There seems to be increasing interest in knowledge management (KM) these days. Even Google is no longer driven solely by the desire to be the best search engine; instead, Google is focusing on knowledge management, promoting its latest Enterprise Search product as a key device for tapping into an organization’s collective knowledge.
Service providers have come to the realization that their departments simply are not sharing information as well as they could. There are just too many silos, which inhibit the free exchange of shared knowledge, ideas, and experience. The result? Poor decision making, agility, and knowledge discoverability. When knowledge isn’t captured and shared effectively, the risk of making a less-than-optimal decision increases.
Duplication of effort is another consequence of poor knowledge management. Without proven, reusable solutions, support analysts have to reinvent the wheel, developing solutions to problems that have already been solved. This, in turn, increases average resolution times. In addition, since backline subject matter experts aren’t sharing information with the frontline support center, those frontline support center analysts have to escalate more tickets to higher-level support teams. When resolution time and escalations increase, customer dissatisfaction tends to be the result. All of this drives up the cost of technical service and support, which management, of course, is keenly interested in driving down.
A process-driven, best practice-based knowledge management implementation can help address these challenges, resulting in huge productivity benefits and cost savings, for support organizations and their customers/users. But how do we bridge the gap? The first step is recognizing that the costs and impact of poor knowledge management are real, quantifiable, and significant to both the support center and its customers. Then, calculate the costs and impact of KM-free support and compare it to the costs and impact of a knowledge-centered approach, one built on capturing, storing, and reusing knowledge across the support organization. (Use HDI’s Knowledge Management ROI Calculator to determine the potential return on an investment in knowledge management.) If your cost/benefit analysis and ROI calculations show that a knowledge management initiative is a worthwhile strategy, start adopting and embedding knowledge management practices throughout your organization.
Knowledge Management: Humble Origins, Great Potential
As far as support organizations are concerned, knowledge management isn’t a new concept. The Consortium for Service Innovation pioneered and has been promoting the value of effective knowledge management for more than twenty years. Its Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS) model has been widely adopted by support centers in the world’s leading companies and organizations. Due to increasing global competition, cost pressures, and demands for greater service quality, more and more support organizations are coming to realize the significant business value and impact true knowledge management can have on an organization.
ITIL 2011, the latest version of the ITIL framework, underscores this heighted level of importance. In the revised framework, knowledge management, once an ancillary process, has been promoted to a full-fledged ITIL process that should operate across an entire IT organization, with process owners, managers, and practitioners all contributing knowledge and benefiting from shared ideas and experiences. According to ITIL, a service knowledge management system (SKMS) is the collection of integrated databases and repositories that should hold this shared knowledge and experience, enabling managers and practitioners across the organization to get the right information to the right people at the right time, thereby improving solution strategy and planning, the design of new and changed services, and the quality of build, testing, and deployment of new or changed services to the live environment. Furthermore, by making solution reuse and knowledge sharing a reality, support organizations can reduce escalations, decrease average resolution time, improve staff utilization, and lower their overall operating costs.
Five Obstacles to Implementing Successful Knowledge Management
So why on earth isn’t everyone “doing” effective knowledge management? There are several common obstacles to the successful adoption and practice of knowledge management, but there are ways to overcome them.
Obstacle #1: In support organizations that insist on a tool-centric approach, management mistakes knowledge management for a tool or system, instead of an organization-wide process.
This is an all-too-common phenomenon, since support managers and practitioners typically have an implementation/support technology background. Compounding this, vendors want nothing more than to sell knowledge management tools, systems, and databases to service providers. The problem with this approach, as the saying goes, is that “a fool with a tool is still a fool.” A knowledge management tool will not produce a knowledge management process. That requires a process approach, first defining and documenting the process—delineating the guiding policies, the inputs and outputs, the steps of the process, the measurements, and how the process is to be embedded within the organization—then selecting and implementing technology to automate the process, boosting productivity and efficiency.
Obstacle #2: Management may task a single individual with responsibility for knowledge management, rather than taking a team approach.
Effective knowledge management requires complete buy-in and participation: everyone should feel like they have a piece of the action. That is, all support managers and practitioners, from the frontline service desk to middle managers to executive management, should feel like they’re contributing to and benefitting from the knowledge management process. Designating one individual as the owner, manager, and caretaker of the organization’s knowledge is a recipe for failure.
Obstacle #3: Participation is difficult/complicated and time consuming.
When there are too many steps involved in submitting or retrieving an article or solution, you are, in fact, erecting roadblocks to adoption and usage. Remove those roadblocks, and make the use of and contribution to the knowledge management system an integral part of the process workflow. For example, as soon as an issue is categorized by incident management, modify the process to trigger a search and automatically display suggested solutions in the workflow, instead of requiring analysts and users to navigate to another tab or window and enter just the right phrase to retrieve useful information. Keep the interface simple, user-friendly, fast, and effective. Make it easy to share knowledge.
Obstacle #4: Organizations take a tactical and operational approach, ignoring the need for strategy and fundamental behavioral changes.
If you build it, sometimes they don’t come. Just because you’ve built and deployed a knowledge management, that doesn’t mean people will gravitate toward it and start using it. The reality is that you will need to motivate people to contribute to and use the system. Knowledge management is one of those big changes that requires a well-thought-out organizational change plan. To be successful, you must start with a clear strategy and a compelling vision for the power of knowledge management to transform your organization. You’ll also need to have strong management support and a “no turning back” transformational plan to design, transition, and roll out your knowledge management process across the organization.
Obstacle #5: Organizations don’t bother to monitor or measure their processes and support systems.
This obstacle is related to #4, namely that merely having a knowledge management system naturally drives adoption and usage. The reality is that if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it and you can’t improve it. Like any other process, you need to assign a specific set of metrics and KPIs to the knowledge management process, and you need to regularly report on the performance and value of that process. Stakeholders pay attention to what gets reported, and incorporating knowledge management performance reporting into your monthly scorecard will emphasize its strategic importance and value to the organization. It will also give support center management visibility into people, process, and technology improvement opportunities.
Overcoming the Obstacles: The Service Lifecycle Approach
Knowledge management is an organization-wide process, and, as such, you need to take a service lifecycle approach to its implementation. Use the guidelines documented in ITIL 2011, along with the KCS model and supporting systems and tools (like the SKMS), to guide the design, development, deployment, and operation of a knowledge management process.
Start with a service strategy. Establish a compelling vision for transforming your organization into a knowledge-centered service provider, along with a supporting mission, goals, and objectives. Develop a total solution approach by designing a knowledge management process, along with supporting systems, tools, metrics, and other elements, and producing a master plan for your knowledge management process implementation. Engage a project team to solicit organization-wide buy-in, and begin your journey.
Next, using your master plan as input, begin gradually implementing the various components: people, process, and supporting technology (it will take all three, plus organizational change). Embed knowledge management within your service operation processes. Make knowledge capture and reuse an integral part of every process: during event monitoring, while resolving an incident, when troubleshooting a problem, etc. The idea is to either access and put captured knowledge to work or capture knowledge in the workflow.
Finally, keep things going with continual improvement. Track metrics and report on the progress of your knowledge management process. Make monitoring and reporting on your knowledge management process’s performance and value part of your monthly management meetings. Above all, always be on the lookout for ways to improve the knowledge management process, the people involved, and the tools and systems that support it.
Paul Dooley is the president and principal consultant of Optimal Connections LLC. With more than thirty years of experience in the technology and software development industry, he has extensive experience in service desk infrastructure development, support center consolidation, and the deployment of web portals and knowledge management systems, as well as service marketing strategy and activities. Paul has a BA in international relations from California State University in Fullerton, CA, and an MBA from National University in San Diego. He has his ITIL v2 Foundations and Practitioner certificates and is an ITIL v3 Expert. He is also an HDI Certified Instructor and auditor.