When people need to find information or answer a question, whether personal or work-related, today’s first stop is often the Internet. That instinct holds true for field service technicians, too, as answers are a Google search away on a technician’s smartphone or tablet. The challenge for modern field service managers is how to capture and share this helpful information, whether the source is an online forum or the internal knowledge base.

Managers understand the value of consolidating information that field technicians can use to solve problems — and that technology can help accomplish that. According to the Technology Services Industry Association’s 2014 knowledge management report, 40 percent of respondents said successful knowledge sharing would improve their field service team’s productivity by 20 to 30 percent.

“It’s very naive to think that the only content that matters is what’s behind your own firewall.” — John Ragsdale

Despite investments in new tools, though, managers continue to ignore one of the most valuable sources of information: the Internet.

Don’t Fight Instinct

Managers may invest in knowledge management technology, but technicians often bypass the knowledge base entirely and turn to Google, according to John Ragsdale, vice president of technology and social research at the TSIA.

“It’s very naïve to think that the only content that matters is what’s behind your own firewall,” Ragsdale says. “There’s a wealth of information out there that you don’t own or author, such as product discussion forums and even YouTube videos, that have great information.”

Internal resources should complement, not supplant, the information technicians seek out on their own, Ragsdale continues. The challenge is giving technicians the information they need, whether it lives inside the knowledge base or on the Web, and allowing them to share great information with their colleagues.

More Collaboration

But how? Ragsdale recommends that managers expand their approach to knowledge-centered support (KCS), a common standard that service organizations use to create and maintain a knowledge base, to include useful online content. For example, if a technician finds a helpful website or training video, managers could bookmark the link on other technicians’ mobile devices.

Managers can also train technicians to add new sources to the knowledge base by adding required fields on work orders, or by creating a game to see who can find the best content. Whatever the method, the result is a more complete knowledge base. Managers benefit, too, because they can more easily track and report where technicians find their information — and identify bad sources, whether inaccurate online sites or outdated internal guides.

Ultimately, knowledge management is about giving technicians the information they need to do their jobs. The best information does little good if technicians don’t use it, or if they don’t know where to find it. Service organizations should be less concerned about where the answers come from, as long as the information is accurate and the customer’s problem gets solved, says Ragsdale.