Knowledge management has undergone many changes since its humble beginnings in the early 1990s. From the days of IBM’s Lotus Notes, an early proto knowledge base, to the full-featured professional knowledge bases of today, which come with advanced features such as agent dashboards and customizable search functionalities. As the knowledge-management technology market has matured, many companies – especially those in service-related environments including IT service management (ITSM) – now see a greater need for a better way to manage all of the knowledge within their organization.

Understanding how knowledge-sharing technology can help

Finding the right knowledge base for your company’s needs is a difficult task. There are many solutions that claim to offer a “knowledge base” but fall short when it comes to ease of use and capabilities. Today most of the leading ITSM tools offer an integrated knowledge base. With the variety of solutions making it hard for companies to find the right fit, especially if they’re inexperienced in knowledge management.

The goal of this article is to provide an overview of the different types of knowledge bases available and to give you a clearer image of your options. The key question we want to answer here is: “Is it better for your company to use an internal knowledge base (that’s built into your ITSM tool) or an external knowledge base provided by a third party?”

The benefits of an internal knowledge base

The main benefit of an internal knowledge base is that it automatically fits into your ITSM tool landscape – because it’s a native capability. If we take ServiceNow as an example, their knowledge base is capable of creating and maintaining knowledge articles and reusing them for all other components like ticketing or self-service.

In addition, companies don’t have to pay additional license fees to a separate solution provider. Users are more likely to accept a knowledge base if it’s integrated into a tool that they already use. The ease of use will also be higher because users can use the same application and interface for different internal processes (e.g. ticketing and knowledge base access).

The benefits of an external knowledge base

For many companies it makes sense to use a separate solution for knowledge management. An external knowledge base will offer more capabilities because external knowledge base solution providers are focused on only one need – knowledge management. This means that their solution is more advanced than an internal one.

The more experience your company has with knowledge management, the higher the need will be for additional features that an external knowledge base solution provider will usually offer out-of-the-box.

A second benefit is that an external solution can motivate users to use the knowledge base. This is an important benefit once you’ve already undertaken a knowledge management initiative (with an internal knowledge base) and failed. Here, there’s a high risk that companies will never succeed with knowledge management if they just setup another initiative in the same environment. Whereas a new interface and solution can underline a new initiative to help to successfully implement knowledge management in a company.

A third benefit is portability – with the knowledge base easily transferable when companies change their ITSM tool.

Conclusion

It’s hard to give a clear, generic, recommendation between an internal or external knowledge base – because it will depend from company to company. One factor is always your current situation: Do you already have an internal knowledge base in place and is it already successfully implemented and used?

If you had an internal knowledge base before but it hasn’t succeeded, then you should take a closer look into the reasons why it failed. If it was a lack of features or expertise it would be a reasonable next step to evaluate an external knowledge base. But make sure that it wasn’t a lack of processes or governance, otherwise you’ll have the same result with an external knowledge base.

In terms of cost, you should also compare the costs of an internal knowledge base in comparison to the cost for an external knowledge base.

If you start from scratch and neither of these knowledge base types have been in place before, you should evaluate both solutions to check which one is a better fit to your company’s requirements and needs.

If you decide to select an external knowledge base, make sure that it offers interfaces to integrate into your service-based software products such as your ITSM tool(s) or customer relationship management (CRM) system.

Ultimately, whether you select an internal or external application, effective knowledge management will help provide the foundation for your future success in all service-related departments.

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Sales Manager at

Chris is the North American sales rep for Unymira. Unymira specializes in knowledge management software for enterprise level organizations. Chris is an expert on knowledge management and customer service with over five years of experience.

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Stuart Rance

The main benefit I see from an internal knowledge base is that it can contain organization specific information. No external knowledge base is going to tell people how to order a new phone, or get a replacement for their security badge when they lose it.