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June 6, 2024
January 12, 2024
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What is a Knowledge Base?

What is a knowledge base?

Any of the following can be considered a knowledge base:

  • FAQs (frequently asked questions)
  • PDFs
  • Word documents
  • Spreadsheets
  • Web portals
  • Wikis
  • Help center (content management system)
  • Browser extensions that bring knowledge to the apps you love
  • On-premise databases

An external knowledge base, also called a customer service knowledge base, stores information your customers and clients can use. An internal knowledge base, also known as an employee intranet or company wiki, stores your company’s private or confidential information and is accessible only by employees.

What is knowledge base software?

Knowledge base software is a powerful tool that can help businesses capture, organize, share, and update information efficiently. By leveraging the right knowledge base software, businesses can optimize their operations, enhance employee productivity, and improve customer satisfaction.

However, not all knowledge base software is created equal, and not every solution may be suitable for your particular business needs. Before investing in any software offering, it's crucial to evaluate your specific requirements and assess whether the software can deliver the functionalities you need.

Internal vs. external knowledge base: What’s the difference?

An internal and external knowledge base are different systems organizations use to store, organize, and share information. Here are the main differences between the two:

Access

Internal knowledge base: Only members of an organization or a specific group within the organization can access it. It requires authentication and authorization to access the information.

External knowledge base: It is accessible to the public or a wider audience outside the organization. It may or may not require authentication, depending on the nature of the information.

Content

Internal knowledge base: It contains information that is specific to the organization, such as company policies, procedures, employee handbook, project documentation, and internal communication.

External knowledge base: Information for people outside the company, like customers, partners, or the public. This can include product documentation, user manuals, FAQs, and troubleshooting guides.

Purpose

Internal knowledge base: It supports the internal operations of an organization by providing employees with the information they need to do their jobs well.

External knowledge base: Its primary purpose is to provide information and support to external stakeholders, such as customers or partners, to help them use the organization's products or services effectively.

Security

Internal knowledge base: often holds sensitive or confidential information that is not meant for public access. Therefore, it requires strict security measures to protect the information from unauthorized access.

External knowledge base: information for public use, may not need as much security as internal knowledge base. However, it may still require some level of security to protect against spam or malicious content.

An internal knowledge base assists with tasks within a company. It provides information and assistance to employees. An external knowledge base offers information and help to individuals outside the organization. It serves as a resource for external users.

The main differences between the two lie in their accessibility, content, purpose, and security. We'll dive deeper into internal knowledge bases below.

Types of knowledge base systems

There are five main types of knowledge bases. They include the following:

  • Internal knowledge base
  • Hosted knowledge base
  • Self-hosted knowledge base
  • Open-source knowledge base software
  • Customer service knowledge base

Internal knowledge base

An internal knowledge base is created by your organization strictly for employees to access information as needed. Discover how a knowledge base integration with Guru can be so much more useful for your team than a traditional knowledge base.

Ways to use an internal knowledge base

An internal knowledge base is incredibly versatile in the way it can be used. Some ways to make the most of your internal knowledge base software include bringing in key information, such as:

  • Answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about everything from employee benefits and onboarding protocols to brand guidelines and customer communications
  • Company policies and handbooks
  • Best practices and guides for sales strategies, handling customer issues and dealing with coworker conflicts
  • Organizational structures and important internal contact information
  • Recruitment, interviewing and employee assessment information for managers

Maintaining a well-organized, easily searchable, and accessible internal knowledge base means your employees can find answers quickly, without re-asking common questions.

Internal knowledge base software enables your company to focus your communications on new and critical information. Time spent introducing new employees to company policies and procedures, as well as training those taking on new roles, could be significantly reduced. Easier and faster access to information means that your customers will be happier with your sales team’s rapid response to their questions and concerns, and you will know the collective expertise of your employees is stored in a safe, searchable location for future use.

What is internal knowledge base software?

Internal knowledge base software supports your employees by giving them a one-stop shop where they can search for the resources they need to best do their jobs. An effective internal knowledge base reduces employee frustration and promotes productivity by reducing the need for repetitive searches, integrating with employee workflows, encouraging contribution and collaboration, and ensuring content relevance and accuracy.

Some additional examples of software that could be considered internal knowledge base software include documents and spreadsheets, content management systems (CMSs), web portals, FAQs, or wikis. 

Some questions that can help you choose the best software for your team are: 

  • Does this software let us share information with everyone who needs to see it?
  • Is it easy to alert people about important articles?
  • Are you able to quickly see when the article was last updated? And will the software prompt SMEs to update older information on a regular basis?

Internal knowledge base example

Hosted knowledge base

A hosted knowledge base collects and stores information for both your (internal) team and your (external) customers or stakeholders, keeping data well-organized and easily searchable.

Self-hosted knowledge base

This type of knowledge base is hosted on your organization’s own servers. This approach gives you more control over security, privacy, and uptime but also means you are responsible for handling concerns and fixing any issues that arise.

Open-source knowledge base 

Open-source knowledge bases are openly accessible to the public and may or may not be free of charge. Open-source knowledge base software can be helpful if your organization wants to allow developers or programmers to customize the source code according to business needs. 

Examples of open source knowledge bases

  • Documize
  • eXo
  • myBase
  • OpenKM

Customer service knowledge base

A customer service knowledge base organizes information to make it easy for your customers to access and use. Also called a customer knowledge base, it contains publicly accessible knowledge about a product and/or company. Because this is customer- or public-facing, it would not be appropriate for confidential or private information. Learn more about external knowledge bases here.

How is customer service knowledge base software used?

Customer service knowledge base software, also known as a help center software or external knowledge base software, is designed specifically for external, non-expert users to navigate and find information quickly. While it’s maintained by internal experts, the software should be publicly accessible and/or embedded into a customer-facing webpage.

Benefits of knowledge bases

Software that is intended to be used as a knowledge base has specific benefits over solutions that can be used many other ways, like long documents, PDFs, internal wikis, shared drives, or spreadsheets. 

  • Less time spent searching for information – Purpose-built knowledge base software makes it easier to surface specific knowledge when needed. This improves contact center efficiency by making it easy for agents to resolve customer issues on the first call. It also improves company-wide productivity by making it easy for everyone to find the information they need to do their jobs well.
  • Faster onboarding – New hires no longer need to ask tons of questions in their first weeks. A quality internal knowledge base enables them to effectively self-serve and stops repeat questions from interrupting your most critical staff.
  • Easy upkeep –  Documents and spreadsheets can easily become outdated, and version control can lead to duplication and confusion. Knowledge bases allow users to update individual items as necessary (instead of having to update and republish an entire document). A quality knowledge base includes a simple way to quickly see whether information can be trusted, and automation to remind SMEs to keep their information up-to-date.
  • Roles and permissions – Knowledge bases allow for granular access and editing. While some other solutions (like Google Docs and Google Drive) can also be limited this way, the settings often require more time to maintain. 
  • Designed to be used in-workflow – A quality knowledge base solution is designed to be used to provide answers where and when you need them, while other solutions require major context-switching and searching. For example, Guru’s Chrome extension, Microsoft Teams, and Slack integrations allow everyone to quickly access the knowledge they need without leaving the apps they use every day.

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What makes a great knowledge base?

  • Clear and concise organization: a great knowledge base is well-organized and easy to navigate, with intuitive categories and subcategories that make it easy for users to find what they need.
  • Up-to-date and accurate information: a great knowledge base is regularly updated to ensure that the information is accurate and relevant, through a combination of automated updates and regular reviews by subject matter experts.
  • User-friendly interface: a great knowledge base is designed with the end-user in mind, with a user-friendly interface that allows users to quickly find the information they need.
  • Search functionality: a great knowledge base includes a robust search functionality that allows users to quickly locate the information they need, with a search function that provides relevant results based on the user's query.
  • Collaboration tools: a great knowledge base encourages collaboration and knowledge sharing, including tools that allow users to contribute to the knowledge base such as wikis, forums, and commenting features. This helps to keep the information up-to-date and relevant, while also fostering a culture of collaboration and continuous learning.

How do I choose a knowledge base?

First, determine whether you need an internal knowledge base or an external knowledge base. Then, consider your knowledge management strategy. Those two factors in combination should give you sense of your technical requirements.

  • If you’re hosting an externally facing help center that needs to be updated 1-4 times/year, a content management system (CMS) may be your best option.
  • If your knowledge is meant to be accessed only in one or two specific offices for security reasons, a database that can only be accessed from on-premise computers is the right choice.
  • If you need an internal knowledge base that is updated once a month by 1-2 users but read by many, a wiki solution may work.
  • If you need an internal knowledge base that is both updated by and read by many people multiple times per month, a web portal may be your best option. If those people work in multiple apps, look for one with an in-browser extension.

Why you need a knowledge base

Knowledge management solutions let subject matter experts (SMEs) “brain dump” their expertise into an online resource that can be updated and edited as they see fit. That way, when team members have questions, they can go straight to the source for answers without having to bother the actual source. Plus, a verification feature like Guru’s tells users that the information available is trusted and up-to-date, eliminating any need to double-check with the SME.

How to know if you need a knowledge base 

If a People Ops team needs to make sure everyone is looking at the right benefits information, a centralized access location that can show who's read what is essential. That's where the knowledge base comes in.

The same holds true for a manager who wants to efficiently onboard and train new employees, or for a member of your team who needs information about their benefitscompensation, or company policies. If you see opportunities where your organization can save time, enhance productivity, and create greater cohesion and accuracy of the knowledge disseminated to employees, your company can benefit from internal knowledge base software.

Key takeaways 🔑🥡🍕

What is a knowledge base and why do I need one?

A knowledge base is a centralized repository of information that an organization collects, organizes, and shares to improve productivity, collaboration, and decision-making. Two reasons you might need one are: a knowledge base helps maintain your organization's collective knowledge, and it creates a single source of truth that promotes consistency and accuracy.

What's the difference between an internal and an external knowledge base?

An internal knowledge base is a private repository of information that is only accessible to employees within an organization, used for storing and sharing company-specific knowledge, processes, and resources. In contrast, an external knowledge base is a public-facing resource that provides information, support, and self-service options to an organization's customers, clients, or other external stakeholders.

What is an example of a knowledge base?

An example of a knowledge base is a company's internal wiki or intranet, where employees can find and contribute information about the organization's policies, procedures, best practices, and frequently asked questions across various departments, such as HR, IT, marketing, and finance.

Written by
Alexa Krzyzanowski
A version of this article was originally published in 2019.
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