You work on a difficult problem for hours and hours, and then you are relieved when you find the solution. You feel exhilarated and exhausted at the same time. And you know that the next time you face a similar problem, you will know what to do. But what about your colleagues? What about others in the company who work on the other side of the globe? Will they know? You realize that you need to share that knowledge with others. But how?
Knowledge is Power
As the former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating.” He was speaking about education, but the same holds true for technology within organizations. Those who have the best grasp on company products and processes have an advantage over those who are less informed. It has been common for experienced engineers to keep secrets to themselves, hoping to elevate their value within the enterprise. That is not the best approach.
As knowledge is disseminated throughout the organization, workers are more empowered to do their jobs. Smart companies are aware of this and create opportunities for training and knowledge transfer where possible. One of the best ways to share knowledge is through a knowledge base.
Techopedia defines a knowledge base as “a database used for knowledge sharing and management.” In a more general sense, a knowledge base could be anywhere that information is stored, such as your public library. With the advances of digital computing, businesses have developed methods for collecting and analyzing data that include data mining, artificial intelligence (AI) and knowledge-based systems. AI systems are even being used to assist physicians with medical diagnosis. (For more on this, see The Role of IT in Medical Diagnosis.)
Knowledge Base Use Cases
Obviously you're aware of the significant advances in knowledge management and the impact on large-scale endeavors. But there are also potential use cases for knowledge bases on smaller scales that may be very beneficial to you and your projects. Knowledge management is about gathering, organizing, refining and disseminating information. A knowledge base is an integral component of knowledge management systems.
Ellen Berry, the Content Director for Myndbend, wrote about several uses for knowledge bases. She said that they are often used to:
- Present users with quick self-service options
- Train staff or equip end users
- Give help desk reps a database of known issues and fixes
- Supply developers with code snippets, templates and tools
- Bring traffic to a website
A knowledge base is meant to provide answers when they are needed. A prime example is the Microsoft Knowledge Base, which has more than 150,000 articles. Your knowledge base doesn't have to be so big. Start small and allow others to collaborate in building it. Assign one curator to take care of it. Make it a work in progress.
Knowledge Base Software
There are plenty of ready-made software solutions that you can use to develop your knowledge base, and some them are free. One of the largest knowledge bases in the world is Wikipedia, which currently has over five million articles in the English edition alone. “Wiki” is the Hawaiian word for “fast” or “quick.” You can put together your own wiki knowledge base with free software, and you can easily integrate your wiki into your current website.
Other commercial software applications are available, and you can compare them on the Capterra website. As with any software selection, you will have to consider your own needs and tastes, try them out, and make your own decision. You will be able to find other software reviews and recommendations online.
If you are not yet convinced that you need a knowledge base for an operation as small as yours, consider this: You have a very knowledgeable and reliable employee or colleague, and whenever you need an answer about the software or product that you support, you can always go to him and find out what you need to know. He is able to solve problems quickly and efficiently. Now, suppose the scenario changes. Your go-to guy leaves the company or is away for medical reasons. What do you do now?
The knowledge base that you start today will gradually hold the sum of your organization's technical and institutional knowledge. You will be able to share it with collaborators on the other side of the globe, and you will be able to refer to it when dealing with similar issues in the future. You will save time and money by developing this wealth of knowledge and making it available to all who need it.
Developing a knowledge base will be a fulfillment of the hopes of computing pioneers who looked to the day when machines would be used as extensions of the human mind. In J.C.R. Licklider's “Libraries of the Future,” he explored the capabilities of future machines in recording and cataloging human cognitive activities. That day is here. We would be unwise not to take advantage of it. (To learn more about Licklider, read 7 Computing Manifestos That Changed the World.)