We recently asked John Ragsdale, vice president of technology and social research at the TSIA, to walk us through the highs (and lows) of knowledge sharing in field service, drawing from his latest annual research. One troublesome finding?

“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,” Ragsdale says.

But there’s hope as some companies are building modern knowledge-sharing platforms to help techs access the best information available, from any device. Here, he explains how to build a next-gen knowledge base that techs will actually use.

Whose job is it to build a digital, “virtual” knowledge base?

KM-UnsplashThat may depend on who has the “intelligent search religion” in your company. Some very large companies are hiring a new position —knowledge czar — who reports to the CIO and ensures each department captures and shares knowledge amount peers.

But full-time resources are rare within support and field service companies, so multiple employees dedicate time to nurture the knowledge program. The starting point is to identify all of the content sources across your enterprise — and across the Web — with valuable content to include in the search indexing, then prioritize each source for inclusion.

That sounds complex.

A simple way to do this is to ask service techs which content sources they find valuable. Field service leaders will likely be surprised at the variety of sources employees use. Look at the search platform analytics to identify content and to find articles that need to be updated or removed. Then, use relevancy analysis to understand the most-used content. Some search products may be able to index everything at once, while others may require some custom filters or integrations to access every repository.

What companies have successfully put this plan into action?

During my recent Technology Services World presentation, I highlighted three TSIA member companies that have embraced this concept with great results:

  • Tricentis,which sells software testing tools;
  • Broadsoft, a provider of unified communications and collaboration software and services; and
  • Informatica, which delivers enterprise data integration and management software powering analytics for big data and cloud services.

Each company offers an elegant user interface with a single search field that retrieves content from multiple sources. They also offer filtering options to help employees find exactly what they need. It’s a much better option that scrolling through pages of results. In general, once the virtual knowledge base approach is implemented, users will respond. Employees will conduct more searches, access and download more documents, and spend more time overall on the site. That not only helps employees become more productive, but it also streamlines customer self-service, which has huge cost savings implications.

Is a smart knowledge management strategy the best lever at a manager’s disposal to fight against the looming talent gap?

I think service managers have a few levers to pull (scheduling automation, mobile devices, remote access, among others), but knowledge is definitely a critical element. We continue to hear that large numbers of senior techs are retiring in the next two to three years, so now is the time to proactively begin capturing their hard-earned knowledge any way possible.

The results make clear that employees and managers understand the potential value of knowledge. Nearly half of field service respondents said a 20-30 percent improvement would be possible, while more than a quarter pegged improvement at 30 percent or more.

Why isn’t that potential realized?

In my report, “The State of Knowledge Management: 2015,” I talk about the key obstacles to realizing this potential, including insufficient resources, broken or outdated processes, and the lack of a sharing culture. I also talk about how to incorporate some key knowledge metrics into executive operational reviews, to at least introduce the subject and hopefully place it on the exec’s radar.

Image: “State of Knowledge Management: 2015”