Stop Managing Knowledge and Bring Your Knowledge Network to Life

Last verified Apr 26, 2021

When was the last time you used your internal knowledge base? If the answer is “recently,” what was your experience like navigating it? If and when you found what you were looking for, did you have confidence it was up-to-date? If you had any questions about a specific piece of knowledge, would you know who to ask? And what happens when you need an answer ASAP? Do you simply shoulder tap or message someone you think knows the answer?Internal knowledge is fundamentally broken. You might have entire teams devoted to managing all of your knowledge repositories, but somehow, knowledge still remains siloed and goes stale. If your internal KB is just a cache of available notes and assets — a passive knowledge base — we’re here to tell you that you’re going to manage your company’s critical knowledge into obsolescence.While knowledge can be a meaningful competitive differentiator for your business, knowledge management platforms weren’t built for the dynamic, rapid-fire needs of customer-facing teams.


How did we get here? The near-death of knowledge management

So how do you get people to stop managing knowledge and start using it in a way that empowers your teams to drive better business outcomes? The first step is acknowledging you might have a problem. In a 2015 piece for the Wall Street Journal, Thomas H. Davenport, a business analytics expert who literally wrote the book on knowledge management practices, declared “knowledge management isn’t dead, but it’s gasping for breath.” Of the six major reasons he listed for its near-demise, two in particular stood out to us:

“It was too hard to change behavior. Some employees weren’t that interested in acquiring knowledge, others weren’t interested in sharing what they knew. Knowledge is tied up in politics and ego and culture. There were methods to improve its flow within organizations, but most didn’t bother to adopt them. Perhaps for this reason, the Bain survey [...] suggests that corporate satisfaction with KM was relatively low compared to some other management concepts.”


It was too time-consuming to search for and digest stored knowledge. Even in organizations where a lot of knowledge was contributed to KM systems—consulting firms like Deloitte and Accenture come to mind—there was often too much knowledge to sort through. Many people didn’t have the patience or time to find everything they needed. Ironically, the greater the amount of knowledge, the more difficult it was to find and use.

We think people are more willing to use a company’s store of knowledge if they don’t have to go out searching for it, and if they know that it’s relevant and updated. Your walls of knowledge now live wherever your revenue team members spend their time, and they can know exactly who the author of a piece of information is, and when it was last updated.

But even the most active knowledge base can’t anticipate the unexpected. Sooner or later, a customer is going to ask an account executive or support rep a question no one has asked before. At that point, all of the knowledge you have stored in any of your data repositories isn’t going to help — and that’s when, sigh, you have to ask someone

Building the knowledge network

We believe that building your knowledge network shouldn’t involve chasing various leads within your own company; it should be as simple as asking a question and seeing who actually knows the answer.

One of the biggest impediments to asking a question (especially at an enterprise-level company) is knowing which SMEs can give you a timely answer. Roles may have shifted since the last org chart was produced, your go-to might be at an all-day training — or might have left the company altogether. And there’s nothing more frustrating — and more likely to stall out a deal — than submitting a ticket and getting a response that says “Standard response time is 2-4 business days,” only to then discover that you’ve submitted it to the wrong group.

Or maybe you’re lucky enough to know exactly who you need to ask, but she documents everything in Trello, and you only have access to JIRA. It doesn’t matter who you know if you don’t have quick and efficient access to a system that bridges the information across every platform in which you work. That’s where the concept of the knowledge network comes in; it connects teams, SMEs, and information from every system, and gives your company’s knowledge active value. With a network, your SMEs can have confidence that the time they’re investing in documenting what they know will actually be found and used, and your revenue team can be ready to turn around and answer a customer’s question quickly and accurately.

Responding to actual questions — as opposed to hypotheticals — means less wasted time for your SMEs, and more relevant data for your revenue team. One of our customers put it best when she reviewed us, saying, “One of the many challenges we face as we continue to grow has been the dissemination of information. Whether it's product content or knowledge about our company policies and procedures, it's hard to keep a healthy database of knowledge when information rapidly changes. With Guru, we're able to automatically verify updates when notified, direct questions through the proper channels, and link various portals of information into one platform. What began as a pilot between two departments quickly expanded to our entire company, saving content creators time and letting individuals access the information they need, when they need it.”

So, let’s ask again: when’s the last time you used your internal knowledge base? Are you managing a passive platform, or building an active knowledge network? Which do you think sets your revenue team up for success in the long term? You can try searching for the answer… or you could just ask.

Learn more: Silos are out. Collaboration is in.