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ITSM Basics: A Simple Introduction to Knowledge Management

By | March 5, 2019 in ITIL

Introduction to knowledge management

In the words of The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz: “If I only had a brain.” In some ways this describes the role of knowledge management in companies as a whole, then within their IT departments, and also for IT service management (ITSM) purposes. Think: “If we only had a brain.” A corporate brain that collectively knows more than we know as individuals and from which it’s easy to access and consume knowledge, information, and even data.

For me, knowledge management is about allowing every employee to know more, thanks to the availability of this collective knowledge and perhaps even collaboration (because a known solution might not be text or a video, it might be speaking with a person).

But, before I get into the detail of what knowledge management is, you might also be interested in three of my previous “A Simple Introduction” blogs:

To give you a simple introduction to knowledge management, I’ll quickly cover the following in this ITSM Basics blog:

  • What knowledge management is
  • The objectives of knowledge management
  • The benefits of knowledge management.

I refer to ITIL 2011 a fair bit below (as at the time of writing this I wasn't aware what was happening with the newly released ITIL 4, plus now having checked it I can't see any significant change within the new publication except the dropping of the term 'process', so I'm sticking with my original references to ITIL 2011). If ITIL is “not your bag,” you can quite easily adopt your own self-created knowledge management capabilities or look to alternative sources of ITSM and IT management advice such as VeriSM (which refers to the more-practical Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS) good practice) or KCS itself.

For me, knowledge management is about allowing every employee to know more, thanks to the availability of this collective knowledge and perhaps even collaboration#ITSMBasics @Joe_the_IT_guy Click To Tweet

Where knowledge management fits in

ITIL 2011 includes knowledge management as one of its 26 processes (see the definitions below); whereas I see it as more of an organizational capability (which employs people, process, technology, and “information”).

However, I really like the ITIL 2011 statement that:

“Knowledge management is a whole lifecycle-wide process in that it is relevant to all lifecycle stages and hence is referenced throughout ITIL from the perspective of each publication.”

And for organizations to succeed with knowledge management, there’s a definite need for people to understand that:

  • Knowledge management isn’t a standalone thing – it needs to be part of the corporate way of working (and you’ll probably hear a lot about creating a knowledge-sharing culture when reading about knowledge management)
  • Knowledge management is ultimately about knowledge sharing and that it therefore involves people proactively providing and seeking knowledge. This is best highlighted in the VeriSM definition below.

Knowledge management definitions (taken from ITSM approaches)

The ITIL 2011 publication states that:

“Knowledge is composed of the tacit experiences, ideas, insights, values and judgements of individuals. People gain knowledge both from their own and from their peers’ expertise, as well as from the analysis of information (and data). Through the synthesis of these elements, new knowledge is created.”

With knowledge management:

“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.”

This latter is taken from the ITIL 2011 Glossary (available online).

Whereas VeriSM states that:

“Knowledge management is the process of capturing, developing, sharing and effectively using organizational knowledge. It helps organizations make the best use of knowledge. Knowledge management is a way of working. It needs to be part of the organization’s culture and how ‘things are done’.”

And that: “… it is the people within the organization that embrace collaboration, incorporating knowledge activities within their workflows. Search, use, and capture of knowledge is done almost subconsciously.”

Which really emphasizes the need for the right cultural elements for knowledge management (or sharing) to prosper in an organization.

For completeness (and consistency with my previous “A Simple Introduction” blogs), even though I state my own list of knowledge management benefits below it’s worth sharing what ITIL 2011 states as the value (to the business) of knowledge management:

  • “Conformance with legal and other requirements, e.g. company policy, codes of professional conduct
  • Documented requirements for retention of each category of data, information and knowledge
  • Defined forms of data, knowledge and information in a fashion that is easily usable by the organization
  • Data, information and knowledge that is current, complete and valid
  • Data, information and knowledge to the people who need it when they need it
  • Disposal of data, information and knowledge as required.”

However, these seem to be more about the mechanics, rather than the business outcomes, of knowledge management (unlike what I list below). And, as an ITSM pro seeking to justify an investment, or increased investment, in knowledge management, there needs to be laser focus on the positive business outcomes of investing in it.

Knowledge management objectives

ITIL 2011 defines the objectives of the knowledge management process as:

  • “Improving the quality of management decision making by ensuring that reliable and secure knowledge, information, and data is available throughout the service lifecycle
  • Enabling the service provider to be more efficient and improving quality of service, increasing satisfaction, and reducing the cost of service by reducing the need to rediscover knowledge
  • Ensuring that staff have a clear and common understanding of the value that their services provide to customers and the ways in which benefits are realized from the use of those services
  • Maintaining a service knowledge management system (SKMS) that provides controlled access to knowledge, information, and data that is appropriate for each audience
  • Gathering, analyzing, storing, sharing, using, and maintaining knowledge, information, and data throughout the service provider organization.”
Ensuring that staff have a clear and common understanding of the value that their services provide to customers and the ways in which benefits are realized from the use of those services #ITSMBasics Click To Tweet

Knowledge management benefits

While the ITIL 2011 benefits outlined above seem to be very much about the mechanics of managing knowledge, the real business benefits come from knowledge exploitation – with the realization that knowledge has little (or even no) value unless it’s being used (and reused) effectively.

Therefore, in my opinion, the key benefits of knowledge management include:

  • Increased operational efficiency
  • Lost-productivity minimization – for both IT staff and the people they serve
  • Reduced duplication of effort and reinventing the wheel
  • Reduced operational costs – because of the above three points
  • A better customer experience (across speed and quality)
  • Better use of scarce subject matter experts (SMEs) and their valuable knowledge
  • Better outcomes through increased “collaboration” – where sharing knowledge can be considered a form of collaboration
  • Staff are empowered to do more by the augmented knowledge
  • The consistency of operations, decisions, and outcomes
  • Staff attrition is less harmful (in terms of knowledge loss), plus it might be less likely thanks to knowledge increasing staff motivation and morale (as work becomes easier and/or less stressful)
  • Quicker onboarding of new staff (on two levels) – knowledge is available to train staff, plus it can allow new staff to become proficient, with access to additional knowledge, more quickly.

Some of these benefits can be quantified, and thus estimated in terms of return on investment (ROI), while others will need to be measured by their impact on other key metrics.

Well there you have it, my quick and simple introduction to knowledge management. Hopefully you found it helpful.

Joe The IT Guy

About Joe The IT Guy

Native New Yorker. Loves everything IT-related (and hugs). Passionate blogger and Twitter addict. Oh...and resident IT Guy at SysAid Technologies (almost forgot the day job!).

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