The Essential Guide to ITIL Knowledge Management

Find out how the ITIL Knowledge Management process is used by organizations to collect organizational knowledge, improve accessibility, and eliminate redundancies.

Introduction

Imagine that your organization has recently performed a software upgrade that causes an error on your desktop computer when you perform a certain activity. You follow the correct process by taking a screenshot of the error message and contacting your IT service desk to seek a resolution. After some wait time, an initial discussion, an escalation, more wait time, and some troubleshooting, the service desk discovers a workaround that’s good enough for now and you get back to work.

Was this a happy ending to the story? On the one hand, your organization’s IT staff was able to escalate your incident effectively until you got the information you needed to move past the problem. Still, while the issue was resolved for you, it could still affect your fellow employees, who may also encounter this error. Will all of them have to phone IT and go through the same process that you did?

The reality is that your interaction with IT created knowledge for your organization. If the proper systems are in place to record that knowledge and put it to use, your colleagues can benefit from your interaction. According to ITIL® 2011, two "tools" of Knowledge Management are of outstanding importance. The first is the data, information, knowledge, wisdom (DIKW) hierarchy, which takes data generated by IT activities and processes it into information, then knowledge, and finally transforms it into wisdom and insights that the IT organization can use to make better decisions. The second tool is the Service Knowledge Management System (SKMS), a set of software subsystems that work together to conduct data analysis according to the DIKW hierarchy. While defined by ITIL, SKMS is not commonly used in the industry. It is much more common to refer to SKMS as some form of knowledge management database or knowledge base.

The ITIL Knowledge Management process is used by organizations across the world to collect organizational knowledge, improve its accessibility for users, and eliminate redundancies in the knowledge-finding process to improve organizational efficiency. This last benefit is immediately identified in the above example—the IT organization should record the reported error in the “known error” database of the Knowledge Management system along with information about the workaround that was discovered. If the organization resolves the error in the future, the article should be updated to reflect the most current knowledge about the software error and how to resolve it. This ensures that the IT organization does not waste its time troubleshooting the same error for several people when a solution has already been discovered!

Methodologies such as the official Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS®), which evolved from the more commonly known Knowledge Centered Support, complement ITIL Knowledge Management and provide guidance for effective creation and maintenance of knowledge articles. There are also commercial vendors, such as KnowledgeBroker, that provide knowledge bases that can be loaded into a SKMS such as one provided by Cherwell's service desk software and then used by either business end users or service desk technicians or agents.

In this guide, we will fully explain ITIL Knowledge Management, how it functions at the organizational level, and how effective ITIL Knowledge Management can protect your organization's intellectual capital while increasing your efficiency. We'll also explain how a Service Knowledge Management System (SKMS) can be deployed to improve IT self-service at your organization and generate wisdom and insights according to the DIKW hierarchy, and how you can use KPIs to measure the time and cost savings associated with ITIL Knowledge Management.

What Is ITIL Knowledge Management?

First introduced as part of ITIL v3, Knowledge Management is also a part of the current ITIL 2011. Its goal is to gather, analyze, store, and share knowledge that exists within an organization. The ITIL Knowledge Management process helps reduce the need for organizations to rediscover knowledge by documenting it and making it available throughout the organization—not just for the people who created it.

Further on, we'll discuss the benefits and best practices of ITIL Knowledge Management, but for now, here are a few more points that clarify how ITIL Knowledge Management works at the organizational level:

Knowledge Managers Own the ITIL Knowledge Management Process

The ITIL framework designates roles and responsibilities for owners of the key processes that it contains. Organizations that follow these guidelines are encouraged to create a "Knowledge Manager" role, designating a person whose job is to ensure that the IT organization is able to gather, analyze, store, and share knowledge. Under ITIL, knowledge managers are given full ownership over the process, which should be implemented according to the guidelines in ITIL 2011. A common practice in many organizations is to involve the entire service desk team in the identification, creation, and curation of knowledge articles with the help and facilitation of the knowledge manager. Effective knowledge management is not a one-person job.

Knowledge Management Is Part of the Service Transition Stage of ITSM

ITIL service management divides the service lifecycle into five distinct stages, each containing several processes and sub-processes that must be carried out effectively. The five service stages can be summarized as follows:

  1. Service Strategy – Executive-level managers determine a service strategy according to long-term and immediate business needs.
  2. Service Design – IT professionals work to design services that further the organization's strategic goals.
  3. Service Transition – Service transition bridges the gap between service design and service operation. It includes processes for Change Management and change evaluation, management processes for releasing and deploying new services, application development, and service validation and testing.
  4. Service Operation – Service operations is all about providing stable and responsive services through a robust support network, ensuring that the business can benefit from services while minimizing interruptions. The service desk plays a significant role in service operations by directly owning Incident Management and request fulfillment processes, as well as receiving user feedback on newly implemented services.
  5. Continual Service Improvement – IT organizations continually improve by perpetually aligning and re-aligning their objectives with the strategic objectives of the organization while searching proactively for ways to improve services and delivery.

In ITIL 2011, Knowledge Management is listed as a sub-process under Service Transition, where it seems out of place next to the sub-processes that deal with change controls, release and deployment management, service asset and configuration management, and other aspects of controlling changes to the live environment. For starters, it should be obvious that service transition is not the only part of the service lifecycle where new knowledge can be generated for the organization. The Knowledge Management process takes input from all other stages in the service life cycle and produces information that can be used throughout the entire life cycle as well.

The SKMS Is the Primary Tool for Knowledge Management in ITIL Organizations

Under ITIL 2011, the SKMS was defined as the central repository of data, information, and knowledge that the IT organization needs to manage the lifecycle of its services. Drawing from multiple potential information sources, a SKMS is typically not a stand-alone or single system, although it may be. Often, it's created by merging several individual systems and data sources into one system that can store, analyze, and present the information in a structured format that allows managers to develop insights, see connections, and make better decisions. As mentioned earlier, actual use of the acronym SKMS is rare. While not a perfect match, it is common to refer to a SKMS more simply as a knowledge base or something similar.

Modeling IT Knowledge Management: DIKW and SKMS

How is knowledge created within organizations? How is it created at all? How can we tell when knowledge has been created so we know to document it? These are some of the questions that IT knowledge managers face on a daily basis—their role is to ascertain what the company is learning and codify that knowledge so it can be accessed by people who need to solve IT problems and make better decisions. In this section, we'll discuss two tools that are used by knowledge managers to generate and store knowledge: the DIKW model and the SKMS.

DIKW: Creating Wisdom from Data

The DIKW model describes how organizations can begin to generate knowledge based on their daily activities. It also represents a hierarchy of knowledge, a model used to demonstrate or visualize the flow of data through increasingly rigorous stages of analysis until it becomes genuine knowledge and wisdom. The four tiers in the DIKW model are data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Here's how we'll explain each one:

Data - Data is the collection of facts about events. Each process that the organization follows has some data associated with it, as long as there is a system in place to collect that data. Data can consist of signs, symbols, specific or relative values, or anything else that the organization can measure. On its own, data is not very useful because we haven't worked with it yet or asked any questions about it.

Information - Information is what happens when you take a bunch of data and start asking questions about it. When we apply context to some data that was collected or ask questions about it, we start to come up with pieces of information that we can use. Part of a knowledge manager's role includes asking questions about the data that the IT organization collects, and it's important to ask the right ones!

If we measure the temperature in the server room at one-hour intervals, we can probably determine whether an ice cream cone would melt in the server room, but we're probably more interested in finding out whether the servers are being cooled adequately. Therefore, an organization needs to analyze its data with the correct context to find useful information.

Knowledge - Knowledge is an even further-derived type of data. When you've collected data and turned it into some useful information through analysis and applying context, you may be able to extract some knowledge from the experience. This experience is the same as learning something new—it requires analysts to contribute their cognitive or intellectual capability to turn information into knowledge.

Wisdom - Remember, the goal of ITIL Knowledge Management processes is to reduce redundancies in knowledge acquisition throughout the organization and to ensure that everyone can make better decisions because there is more knowledge available. Wisdom is the application of knowledge. It's using insight that you didn't have before to make a decision that you wouldn't have made otherwise.

SKMS: A Living Data System for Organizations

Armed with a keen understanding of the DKIW hierarchy and a willingness to store and share knowledge for the organization, the knowledge manager establishes and maintains the Service Knowledge Management System (SKMS) as the central repository of all information needed to manage the service life cycle for all of the services that the IT organization provides.

The SKMS combines several subsystems into a single super system that draws data from multiple sources, uses software applications and technology to synchronize and reconcile the data into usable information, conducts modeling and analytical processes, and presents the resultant knowledge in searchable formats.

Data in the SKMS can be derived from several sources, including:

  • The organization's asset management system
  • The software library
  • Service request management data
  • Service desk metrics and KPIs
  • Identity management systems
  • The configuration management database

Once the data is federated and reconciled within the system, analytical methods can be applied to translate the derived information into knowledge that is usable by the organization. The SKMS allows the knowledge manager to execute querying and analysis of the captured data, plan and forecast future conditions based on the current data, construct models for business process improvement by manipulating known variables, and monitor the organization's ongoing performance across a variety of metrics. This knowledge is made available to customers throughout the company and used by executive managers to improve decision-making.

The 4 Core Knowledge Management Activities

Now that we understand the most important tools of Knowledge Management, let's look at its four main activities within the organization. These are the core activities that a knowledge manager must engage to achieve their goal of enabling knowledge-sharing throughout the organization.

Knowledge Management Strategy

Knowledge Management begins with data capture, and any effort to capture data requires strategic planning to determine what data will be collected, how that will be achieved, and the expected business benefit. Organizations should establish a Knowledge Management strategy that describes the kinds of information they would like to capture and how they expect the organization to benefit.

Knowledge Transfer

The ideal knowledge manager can proactively identify knowledge gaps within the company, which occur when a person or department needs some kind of knowledge or wisdom that they do not have access to. Knowledge managers may develop a communication or transfer plan to communicate the knowledge where it is needed, or they might simply make the resources available for persons in the department to access the knowledge when required.

Information Management

Information management is a significant portion of the role of any knowledge manager. Knowledge managers must collect data, define the architecture of the SKMS that will develop that data into something usable, and continually improve the processes and procedures for the use of the SKMS.

The Function of the SKMS

The effectiveness of the SKMS is the ultimate measure of the effectiveness of a knowledge manager. When customers require tech support at a time of the day when the service desk is not available, the SKMS should serve as a reliable knowledge base where they can access any documented information the organization has collected that might pertain to the issue. Knowledge managers control the development of the SKMS and try to make it user-friendly for customers.

What Are the Best KPIs for Knowledge Management?

How does an organization measure its ability to share knowledge? How does it determine whether its investment in Knowledge Management processes is really saving time and money? Measuring the impact of the process can be difficult—that's why we recommend measuring proxy KPIs to determine how your Knowledge Management initiative is performing. Using a proxy means that we're measuring something else instead of measuring Knowledge Management directly, but we're assuming that the thing we measure is an indicator of the success of the process. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Measure the proportion of responses to incident management tickets that include a reference to the SKMS - These references indicate that the company documented the solution to a problem and can provide it in documented form to a customer. In practice, this means that the service desk technician looked up the answer to the query in the knowledge base instead of rediscovering it themselves.
  • Measure entries in the known error database - Knowledge managers must institute processes for logging known errors into a database. These bugs can be addressed in the future, but logging them ensures that customers and IT staff are aware of existing bugs that do not yet have a solution and that resources are appropriately allocated between resolving the errors and establishing workarounds that minimize interruptions while communicating appropriately to customers and managing expectations about known errors.
  • Measure customer activity in the SKMS - An effective SKMS contains information that customers want and does a good job of directing them towards relevant articles. If customers are spending a long time on the SKMS without reading anything, or if search results are not generating click-throughs at an appropriate rate, knowledge managers should utilize tagging, effective titles, and other methodologies in search design to help customers find the knowledge they seek. Remember, if your customers can't find what they need in the SKMS, it's wasted time with no benefit—the SKMS has to be as customer-friendly as possible.

What Are the Benefits of ITIL Knowledge Management?

The establishment of an effective Knowledge Management system can have organization-wide impacts on efficiency, quality, and timeliness. Organizations that build useful SKMS systems which efficiently serve customers can benefit in a number of different ways, including:

Increase business volume without hiring more employees - Hiring and growth are often correlated, but when employees are given tool that increase their daily efficiency, they can accomplish more on their own without needing the extra help. Knowledge management helps businesses increase their revenue and do more business without hiring additional employees.

Increase quality of service - An up-to-date knowledge base can offer the shortest route from problem to solution, enhancing your call handling, Incident Management, and request fulfillment processes. Callers to your service desk will benefit from improved quality of service and more timely call handling as you build a knowledge base that technicians can reference to efficiently handle customer requests.

Reduce time to market - The knowledge base is part of the service transition process which bridges the gap between service design and service operation. Organizations can leverage their insights from the SKMS to improve the service transition process and decrease their time to market for new service offerings.

Minimize frequency and impact of legal or regulatory actions - It isn't difficult to imagine a situation where giving someone the wrong information could have negative legal or regulatory implications for your organization. If a customer asks about their permissions under a software license agreement with a service provider, the correct information should be present in the knowledge base that would prevent them from violating the agreement. The knowledge base should contain information that helps customers remain compliant with contracts and regulations that are pertinent to the organization.

Reduce loss of intellectual capital when employees change - A company is a group of teams, and teams function on the individual skillsets and know-how of their members. A valuable team member is very helpful, but organizations who build their success around people face significant risks when their best people choose to leave. A robust knowledge base helps the company itself extract knowledge from the professionals that work there, retaining some of their intellectual capital even after they depart.

Avoid redundancies in problem solving by democratizing information - Waste occurs when information must be discovered several times by different members of an organization. An updated SKMS helps avoid redundant problem-solving by effectively disseminating information throughout the organization.

Increased worker productivity with more available knowledge - Workers who have access to more organizational knowledge make fewer service desk inquiries and resolve known issues on their own through self-service.

Enable employee development and increase worker satisfaction - A robust knowledge base gives employees the resources to learn more at work, boosting employee development and increasing worker satisfaction. IT staff enjoy the prospect of contributing to an ever-growing database of knowledge while maintaining their typical ITIL incident management and request fulfillment responsibilities.

Conclusion

Knowledge Management is one of the most useful processes in ITIL as it complements so many other processes, enables end-user self-sufficiency when presented in a service portal, and increases service desk efficiency in resolving incidents and fulfilling requests faster.

As part of the Service Transition stage of ITIL, the goal of the Knowledge Management process is to gather, analyze, store and share organizational knowledge. Knowledge managers use the DIKW hierarchy to build an SKMS that aims to satisfy the core objective of knowledge management.