management tools centre around the idea of sorting information into a centralised database so that it can be easily found and accessed. While precise features do vary based on the software solution in question, there are a number of core features, which are present in almost all applications and which are category-defining in nature. With this in mind, some of these core and common features are outlined below:

  • Knowledge base management: create, store and manage information from a variety of sources and bring this information together in a single, centralised database or repository. Being able to access as much information from one place as possible can make knowledge retrieval and knowledge acquisition extremely efficient. It can also enhance productivity on a wider scale because all employees know where to look for the files or data they need, reducing instances where there is confusion about the best approach to solving problems or finding information. With cloud-based management software, this can also ensure that information can be accessed using almost any internet-enabled device, which can be especially valuable for remote or field workers.
  • Cataloguing/categorisation: assign categories, keywords, tags, and other identifiers to files contained within the knowledge management system, with the intention of making these files easier to locate through the use of the search function. Cataloguing forms a crucial part of knowledge management because it allows information to be grouped together in logical ways. This then makes it easier for employees and customers to understand how different files or pieces of data relate to one another. It also means that users can effortlessly access multiple files that centre around a single topic rather than having to find each of those individual files separately.
  • Full text search: find any information contained within the central database with ease. Almost any knowledge management system will include built-in search functionality, allowing users to quickly and easily search for the information they are looking for and browse the closest matches. However, a full-text search goes further, empowering users to not only search for the files they need but to actually search for specific text contained within files too. This means that all references to a particular topic can be found swiftly and then sorted through. This is especially important in instances where the information that is needed is not necessarily the main topic covered by a document and so is not included in the document's title, file name, or tags.
  • Self-service portal: provide users with access to the information contained within the knowledge management system on a self-service basis, so people can help themselves to the files or data they need. This includes access to the main repository, as well as any additional areas such as discussion forums, communication tools, and file-sharing tools. The best knowledge base platform will also provide administrators with options to extend this self-service offering to external users—such as customers—too. In doing so, many of the most simple problems customers encounter can be resolved on their own, without the need for intervention from customer service or support staff. This then frees those employees up to focus on more complex problems while reducing response times.
  • Text editing: make changes to text-based files and add text-based information to the central database using a built-in text editor. While most solutions will only offer fairly basic text editing functionality when compared to a dedicated word processor, it does provide users with the ability to continually amend files and ensure that the information contained within them is as up-to-date as possible. The ability to edit text from within the same application used for other knowledge management tasks can also offer greater convenience and can save time.
  • Discussions/forums: engage in discussions using an online forum, with different threads covering different topics. The conversational style of forum discussions can help to improve knowledge within an organisation because questions can be asked, explanations can be given, and those explanations can be further expanded upon if necessary. The nature of forums also means that multiple people can contribute their knowledge and add to the overall quality of the conversation, while issues can also be discussed in a more informal way, with ideas being shared and with the possibility of lengthy debates on some of the more complex topics.
  • Access controls/permissions: manage who has access to the information contained within the system so that it can be protected from prying eyes, malicious actors, or external users. Going further, the access controls and permissions feature allows for different levels of permission to be established and means that different files or pieces of information can be assigned different access requirements. As a result, it becomes possible to limit access to some of the information in the database to employees only, to senior managers only, or even to specific individuals. Moreover, some information can be made publicly accessible or accessible to existing customers who have a valid account, depending on the needs of the business. Generally, administrators will be able to make adjustments to controls and permissions over time, meaning employees who receive promotions can have their access extended, while customers may have access levels changed based on tiered membership.

Using Capterra's software directory, the process of finding the most suitable solution becomes much easier. Users can sort the available software packages based on the features they contain, providing a better starting point for the entire search process. When businesses are only presented with options that include the specific features they need, it narrows down the choices and allows more time to be spent researching the most suitable options.

What should be considered when purchasing knowledge management software?

When purchasing a knowledge management system, there are a number of things that need to be considered first. After all, businesses need to know they are investing in the right solution for their specific needs, and this means the final decision is not necessarily a simple matter of finding the best overall package. Instead, the different options need to be explored contextually, with an understanding of business needs and strategies. A good way to approach this is to ask the following questions and come up with the answers to them:

  • What is the purpose of a knowledge management system? First, it is important to be clear about the actual business needs related to knowledge management, as this will help to inform which is the best KM software solution to opt for. While knowledge management can be broadly understood as the various methods for creating, managing, sharing, and utilising business knowledge, the reality is that this will mean different things for different organisations. Think about what the software is needed for, who will use it, how it will be used, who will have access, and how that access is going to be controlled for different groups. Once this is fully understood, it becomes easier to identify the solution that best fits those requirements, and that is preferable to exploring options more generally, without giving appropriate weight to the practical applications of the software.
  • How much does a knowledge management solution cost? Next, businesses need to give careful consideration to the costs associated with the different solutions on the market and then factor in their available budget before making a decision. One trap that companies fall into is to only think about the initial costs, such as setup costs and costs associated with data storage. However, there are potential longer-term costs to consider, too, including subscription fees for cloud-based packages, costs linked to training staff up to full competency, and costs associated with software updates, new versions, and accessing support. A good way to think of this is to consider the total cost of ownership and usage for each available KM software solution before making a purchase.
  • What is the best deployment option for KM software? Businesses have two different options for actually deploying KM software, and this is now one of the single most significant decisions that will need to be made. On-premises deployment is the option that most businesses are familiar with. It involves acquiring software, installing it on company systems, and then managing data storage. Updates need to be acquired and installed, and upfront costs are high, but there is a greater sense of control, and there are no long-term subscription fees. The alternative to this is cloud-based deployment. This involves acquiring software from a third party via a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, with the third party taking responsibility for delivering the software via cloud technology, storing relevant data in the cloud, and keeping it safe and secure. A major benefit of cloud-based deployment is the ability to access the software from anywhere in the world, using a wide variety of internet-connected devices, including computers, smartphones, tablets, and more. Upfront costs are low, and support is readily available from the service provider, but there are long-term subscription fees, and the quality of service providers and their offerings can vary.
  • How can knowledge management data be kept secure? Finally, a major consideration when dealing with any KM software solution is data security. Businesses need to think carefully about how the vast amounts of information connected to these systems will be stored, where it will be stored, how it will be protected, and what processes can be put in place to mitigate risk and resolve any issues that may arise. This can be an especially important consideration for companies that opt for cloud-based storage and deployment. In fact, research from Gartner indicates that cloud security is now the single fastest-growing area for cyber security investment, and this is partly motivated by the increased use of smartphones, tablets and other devices to access company systems. However, it is also an important consideration for those opting for on-premises deployment and storage because those companies have sole and direct responsibility for keeping information safe and secure from threats.

The most relevant knowledge management or knowledge base software trends are also worth thinking about, and it can be useful to have an understanding of emerging trends that may come into play in the years ahead. Businesses investing in software need to know that the solutions they are buying have been created with long-term usage in mind, and this requires the developers to understand the most up-to-date techniques, strategies, and demands. With regards to knowledge management, some of the key software trends are:

  • Demand for mobile access: A study carried out by Gartner indicates that a large number of workers now use mobile phones for work-related activities and in more than half of all cases of workers using smartphones, they utilise their own personal device. Yet, the report also concludes that mobile adoption in the workplace has not yet reached full maturity, meaning usage could continue to grow in the years ahead, especially if corporate-issued mobile devices take off. Regardless, this means that there is a growing demand for mobile accessibility within core software applications, and this has only snowballed as remote work has increased in popularity. Some KM software packages on the market do offer dedicated mobile apps, but the best way to use KM tools on mobile devices tends to be through the use of cloud-based options which can be accessed via a mobile web browser. This can be especially important when it comes to compatibility and overcoming the Android/iOS mobile divide.
  • Popularity of conversational user interfaces: With the rise of voice-activated assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant, and the increased popularity of speech recognition software, there is growing interest in conversational user interfaces within software packages, and these could be especially useful in knowledge management applications. Voice search, for example, would allow users to quickly and easily find the information they are looking for, even if they are carrying out other tasks at the same time. Meanwhile, if the voice technology could also read out text from documents, it would allow an entirely hands-free approach to finding information stored within the central repository. There are some potential limitations to conversational interfaces, such as difficulty understanding certain regional accents, but a major advantage is that these interfaces allow software to be used by people with disabilities and health conditions that may make the use of computers and conventional software difficult. Therefore, businesses may wish to explore opportunities in this area before making a final decision.
  • Increased use of artificial intelligence: The final trend that business leaders and their IT departments need to be aware of when exploring knowledge management solutions is the continued improvement of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities over recent times. More importantly, it is worth pondering its potential uses within software packages of this kind too. As an example, AI could be used to automatically identify the number of times certain words appear in a document, and the document can then be automatically tagged according to what it is likely to be about or the topics contained within. This can then introduce automation into the area of cataloguing and categorisation, saving significant time. It also means that AI can play a role in helping users to find information more easily. For these reasons, buyers may wish to consider the availability of AI within different software options and contemplate the potential scope available to capitalise on its presence within those packages.