There are a few truths in field service management: One, people — and all of their accumulated know-how — is a company’s greatest asset. Two, service organizations are bound to lose many of their most knowledge people to retirement. Three, that knowledge is really important and can have a big impact on productivity.

Why, then, do so few service executives make knowledge management a top priority? We put that question (among others) to John Ragsdale, vice president of technology and social research at the TSIA. Ragsdale recently completed his annual “State of Knowledge Management” report, which he presented earlier this month at Technology Services World in Last Vegas. Keep reading for his take on what companies are getting right — and what they still stubbornly get wrong — with knowledge-sharing programs.

What finding surprises you the most?

The one data point that made me so angry I had to go walk around the block is that 62 percent of respondents said they have no employee performance goals, or incentives, for participation in the knowledge program. Yet asked what productivity improvement is possible if employees were sharing knowledge as well as they possibly could, nearly half (44 percent) said a 30 percent or greater improvement was possible. So, if they understand the huge potential for sharing knowledge, why is this not a priority?

It is frustrating when the best practices for knowledge management, such as knowledge-centered support, are understood, but companies refuse to allocate the necessary resources. I continue to hear companies struggling with problems we know how to solve, but there isn’t support from executives to provide the funding, staffing and cultural support required to be successful.

Is the traditional knowledge base dead given the prevalence of mobile devices in field service (and, of course, Google)?

The traditional “tacit” knowledge base, which captures knowledge learned through doing your job, remains incredibly valuable. I don’t think it’s going away any time soon. However, the tools used to capture and share that knowledge are definitely changing. The survey revealed that the average time to publish new information is 12 days, with some companies reporting it takes as long as 120 days to publish a new article.

In these environments, online communities and collaboration are filling the void. After all, it takes less than a minute to post a new article in an online community or discussion forum. Users learn to look in the community for late-breaking issues, while the traditional knowledge base is relied on for more mature content.

What’s the antidote?

To keep employees using the knowledge base, we have to make some investments. For field techs, this means making the knowledge easily consumable using mobile devices. About two-thirds of companies have yet to make any updates to their KM system to streamline mobile access, such as building mobile apps or at least creating a responsive website.

Can you briefly explain your notion of the ‘virtual knowledge base’?

There are many great content resources to help users solve a problem: the knowledge base, employee and customer communities, product manuals, release notes, training guides, implementation manuals, bug databases, CRM incident histories, and others. TSIA members report that technicians access, on average, up to 13 separate sources of information to solve customer issues. The problem with this approach is nobody remembers where to look for information. Newer employees and customers are at a real disadvantage.

My solution is to use an intelligent search platform, meaning there are analytics and machine learning helping the platform improve accuracy. The search platform indexes all of your corporate content, wherever it’s stored, and can return a single list of search results, culled from all sources, Plus, it includes filtering options to narrow the results. Companies can take their entire corporate knowledge infrastructure, including dozens of repositories, and create a single “virtual” knowledge base.

Images: “State of Knowledge Management: 2015”