How To Build A Living Knowledge Base


The history of knowledge bases

The essence of a knowledge base lies in what it does, not how it's constructed.  A knowledge base is a tool where you can collect, organize, search, and share useful information.  The first knowledge base no doubt arose around the time humans first developed language, in the form of tribal elders who held useful knowledge in their memories.


Today, knowledge bases and knowledge management are well-established.  Wherever you find a help desk or customer service team, you're likely to find a knowledge base.  Rather than looking up answers in printed manuals, service representatives can systematically search through knowledge bases to find the right answers.


But knowledge bases don't need to be limited to customer service.  We live in the information age, which means every department and every team needs a way to collect, organize, search, and share useful information.


The challenge of expanding knowledge bases beyond the help desk

The big challenge in expanding beyond the help desk is the overhead involved in developing and maintaining a knowledge base.  The knowledge base a customer support team uses is mission-critical, and is accessed by every member of the team many times per day.  As a result, the costs of developing and maintaining it are amortized across a huge number of individual transactions, making it easy to justify the investment.


For other departments or teams, the math is more challenging.  A marketing knowledge base would certainly save time when searching for old campaigns or looking up best practices, but it tends to be used on an ad hoc basis, rather than continuously.  As a result, the overhead costs loom larger, even though in the long run, the organization is better off.  But it's hard for organizations to invest for the long term--the pressure is always to deliver short term results.


Building a living knowledge base

The answer to this challenge is to build a living knowledge base.  What this means is that the knowledge base:


1) Develops organically, without additional effort

2) Is maintained organically through the normal processes of business


By driving down the perceived overhead, a living knowledge base is a far more palatable investment for non-support departments and teams.


Using PBworks the build a living knowledge base

The key to PBworks' success as a knowledge base is the ability to develop and maintain useful information as part of the regular course of doing business, rather than requiring a major separate investment.  Because teams use PBworks to execute projects and collaborate on key initiatives, and because PBworks records, retains, and makes searchable all the information generated in the process, it automatically generates a living knowledge base.


Simply doing their work causes employees to build up a store of knowledge, which can then be found via advanced search tools.


To build a formal knowledge base, with officially approved content, still requires additional work, but because it doesn't have to start from scratch, it dramatically reduces the overhead and investment required. In addition, the wiki-style collaboration that PBworks supports provides an intuitive interface that allows all the employees involved to update and maintain the knowledge base, rather than requiring separate KM staff.


For example, advertising agencies use PBworks to create an RFP (request for proposal) response knowledge base with standard answers to client questions.  The new business team itself keeps the knowledge base up to date by updating the responses as they evolve.  They can also tap the ad hoc knowledge base of all the previous RFP responses, which are stored and searchable as well.


By enabling living knowledge bases, PBworks takes knowledge management out of the customer support niche and allows all departments and teams to take advantage of its power.

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