How knowledge bases fit into Knowledge Management software

Catherine Heath | October 29, 2018

This blog post deals with the distinction between knowledge base and Knowledge Management software.

“Knowledge base software” is part of the wider Knowledge Management field (a topic we have touched on many times on this blog). We consider KnowledgeOwl to be knowledge base software and part of the larger KM software category.

We thought it was time to explain exactly what Knowledge Management is, how it can benefit your business, and if you need a knowledge base for your company.

What is Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management is defined as:

“Knowledge Management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge.” (Tom Davenport)

Knowledge Management is a much broader category than just knowledge base software. It’s based on a discipline that emerged out of Management Consultancy, and it’s aimed at capturing knowledge to make enterprise organizations more efficient.

Knowledge bases are a type of software within Knowledge Management.

Often when you search the software review sites, you will come across a category of software known as Knowledge Management. It usually contains a range of software, including subcategories such as:

  • Intranets
  • Collaboration tools
  • Help desk software
  • Document management tools
  • And knowledge bases!

Just take this Knowledge Management category on Capterra.

Knowledge Management category on Capterra

There are 187 results, and the range of software in this category is so overwhelming as to cease to be meaningful.

Knowledge bases are just one type of software within the whole Knowledge Management category, and one could argue deserve a category all their own for their unique functionality.

The definition of a knowledge base

Now we come to the real difference between Knowledge Management tools and knowledge base software.

A knowledge base is defined as:

“A knowledge base is a self-serve online library of information about a product, service, department, or topic.” (Atlassian)

Here are some primary features of knowledge base software:

  • WYSIWYG Content Management System – users can write and edit content in the browser and no developer skills are required
  • Author and editor user login – accounts with usernames and passwords allow multiple people to work on your content without requiring a lengthy approval process
  • Content architecture – unlimited levels within a hierarchy to organize content
  • Topic-based categories – the ability to structure your knowledge base with a hierarchy of content grouped into top-level categories and lower levels of subcategories

We wrote a whole post discussing standalone knowledge base software.

As you can see that’s very different from a general Knowledge Management tool. A knowledge base can be internal or external, meaning that it could be aimed at your staff members or customers.

Knowledge bases are kept up-to-date by a centralized team of technical writers or other dedicated staff. As a result, they are typically read-only to most of their users.

In contrast, Knowledge Management tools are often collaborative with a large user base who can ‘write’ content on the system.

Visualize a continuum

A good way to visualize the difference between other KM tools and knowledge bases is as a continuum. You have collaborative knowledge sharing on one end, and a single source of truth on the other.

Collaborative knowledge sharing <<----->> Single source of truth

One of the main decision points on the type of product you want for employee Knowledge Management is either to create an information sharing system for them to use (collaboration), or a resource for employees (single source of truth).

A knowledge base solution is on the single source of truth end, whereas other tools like Guru are on the other end of the spectrum.

This also works if you are creating resources for your customers. Forum and community software tools are on the collaborative end of the spectrum, while knowledge base and other content management solutions are on the single source of truth side.

Other types of Knowledge Management software

Other than knowledge bases, we’ve mentioned that there are many different types of Knowledge Management software.

We’ll list the main ones now with a short summary and an example for each.

Intranets

Software that creates a secure private network in an enterprise for the purpose of sharing information, documents, and collaboration. Typically aimed at large, distributed teams.

Example: Microsoft Sharepoint

Collaboration tools

Software that enables a team to work together from a shared information resource. Every user is a writer as well as a reader in that they can create content.

Example: Guru, Asana

Help desk software

Software that is a ticketing system used to keep track of large numbers of customer queries from multiple sources (email, social media, website form). Used by teams and often integrates intelligently with other platforms like a knowledge base.

Example: Help Scout, Zendesk

Document management tools

Software that manages and shares large amounts of documents, ranging from Microsoft Word files, presentations, images, to PDFs. An answer to the hassle of sharing documents over email, version conflicts, security concerns and the risk of losing documents.

Example: Dropbox, PandaDoc

How KM can benefit your business

There are many benefits of Knowledge Management, which arise from conserving and making the most of your organizational knowledge.

  • Store essential information in one place to use later
  • Information centralized in one place instead of siloed with individuals or platforms
  • Review messaging history to track progress
  • Organise your workflow with predefined templates
  • Communicate quickly over multiple time zones
  • Multiple people can work on documents simultaneously without version conflicts
  • Securely share documents in one platform instead of through email

Knowledge Management tools preserve important information in one place for use by everyone, anytime and anywhere. They can benefit any organization large or small – you don’t have to be an enterprise company.

Check out our post on the benefits of Knowledge Management for your customer support team

When you need a knowledge base

Then there’s deciding whether you actually need a knowledge base, or some other Knowledge Management tool.

A knowledge base can be helpful in two main scenarios:

  • You have many repetitive customer queries that could easily be dealt with by publishing help content
  • You spend a lot of time training new members of staff or your staff waste time trying to find information that should be readily available

The benefits of having a knowledge base in the first scenario are:

  • Turn frequent queries into help content so support agents can focus on complex issues
  • Looks more professional to have a customer knowledge base
  • Resolve simple queries more quickly than having to wait for support
  • Doubles up as documentation for your product

Strictly speaking, this type of knowledge base falls more into the realm of customer support. Where the matter gets confused is the same software can be used equally effectively in either scenario.

In the second scenario the benefits are:

  • Quickly onboard new employees with centralized information
  • Shared team culture repository with easy access to rules and regulations
  • Preserve important information even when key staff members leave the company

We published a whole article covering when your company might need a knowledge base.

Final remarks

Hopefully you now understand the Knowledge Management discipline and software category, and how knowledge base software fits into it.

Knowledge Management covers a broad range of tools, whereas knowledge bases are aimed at creating a self-service portal for an audience which is either internal or external. It falls under the Knowledge Management umbrella on most software review sites.

Make sure you understand the difference between collaboration tools, intranets, knowledge bases and document management tools before investing in new software.

If you need help deciding whether KnowledgeOwl knowledge base software is for you, don’t hesitate to contact our very friendly team. 


About the author
Catherine Heath
Catherine Heath

Community builder at KnowledgeOwl. Blogs. Copy. Documentation. Freelance content writer for creative and ethical companies. Contributing to open source and teaching technical tools.

Catherine blogs on her personal websites Away With Words and Awkward Writer. She runs the Write the Docs Northwest meetup group. 


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