Knowledge base 101: Building a foundation for knowledge management

This article will help you understand what a knowledge base is; how to build, grow, and maintain it; and the transformative impact it can have on your organization.

In a dynamic business ecosystem, information is an invaluable currency. Here, a knowledge base functions like a repository, facilitating not just the storage of this currency but its circulation, enhancement, and reuse. In the age of Generative AI, they are all the more important, as they act as the source of truth on which to train your models.

This article will help you understand what a knowledge base is; how to build, grow, and maintain it; and the transformative impact it can have on your organization.

Definition of Knowledge Base

Let's start at the foundation: What is a Knowledge Base? A knowledge base is a centralized digital library containing information, documents, and FAQs aimed at solving problems, answering questions, and offering guidance. The content can range from simple how-to guides to highly technical documentation. The right knowledge base software ensures that all this data is not just stored but also easily accessible and searchable. 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.

With the rise of Generative AI and Large Language Models, it has become possible to query a large corpus of text using natural language. This new era of knowledge management and interaction means that new employees and non-technical staffers have a much better chance to find the solutions they need. This makes a well structured and richly maintained knowledge base more valuable than ever to the success and productivity of an organization.

Why Organizations Need a Knowledge Base

Having a robust knowledge base is becoming increasingly essential. According to our annual survey of professional developers, 63% of devs spent more than 30 minutes a day searching for answers to their questions. A well-designed knowledge management system can significantly reduce this time. The faster your time to solution, the easier it is for your employees to feel empowered and to deliver great customer service when an issue emerges that needs to be resolved quickly. For remote teams with different work hours and basic questions, this repository of information allows them to solve for common issues and to call on subject matter experts when they have unique needs.

Types of Knowledge Bases

Different organizations require different types of knowledge bases. It's not always easy to identify the best knowledge base software. The three primary categories are:

Internal Knowledge Bases

An internal knowledge base is aimed at serving the employees within an organization. This is where your company can store proprietary information, employee guidelines, and various policies. Support teams, in particular, use internal knowledge bases to find answers quickly to customer queries.

External Knowledge Bases

This is essentially your public-facing FAQ section, help center, or how-to guides that help your customers resolve issues without contacting customer support. This not only enhances customer satisfaction but also lowers the burden on your support team, who can tap in your knowledge management software to quickly find solutions to end-users queries or issues.

Hybrid Knowledge Bases

Some organizations opt for a hybrid approach, combining both internal and external knowledge bases in a single system. The same knowledge base software can often facilitate this, using permission settings to control access.

Benefits of A Knowledge Base

Knowledge Reuse

One of the critical benefits is the ability to reuse knowledge. Instead of subject matter experts repeatedly answering the same questions, a knowledge base allows for this information to be accessed by anyone who needs it—be it team members or customers. This helps to ensure works focus on your critical business needs.

Efficiency and Productivity Enhancement

Reducing the time it takes to find answers means employees can be more productive in their primary roles. For instance, DevOps and SRE teams can create and maintain a list of runbooks and procedures and make them accessible to everyone with access to your knowledge management system. Having them in public means they are less likely to become out of date and won’t be lost when tenured employees move on, leading to better emergency response times.

Improved Customer Service

An external knowledge base is a boon for customer service. Customers prefer self-service over contacting customer support. An easily searchable knowledge base can significantly improve customer satisfaction. If the information isn’t something that can be made public, a great knowledge base still allows a customer success team to move faster. Support agents around the globe, for example, don’t have to wait for colleagues in another time zone to come online if they can find the solution on their own using a knowledge base.

Effective Communication and Knowledge Sharing

A well-designed internal knowledge base facilitates better communication among team members. It's not about how the knowledge base looks. From new employees to subject matter experts, everyone has a centralized hub for information sharing. A good knowledge base has been shown to speed up onboarding, reduce the burden on SMEs, and break down silos between different departments, expanding the lines of internal communication. Everyone becomes a support agent, tagged on a question when their expertise is needed.

Cost-effective Problem Resolution

Helping customers help themselves reduces the overall operational cost. You can then allocate these resources to other crucial areas, like product development or marketing.

Quick Onboarding

For new employees, an internal knowledge base can serve as an orientation manual. This speeds up the onboarding process significantly and reduces overhead, so you can focus your spending on the right tools.

Key Features of a Good Knowledge Base

Searchability

Your knowledge base software should feature robust search engines, making it easier for users to find the relevant answers.

User-friendliness

No one will use a knowledge base that's complicated or non-intuitive. User experience is crucial in both internal and external knowledge bases.

Integral Analytic Tools

In-built analytics can offer insights into what your customers are looking for, enabling you to improve content based on real data.

Proper Organization and Categorization

The right knowledge base software should allow you to tag, categorize, and index your content effectively.

Responsiveness and Mobile Compatibility

Given the increasing use of mobile devices, your knowledge base should be accessible and responsive on all screens. The right tools for the job may be a smartphone or tablet, and the form factor should facilitate the process of finding the relevant information.

How to Create an Effective Knowledge Base

Identify Your User’s Needs

This is the first step in developing a content strategy. Identify who will be using your knowledge base and what they are looking to gain from it.

Develop a Content Strategy

Once you know what the users need, plan your knowledge base articles accordingly. Subject matter experts should be involved in content creation, and company knowledge should be contributed from across different departments, breaking down internal silos that can slow down productivity.

Make Content Accessible and Understandable

Your knowledge base articles should be easily comprehensible. Using a style guide ensures that your content is consistent and understandable.

Regularly Update Your Knowledge Base

Information changes. Software updates, product launches, and policy amendments all necessitate updates to your knowledge base to ensure it remains a powerful tool.

Adopting a Knowledge Base for Your Organization

Key Points to Consider

Some crucial considerations include: How easily can your existing data be transferred to the new system? What levels of customization do you need?

Implementing a Knowledge Base System

Ensure that the transition to a new knowledge base software is as smooth as possible. Training sessions can help team members adapt quicker.

Challenges in Setting Up a Knowledge Base

Initial Setup and Maintenance

While setting up, it's vital to include all stakeholders to cover all information bases. Regular maintenance is also a challenge but is crucial for ensuring content health and maintaining valuable information that hasn't gone stale.

Ensuring Consistency

Using a style guide can help maintain a consistent tone and style across all knowledge base articles.

Dealing with Outdated or Redundant Information

Having a team responsible for regular updates can keep your knowledge base fresh and relevant, ensuring its a powerful tool when needed. When users can self-serve the solution to their problem, your help desk is free to deal with the bigger crisis.

Encouraging Adoption & Interaction

Promotion within the organization and regular training sessions can encourage interaction with the new system.

Best Practices for Using and Maintaining a Knowledge Base

A knowledge base is a centralized platform where organizational knowledge is captured, documented, and stored. This isn’t just about stockpiling information. It’s about recycling, refining, and reusing it, enabling members to access pre-existing knowledge—be it a previously asked question, a technical hack, or detailed documentation. The best knowledge base software for your organization may depend on your needs, industry, and data types. There are different types of knowledge base, but regardless of your vendor, below are some best practices to follow:

  • User-centric design: The first step is to consider the users. A good knowledge base is intuitive, searchable, and organically structured.
  • Inclusive contribution: Encourage an environment where every team member, regardless of their role, feels empowered to contribute. Companies that do this see an increase in cross departmental collaboration and overall productivity.
  • Documentation styles: Incorporate diverse ways to capture knowledge. This can range from Q&A formats to long-form documents.
  • Platform selection: Opt for platforms with proactive approaches, ensuring efficient onboarding, engagement, and collaboration.
  • Lower barriers to contribution: The easier and more natural you make it for employees to contribute to your knowledge base without interrupting the flow of their work, the better your results will be.

The knowledge base impact

Knowledge bases don’t just house static information; they become the dynamic hub of institutional knowledge within an organization. For teams like DevOps and SRE that deal with a vast array of challenges from performance monitoring to emergency responses, a knowledge base is a game-changer. It offers them shortcuts, efficiencies, and a collaborative platform where they can work out solutions and tag knowledgeable colleagues to get their input. The same goes for your customer support teams, the folks trying to help enterprise clients or small business owners have a great experience with your product.

Furthermore, knowledge bases can help unlock the potential of every team member to contribute to the institutional knowledge that keeps an organization running. Subject matter experts (SME) with niche knowledge are accessible to anyone seeking their expertise, while knowledge-seekers can self-serve answers to their questions, get up to speed in new skill areas, and contribute back to the community by sharing their learnings with others.

A knowledge base isn’t a mere tool—it’s an ecosystem. One that nurtures growth, facilitates collaboration, and clears the way for continuous innovation. In this digital age, building and maintaining a strong knowledge base is not just advisable; it’s indispensable for organizational success.

The Future of Knowledge Bases

AI and Knowledge Bases

Artificial Intelligence is rapidly evolving, and its applications in knowledge bases are promising. AI can provide personalized responses, manage large databases efficiently, and even predict future queries. The future use of a knowledge base will continue to expand as natural language computing evolves.

Creating and maintaining an effective knowledge base requires strategic planning, the right software, and regular upkeep. However, the benefits—increased productivity, customer satisfaction, and cost-effectiveness—make it an indispensable tool for any forward-thinking organization. A knowledge management process that empowers your employees ensures your organization is a great place to work, helping to attract and retain top technical talent for the long term.

If you’re curious to learn more about using Stack Overflow for Teams as your knowledge base, check out our article on getting started here.