Everything you need to know about internal knowledge bases

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about internal knowledge bases, from what they are and why they’re important to how you can set up your internal knowledge base and start reaping the benefits of knowledge sharing.

In the modern workplace, knowledge is power. But the challenge is not just managing this knowledge; it’s also sharing it effectively. The foundation of your organization’s knowledge sharing strategy is your internal knowledge base.

Knowledge sharing best practices hinge on flexibility, intuitive organization, and actively bringing knowledge to the user. The right approach to knowledge sharing fosters transparency and discoverability of knowledge, promoting effortless collaboration between individuals and across teams. It's a shift from traditional knowledge management systems that can prioritize technology over people, to a more organic, employee-first approach.

Building a trustworthy, reliable internal knowledge base is how you enable knowledge sharing for your organization. They are critical tools for fostering a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about internal knowledge bases, from what they are and why they’re important to how you can set up your own internal knowledge base and start reaping the benefits of knowledge sharing.

Unveiling the power of internal knowledge bases

A knowledge base is a centralized digital library containing information, documents, and FAQs aimed at solving problems, answering questions, and offering guidance. Internal knowledge base content can range from simple how-to guides to highly technical documentation. Your internal knowledge base should include comprehensive information about your company’s products, services, internal processes, policies, and any other essential information employees might need to perform their jobs effectively. This might include:

  • FAQs
  • How-to guides
  • Software documentation and other technical documents
  • Product specifications
  • Meeting notes
  • HR policies
  • Training and certification materials

The right knowledge base software ensures that all this data is not just stored but also easily accessible and searchable. It allows employees to capture and preserve their expertise and institutional knowledge for the benefit of the whole organization. This is crucial for your organization, as the right knowledge base platform enhances productivity and efficiency by providing quick access to information, fostering collaboration, preserving institutional knowledge and facilitating quicker decision-making.

Team members should be able to access and contribute to the internal knowledge base through a collaborative digital platform that allows them to easily add new information, update existing content, and search the database for specific business data or expertise.

The information in your internal knowledge base should be kept secure and confidential through stringent data security measures including encryption, password protections, and granular access controls to ensure that only authorized individuals have access to the information. Regular audits and updates should also be conducted to enhance security levels and prevent potential breaches.

Examples of knowledge bases

Knowledge bases can take many forms, depending on the needs of the organization. For instance, a company's intranet can serve as a knowledge base, providing employees with access to company policies, HR documents, and more. This type of knowledge base is often used to onboard new employees, providing them with the information they need to get up to speed quickly.

Similarly, a customer support portal can serve as a knowledge base for customers, providing answers to frequently asked questions, troubleshooting guides, and other helpful resources. This type of knowledge base can significantly reduce the workload of your customer support team, as customers can find answers to their questions without needing to contact support.

Types of knowledge bases

There are several types of knowledge bases, each serving a different purpose:

  1. Internal knowledge bases: These are designed for internal use by employees. They contain information about company policies, procedures, and tools. They're essential for onboarding new employees and providing ongoing training and support to existing employees.
  2. External knowledge bases: These are customer-facing and contain information that customers need to use a product or service effectively. They're a critical part of providing excellent customer service, as they allow customers to find answers to their questions quickly and easily.
  3. Hybrid knowledge bases: These combine elements of both internal and external knowledge bases. They're often used by companies that want to provide a seamless experience for both employees and customers.

Key features of a knowledge base

When creating a knowledge base, there are several key features to consider:

  1. Searchability: Users should be able to easily find the information they need. This means implementing a robust search function and organizing information in a logical way.
  2. Usability: The knowledge base should be easy to navigate and understand. This means using clear, concise language and providing visual aids where necessary.
  3. Relevance: The information in the knowledge base should be up-to-date and relevant to the user's needs. This means regularly reviewing and updating the content.
  4. Accessibility: The knowledge base should be accessible to all users, regardless of their location or device. This means ensuring that the knowledge base is mobile-friendly and accessible to users with disabilities.

Roles and responsibilities for maintaining a knowledge base

Maintaining a knowledge base is a team effort. It should be updated regularly to ensure that the information is current and relevant. Typically, a knowledge manager or a team of knowledge managers is responsible for maintaining the knowledge base. They are responsible for adding new information, updating existing information, and ensuring that the knowledge base is easy to use and navigate.

In larger organizations, different departments may be responsible for maintaining different sections of the knowledge base. For example, the HR department might be responsible for updating the company policies section, while the IT department might be responsible for updating the troubleshooting guides.

Why an internal knowledge base is important

A self-service knowledge base brings the collective wisdom of your organization and the people who work there together in a single place so users can quickly find answers to their questions and solutions to their problems, allowing them to get back to the project at hand. We use Stack Overflow for Teams as our knowledge base and the foundation for our knowledge management system.

The rise of GenAI

With the rise of generative AI (GenAI) and large language models (LLMs), it’s become possible to query a large corpus of text using natural language. This new era of knowledge management and interaction means that new and non-technical employees have a much better chance of finding the solutions they need. This makes a well-structured and consistently maintained knowledge base more valuable than ever.

LLMs trained on stale, incomplete, or inaccurate information are prone to “hallucinations,” which are incorrect or irrelevant responses. But if the AI is trained on accurate, up-to-date, and well-organized information, it will tend to give accurate, up-to-date, and relevant answers. Research has shown that integrating a knowledge base into a LLM tends to improve the output and reduce hallucinations. This means that AI and ML advancements, far from superseding the need for knowledge management, actually make it more essential.

Establish a single source of truth

Your internal knowledge base should serve as a centralized repository for all company-related information, from policies and procedures to technical documentation and FAQs. This single source of truth allows employees to quickly find and access the information they need, reducing time spent searching across multiple platforms.

Streamline the onboarding process

An internal knowledge base significantly streamlines the onboarding process. New hires can access this platform to learn the ropes at their own pace, reducing the need for constant supervision and guidance from other team members. This makes onboarding faster and easier for new hires, so they can start delivering value right away instead of scrambling to get up to speed.

Plus, your most knowledgeable team members won’t have to spend precious time answering questions from new folks if those new hires have a well-organized, searchable knowledge base where they can self-serve answers to their questions.

Build a culture of continuous learning

Committing to cultivating and maintaining a healthy internal knowledge base promotes a culture of continuous learning. Employees can use it to upskill, learn about new areas, and stay updated on company developments.

At Stack Overflow, we’re on the record about how a learning-centered environment is essential to developer happiness and success, and our annual Developer Survey has shown that access to learning opportunities at work is very important to people. Creating a culture of continuous learning helps attract and retain the best employees while giving them every opportunity to deliver additional value to your organization.

Empower your teams to be more productive

A well-structured internal knowledge base also enhances productivity by empowering employees to find the information they need without interrupting coworkers or wasting time searching for a solution to a problem someone else may already have solved. An internal knowledge base should also make it easy for users to capture and preserve knowledge, keep information fresh and up-to-date, and prevent knowledge loss when people leave the organization.

Eliminate silos and encourage collaboration

Furthermore, knowledge sharing fosters cross-functional collaboration, allowing teams to iterate creatively and fearlessly. Democratizing access to information allows every team to kick off new initiatives, with experts serving as advisors, not gatekeepers. It can also facilitate cross-departmental collaboration by providing a platform where different teams can share information and insights.

How to set up an internal knowledge base

The process of setting up an internal knowledge base involves choosing the right platform, implementing it, assessing its performance over time, and maintaining it so that it continues to add value for your employees.

Choosing the right platform

Choosing the right platform for your internal knowledge base involves careful consideration of several factors: usability, scalability, integration capabilities, and cost.

  • Usability is paramount. The platform should be easy for all team members to use, from tech-savvy developers to non-technical staff. This includes intuitive navigation, a clean interface, and easy-to-use tools for adding and editing content. The best way to assess usability is to request a demo or trial period from the platform provider. This allows your team members to test the platform and ensure it meets their needs.
  • Scalability is another important factor. As your company grows, your knowledge base should be able to grow with it. This means the platform should be able to handle an increasing volume of content and users without performance issues. It should also offer options for expanding features and capabilities as your needs evolve.
  • Integration capabilities are also crucial. The platform should integrate seamlessly with your existing software and tools. This could include your customer relationship management (CRM) system, project management tools, or communication platforms. Integration allows for streamlined workflows and improved efficiency, as employees can access all necessary information from a single platform.
  • Cost is also a factor, of course. While it's important to invest in a robust platform, make sure it fits within your budget. Costs can vary widely between platforms, with pricing models based on factors like the number of users, amount of storage, or range of features. Be sure to consider not just the initial cost, but also ongoing expenses like maintenance, upgrades, and customer support.

Implementing an internal knowledge base

Once you've chosen the platform and understood the key features, the next step is implementation. This involves gathering information, organizing content, setting access permissions, and training staff.

Gathering information involves collecting all the relevant information that needs to be in the knowledge base. Organizing content is where categorization comes into play. Setting access permissions ensures that employees can only access information relevant to their roles. Training staff is crucial to ensure that all team members know how to use the platform effectively.

Maintaining and updating the knowledge base regularly is a best practice that keeps the platform useful and relevant. This can be a shared responsibility, with team members encouraged to contribute their knowledge and expertise.

Conclusion: More than just a tool

An internal knowledge base is not just a tool for storing information. It's a strategic asset that can drive efficiency, foster collaboration, preserve knowledge, and ultimately contribute to a company’s success.

To cultivate a company culture that prioritizes knowledge sharing, leaders and managers should ensure knowledge sharing works with developers’ preferred tools and within their existing environments, making knowledge searchable and building a system to surface insights.