We all have knowledge. This knowledge helps us to navigate a complex world and survive unforeseen circumstances and rare challenges. Knowledge is much more than data or information—it is categorized information that we can access when needed.

Knowledge can vary greatly, from knowing not to touch a hot stove, to knowing when the warranty expires on your appliances. Knowledge is typically acquired throughout our lives and comes from our caregivers, our education, our friends and family.

As we grow we acquire different knowledge. A coffee lover, for example, will likely know how to make the perfect cup of coffee. A car buff will know how to perform an oil change. Knowledge can also be institutional, too, such as religious rituals or secret family recipes.

Knowledge is individual, yet shareable. Your brain is your personal knowledge base and is accessible only to you (unless you choose to share it with others). Although we have repositories of information—encyclopedias, tomes of scholarly writing, the internet—there is no such thing as a central knowledge base that stores all knowledge and can be easily accessed when the need arises.

I have my brain and you have yours. If I know that you are a coffee lover and I am looking to make a better cup of coffee, I can ask you to show me how. But if you wish to keep your knowledge secret from me, I will have no access to this knowledge.

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Organizations and knowledge

Organizations are organic—they are comprised of numerous individuals, each of whom has access to knowledge and expertise that they have acquired throughout their time at the organization. Each employee will have lots of knowledge related to their job and will have some knowledge as to the other parts of the organization.

The knowledge that each employee has is dynamic and needs to grow as the organization grows. If the organization is a software company and a new version of the software product is released, the employees must update their knowledge in order to stay up to date.

If the knowledge is not updated, it will become obsolete.

Employees also acquire institutional knowledge that is specific to the organization. A customer service representative who is unable to answer questions related to the updated version of the software will frustrate the customer. This may cause the customer to look for a different software provider.

Organizational knowledge is stored in many locations: the personal knowledge base of each employee (their brain), company documents, even sticky notes. All of this is inefficient and will put employees (especially new ones) at a disadvantage when it comes to having access to knowledge.

This is especially evident in customer service departments of organizations or call centers, whose job it is to provide customers with real-time information and to answer any question that the customer may have about the specific features of the product or service.

This is where the need for a central knowledge base arises.

What is a knowledge base?

A knowledge base is a system that stores all of an organization’s knowledge in a single location. Just as your brain can be thought of as your personal knowledge base, the knowledge base of an organization can be seen as the brain or central repository of knowledge of that organization.

The knowledge base should be easily accessible to all employees and should contain all of the knowledge of the organization. A well-designed knowledge base will contain knowledge articles that are dynamic and that make it easy for employees to update or modify the knowledge articles as new knowledge is created and old knowledge is made obsolete through the evolution of the product life cycle.

Features of a knowledge base

The purpose of a knowledge base is to be the central repository of the information of an organization. The main features of the knowledge base can vary, but the key functionalities should be the ability to:

Knowledge in a customer service organization

The employees of a customer service organization interact with customers on a daily basis. Each employee must be an expert in every feature of every product or service that the company offers. And each must be able to answer every potential question that a customer may have. In a large organization, especially one with multiple products or services, each of which goes through periodic updates, this is an impossible ask.

This is where the need for a knowledge base arises. A customer service employee who has access to a well-designed knowledge base will be able to answer any question that a customer may have. This employee will be an expert on every product and every service that the organization offers and will be a customer service superstar!