The Current State of Knowledge Management

I just published my 2019 State of Knowledge Management, and I wanted to share some of the findings. Though KM has historically been primarily an area of interest for support, I'm seeing more organizations, including professional services, managed services, and customer success, formalizing the capture and sharing of knowledge. This was the seventh year that I conducted a survey on KM best practices, and results included the following:

Search Strategies Are Maturing.

One of the first areas of investment for companies trying to improve the success of knowledge programs is search strategy. I recommend unified searching, which indexes content in every repository, including knowledgebases, content repositories, product documentation, release notes, learning content, community discussions, etc., and allows employees and customers to search once to find matches across all repositories. Intelligent unified searching adds artificial intelligence like natural language processing and machine learning so search results become more accurate over time based on which search results are accessed, and results are based on the intent of search terms, not just actual search strings.

The percent of companies requiring customers to search each repository separately dropped from more than half (55 percent) in 2018 to a third in 2019. Adoption of unified search for self-service rose from 13 percent to 22 percent, and adoption of unified intelligent search rose from 7 percent to 19 percent. With 62 percent of companies planning additional investments in search technology in the next year or two, I expect to see adoption of these platforms continue to rise.

Corporate Culture Drives Success or Failure for KM.

Culture is a critical element for knowledge management success because KM programs ask people to change behavior, like documenting and sharing all of their hard-earned knowledge. When companies reward employees for being the only ones who know something, that reinforces a culture of hoarding knowledge and not sharing it. For companies to successfully build programs around knowledge sharing and collaboration, executives must foster this environment by setting the example and driving the message across the enterprise.

In our annual Knowledge Management Survey, the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) asked participants how they would rate their company culture regarding knowledge sharing, using a 10-point scale with one representing "Share knowledge and others take credit," and 10 representing "Leaders set the example and reward knowledge sharing." The average score for 2019 was 6.04, compared to 5.94 in 2018, indicating companies are focusing on knowledge sharing and collaboration as an important part of corporate culture.

To illustrate the power of knowledge sharing culture on the success of KM programs, I compared survey responses from respondents who rated their culture as 1-5 to respondents who rated their culture 6-10. For many questions, results were quite different between these two cohorts.

  • Executive commitment: 41 percent of companies with high culture scores say that executives track metrics related to KM usage and ROI in operational review meetings, compared to only 12 percent of low culture companies.
  • Program maturity: 39 percent of low culture companies place themselves in the Recognition Phase, meaning they are just at the start of their KM journey and have yet to see results, compared to only 20 percent of high culture companies.
  • KM budgets: While budget for the KM program is ideally a permanent part of departmental budgets, that is not always the case. Only 32 percent of low culture companies use this approach, compared to 58 percent of high culture companies.

Digital Opportunities Remain.

Though knowledge programs at technology firms have increased in maturity and sophistication in the past year, multiple areas of opportunity, particularly in regard to digital elements, remain. According to the survey, the following examples of digitalization are not growing as quickly as expected:

  • Google indexing. In TSIA's 2018 Channel Preference Quick Poll, 91 percent of respondents said they started a support interaction by doing a Google search. Companies need to have their self-service content indexed by Google to reinforce use of their customer portal, yet adoption of Google indexing was flat or declining year over year. A total of 50 percent of respondents in the 2019 Knowledge Management Survey said self-service content is indexed by Google, compared to 51 percent in 2018, and 44 percent said their customer community content was indexed by Google, compared to 48 percent in 2018.
  • Mobile access. There was only a very slight increase in tech firms that have made improvements to customer self-service to improve access by mobile devices, from 50 percent in 2018 to 53 percent in 2019. A total of 21 percent have mobile versions of their websites, compared to 20 percent last year, and those offering self-service mobile apps rose from 5 percent to 7 percent.
  • Video content. The percent of companies that don't offer videos on their self-service sites rose slightly in the past year, from 26 percent to 28 percent. There was a small increase in those offering dedicated YouTube sites for how-to videos (from 23 percent to 27 percent), but a significant decrease in companies offering libraries of how-to videos on their own websites (from 35 percent to 25 percent).

When investing in self-service user interface overhauls and additional search paradigms, remember that younger demographics have very different preferences for accessing content and content formats. They are more likely to access self-service from mobile devices than computers and prefer consuming content in bite-size chunks via video than reading long procedures. Making digital investments in knowledge and self-service will help increase both adoption and consumption.

John Ragsdale is vice president of technology research at the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA). He has spent more than 25 years in the customer service industry, as a technical and call center manager, in marketing and product management roles for knowledge management and CRM vendors, and as an analyst for Forrester Research and now TSIA.