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Stephen Mann | September 19, 2018

Why Knowledge Management is So Important to IT Self-Service

There are a variety of benefits to be realized through effective knowledge management, no matter the IT or business use case. These very much relate to augmenting the knowledge and skills, and thus the capabilities of employees such that they can do more, quickly, and potentially with better outcomes. Ultimately, knowledge management makes us, and what we achieve, better—both individually and collectively.

As the follow up to my “Tackling Common Knowledge Management Issues for IT Service Desks” blog post, this article outlines why IT organizations finally need to get knowledge management right for IT self-service and self-help success.

Learn 7 tips for getting knowledge management right for self-service.

The Benefits of Effective Knowledge Management

There is little debate on the power of knowledge management at a high-level, with some of the potential benefits of knowledge management being:

  • The ability to get to required solutions more quickly – increasing operational efficiency and reducing operational costs
  • Better informed and higher quality outcomes – including the delivery of a superior customer and employee experience
  • The optimal use of potentially scarce resources, such as people, skills, and knowledge – through employee empowerment and capability augmentation
  • Standardized operations – with reduced duplication of effort and “wheel reinvention”
  • Greater control over organizational change – including minimizing the impact of leavers and on boarding new staff more quickly

It is also important to highlight the fact that the above benefits ultimately come from knowledge use and reuseor exploitationrather than its collection. It is the inability to effectively use what is collectively known that can be a common cause of knowledge management failure (please see my previous blog here).

The Growing Imbalance Between Knowledge Management Opportunities and Success

The IT service desk is not alone in struggling with knowledge management, which often is a corporate capability that fails to deliver on its promise (even though it shouldn’t).

The impact of this issue is also increasing as the criticality of knowledge and knowledge management grows thanks to additional technology-enabled use cases. This is easiest thought of as the three evolutions of IT-support knowledge management use cases:

  1. Service Desk Agents – To start, there was the need to speed up the incident resolution process, especially as service desk agents were increasingly hired more for their personal capabilities than their technical know-how. This involved the creation of scripts and knowledge articles that were commonly housed in a knowledge base.
  2. Self-Service – Then there was the opportunity offered by self-service capabilities and the ability to access FAQs and focused knowledge articles. Importantly, the available knowledge (articles) needed to be easily searchable, understandable for non-IT staff, and easy to use. And they needed to be all three to be truly successful.
  3. Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Now the anticipated influx of AI-enabled capabilitiesin particular machine learningrequires that AI consumes data, information, and knowledge to successfully meet the opportunities and challenges it’s applied to.

Originally, the failure to get knowledge management righteven before the need for IT self-help capabilitiesis something that just keeps on hurting IT support capabilities and its outcomes.

Why Knowledge Management is Critical for Self-Service and Self-Help 

As with knowledge management per se, many IT organizations have struggled with end-user adoption of their new IT self-service and self-help capabilities (Level 0 support). For example, research by the UK-based Service Desk Institute (SDI) states that only 12% of self-service initiatives have delivered the anticipated return on investment (ROI), with this mainly boiling down to the lack of user (employee) adoption and use.

When taking a broad view of self-service and motivation, consider what’s in it for employees. In the absence of self-service and self-help, employees predominantly use telephone and email channels. The former offers an immediate resolution while the latter is a much slower support offering in terms of the total elapsed time. However, telephone support involves a higher investment of personal timefrom waiting in a queue to initially speaking with a service desk agent, while email is relatively quicktyping and sending the email, then working again.

When a new self-service capability is introduced, there are two different speeds of support:

  1. Logging a ticket and waiting – a more structured approach to the email channel, although it might require a heavier investment of personal time (with it also being more beneficial for service requests than serious issue reporting)
  2. Receiving an immediate resolution – similar to the telephone approach but potentially even faster if the end user can quickly find and successfully employ a known solution (a knowledge article, automated remediation, or both)

Thus, what is actually in it for the employees is the immediacy of resolution that comes from accessing fit-for-purpose knowledge articles and automated capabilities. It makes sense that self-service capabilities that offer inferior or no self-help support struggle with user adoption. Ultimately, there is little reason for end users to change their existing way of working, i.e. seeking help, from using telephone and/or email to a new support channel.

Self-help knowledge management capabilities are the “killer app” for self-service portals and they will ultimately “make or break” your IT self-service capability in terms of realizing the anticipated ROI that comes from higher levels of end-user adoption.
 

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Stephen Mann

Principal Analyst and Content Director at the ITSM-focused industry analyst firm ITSM.tools. Also an independent IT and IT service management marketing content creator, and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals. Previously held positions in IT research and analysis (at IT industry analyst firms Ovum and Forrester and the UK Post Office), IT service management consultancy, enterprise IT service desk and IT service management, IT asset management, innovation and creativity facilitation, project management, finance consultancy, internal audit, and product marketing for a SaaS IT service management technology vendor.