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Modern ITSM Practices: Knowledge Management

itsm best practices: knowledge management
In order to maximize efficiency, the IT service desk needs to prevent a logjam of repetitive incidents from clogging ticket queues. No one wants to solve the same preventable issues over and over, especially when requesters are waiting. Every organization needs an ITSM knowledge management strategy to store and disperse solutions, troubleshooting resources, and articles to users and technicians alike. When you reach the end of this page, you should have a basic concept of what knowledge management can accomplish, how to organize a knowledge base, how to create convenient access points, and how strategy has evolved to meet modern needs.

What is Knowledge Management?

We all use our own forms of subconscious knowledge management all the time. It’s a key component to our everyday problem solving. If you don’t know a solution to a problem, you’ll figure out who to ask or how to find the information you’re looking for. After you find the solution to a new problem, you store it in your head, or on paper, or on your phone, and recall it when you need it again. That’s why things that used to require critical thinking are now simply routine. How do you get to the new doctor’s office? How do you change the smoke alarm battery? Either you know how to do these things, or you know where to look. We develop our own habits for troubleshooting, for ways to find answers, and after a few times, the answers are engrained. The service desk should do the same for our organization. The knowledge base is the record of all the resources your organization has used for troubleshooting in the past. It doesn’t build itself -- your organization must prioritize its upkeep -- but with a little love and care, it’s a vital first line of defense against repetitive incidents. The benefits are obvious. Effective self-service depends on a robust knowledge base, and self-service can drastically cut ticket volume. Of course, some tickets will come through even with self-service options, and the knowledge base arms service agents with an entire history of effective solutions and workarounds. Technicians (as talented as they may be) will not know the answer to every question that users ask, so it’s nice to have a place to look first. If the answer is not in the knowledge base, they can add it once they’ve found the solution or workaround. Once they do, they’ve saved some time for coworkers when that question comes up in the future. For these reasons, knowledge management is an ITSM best practice for every service desk, no matter the needs of a particular organization. The following article should give you some ideas and prepare you to build an effective knowledge management strategy. It will also show you how new technology is helping the entire organization leverage the knowledge base to solve issues, regardless of ingrained habits.

Knowledge Management for ITSM

Knowledge management is the strategy through which an organization produces, stores, and distributes knowledge. You always hear the word “efficiency” as it applies to service management, or specifically, the service desk. Without effective knowledge management, maximum efficiency is impossible. Employees (whether they’re users or service agents) won’t always know how to troubleshoot an issue, and the problem is compounded if they don’t know where to find the answer. Successful knowledge management, in context of a service desk, will help you avoid repeated, cumbersome troubleshooting processes to common problems. There’s no real science or advanced technology behind the concept -- it’s just a common sense way of problem solving. If Bob in sales needs to reset a password, he shouldn’t need to submit a ticket. He should be able to type “password” into the search bar and see instructions for any business account that he uses. If Jane called a meeting but can’t connect to the conference room audio speaker, she should be able to quickly find some troubleshooting methods to avoid disrupting her meeting while she waits for a technician. These are simple, break/fix examples of knowledge management that are applicable to almost every organization. Whether there are thousands of users or only a dozen, and whether IT needs are complex or very basic, these simple break/fix incidents shouldn’t include complicated processes or repetitive steps for every occurrence. The key is setting up a user-friendly access point, and encouraging a little bit of documentation now to save a lot of time later. It’s also important to remember that IT knowledge management provides resources for both employees and technicians. The self-service implications for users will be obvious by the time you finish this article, but as any service desk employee knows, there’s no self-service strategy that can stop the flow of tickets. A broad, detailed, and constantly updated knowledge base will help technicians resolve tickets much more quickly when they do make it to the service desk.

Building a Knowledge Base

The best part of your knowledge base is that you can always update it. We’ll talk more in the next section about how smart technology is helping the service desk sort, and even suggest articles and resources to users. That will be very helpful as you and your team perfect the art of updating your resources as new incidents occur. And new incidents will always occur. Devices change, technology upgrades occur, and organizational needs change. It’s a lot to digest at the beginning, so start small. Password resets, laptop crashes, and common questions about devices / business tools are good places to start. For a simple example, let's think through the value of an article about crash recovery (or as it’s known in some cases, the “blue screen of death”). Typically, when looking at a knowledge article, it’s useful but potentially limited. It’s useful if your screen looks like the one in the provided image in the knowledge article. But, what if the crash is a related to a monitor issue? What if the crash doesn’t look like the one on the page? Sometimes, the first knowledge article a user or technician finds is not the solution they’re looking for. An effective knowledge base allows for updates to its articles and resources to provide more options. To solve for this, the article can be updated to provide options for different types of crashes and links to other areas of the knowledge base for troubleshooting. You can update each article to cover many possibilities that could be related or could have led a user to this particular resource, and you can redirect the user to a resource that will help them. The article can provide links to as many related articles as needed, including articles around monitor issues, video issues, a search function for a specific error, and troubleshooting for a “fatal exception error,” to name a few. It shouldn’t take the user more than a few minutes to find the answer he/she is looking for, and of course, there’s always the option to just submit a ticket. By including a list of related incidents and keywords within the article, you can also help provide additional context for troubleshooting. There is also no limit to the number of articles you can publish for an effective knowledge base. For example, you can have a version of the article for Windows issues. However, if the organization switches to Apple devices, they’ll need to start a similar tree of connected resources for new incidents and troubleshooting methods, so another knowledge article should be created. Finding subjects to include will be easier than you think. Every organization uses a host of business tools and technology everyday, which leads to FAQs and common breakdowns. When the first line of defense is right at the users’ fingertips, business functions can proceed with minimal disruption.

The “Modern” Knowledge Base

So, why do we include knowledge management in the guide to the modern service desk? What’s so modern about it? Just like our everyday problem solving strategies, knowledge management is always evolving. Not only are storage and search options improving, but organizations are constantly adding to their knowledge bases. It never stops. Service desk efficiency will improve with each expansion of the knowledge base, and with each new access point for users. You’re investing time into creating this database, and you want your users and technicians to take advantage. They need as many access points as possible, and they need effective ways to parse through hundreds (or even thousands) or articles on different topics. Modern technology can help. For instance, artificial intelligence has created a user access point through “suggested solutions.” Based on user data, history of tickets and where they come from, keywords in the text of the ticket creation, and a host of other factors, service platforms can now suggest solutions to the user as one last self service option before a ticket goes to the support team. These suggestions come from -- you guessed it -- knowledge articles and resources. People are reluctant to break habits. Most users are accustomed to submitting a ticket whenever there’s an issue. The option of self-service can go unexplored simply because it’s not a habit. That’s why “suggested solutions” can be so useful. Even if the user doesn’t start with the knowledge base for a simple break/fix, and instead immediately creates a ticket, the modern service desk solution can present them with troubleshooting steps from the knowledge base before they actually submit the request to the service desk. Instead of asking the user to take (what he/she perceives as) an extra step by looking through the knowledge base, smart technology can look for them, and give them a potentially time saving solution. This creates the best of both worlds: human support staff is creating the ever-expanding knowledge base, and the machine is sifting through that knowledge base to find the most helpful resources for the user in need. As you continue through the guide, keep in mind the exponentially growing demand on the service desk as technology and user-expectations evolve. Your support staff needs all of the assistance and time saving techniques it can get, and an effective knowledge management strategy should be at the top of every organization’s list.
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Chris McManus
Chris McManus is a multimedia content producer at SolarWinds. He works with Service Desk customers on case studies and video stories, and he’s the go-to…
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