You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. This tried and true saying applies to many areas of life and work, including knowledge management. 

This isn’t a new issue. It’s something I noticed while managing the implementation of knowledge management technology just after the Y2K panic. While the technology implementation went well, the knowledge management project did not. I realized then that just because you give people knowledge management technology, they won’t necessarily use it. Unless, you create a knowledge-centered culture first.

Back then, the primary barrier to a knowledge-centered culture was that people didn’t often share what they knew with others. Based on the idea that “knowledge is power,” the belief was that sharing information could decrease someone’s personal power, value, future potential, (and maybe even income). This may still be true for some today, but I think that we are now seeing more people appreciate that team knowledge and success over individual knowledge and success.

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Knowledge management in 2016

Fast-forward 15 years and knowledge management is now an important, and some would argue, essential, part of IT support. But, the same old challenges apply when it comes to adopting knowledge management capabilities within your day-to-day tasks and workflows, and ensuring knowledge is accessible, relevant, and timely.

Getting the knowledge management technology side of things right is relatively easy for IT support – it’s probably already available in your existing service desk or IT service management (ITSM) tool. But, to truly reap the benefits of knowledge management, organizations need to deliberately strive for, and craft, a knowledge-centered support culture. Without such a culture, any attempts to benefit from knowledge management will be hindered by people and process, and maybe even the technology.  

To truly benefit from knowledge management, organizations need to craft a knowledge-centered support culture.

Because sometimes it’s easiest to know what to do when it’s contrasted with what not to do, here are 5 do’s and 5 dont’s for successful knowledge management in IT support:

Do

  1. Understand that knowledge management isn’t rocket science – it’s people science, i.e. how to get people to do the right things (or at least the things that you need them to do).
  1. Realize that the value of knowledge management is not in knowledge capture but when the captured knowledge is made available and used.
  1. Recognize that, as with self-service, the introduction of knowledge management capabilities is an organizational change management project as much as it is the introduction of new technology and changed processes.
  1. Change HR frameworks to recognize and reward the right behaviors related to knowledge management – from recruitment requirements through to remuneration.
  1. Remember to look at knowledge management from two perspectives – that of the service desk agent and the end user. Both will benefit from knowledge management but only if the knowledge management capabilities are tailored to their discrete needs.

Don’t

  1. Only focus on turning tacit knowledge (what people have in their heads) into explicit knowledge (documented knowledge stored in knowledge bases). Knowledge management is also about the ability to find the right people when their skills, knowledge, and experience are needed.
  1. Make knowledge management an awkward add-on to existing IT support practices. It needs to be a part of day-to-day operations. In many ways, it’s no longer “knowledge management” it’s just one of the things done when delivering IT support.
  1. “Reinvent the wheel” with knowledge management. Instead, look to existing methodologies such as Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS) for guidance. There’s also a free AXELOS and HDI white paper called “Synergies between ITIL and Knowledge-Centered Support” for ITIL shops to benefit from.
  1. Take a big bang approach to introducing knowledge management. As with many organizational change projects, start small and learn from your mistakes as to what works in your organization and what doesn’t.
  1. Forget the past. If you have previously tried to introduce knowledge management capabilities with limited success, don’t ignore your mistakes (and any successes) when trying again. Also appreciate that the previous failure might make future knowledge management success harder to sell.

Knowledge management and knowledge-centered support are about people and engendering the right behaviors. And while enabling technology is important, having the right technology isn’t enough if people haven’t bought into the need for knowledge management.

If this article got you thinking about all things ITSM, check out IT Unplugged, our place for all things, ITSM, ITIL, and more.

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