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What Is a Knowledge Management System?

Jon Hill
4 mins
woman browses knowledge management system on laptop at home

They say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that holds true in business, too—the collective knowledge of your workforce is a powerful tool. That’s why successful companies implement knowledge management systems.

An effective knowledge management solution allows companies to organize and retain valuable knowledge from every employee. This preserves knowledge in case any employees ever leave, but it also creates a one-stop shop where employees can learn best practices, how to troubleshoot common issues, and other relevant information for their jobs.

In this guide, we will cover what a knowledge management system is and how your company can use it to its advantage.

What Is a Knowledge Management System (KMS)?

A knowledge management system (KMS) is a platform that stores and organizes information with the goal to improve collaboration, understanding, and alignment. Companies use knowledge management systems to consolidate information in one central source. Rather than relying on multiple systems (e.g., company intranet, email, locally saved files, etc.), employees use the knowledge management system as their go-to location for shared information.

Knowledge management systems are designed to accommodate multiple types of information, including documents, videos, presentations, FAQs, audio files, and more. Employees from across the company can contribute information to the system, which promotes knowledge retention and encourages continuous learning. 

Types of Knowledge

All knowledge is valuable, but you can generally categorize knowledge into three main categories. Understanding the three types of knowledge can help you determine the best way to organize and share it within your company.

Explicit Knowledge

Explicit knowledge is the most basic form of knowledge. It is easy to articulate, record, store, and share. In a business environment, this typically includes information like white papers, data sheets, research reports, documented processes and policies, product information, and brochures.

Implicit Knowledge

Implicit knowledge is the practical application of explicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge is often gained through experience, context, and incidental activity without the awareness that learning is even happening. For example, your company may have documented diagrams and processes (explicit knowledge) for how to operate a software program. Understanding and using that information to operate the program is an example of implicit knowledge.

Tacit Knowledge

Tacit knowledge is information gained from personal experiences that is difficult to write down or articulate. For example, while you may have a bread recipe on paper, only through experience do you come to understand how the dough should feel when you’ve kneaded it sufficiently and it’s ready to go in the oven. In a business setting, an example might be a sales rep being able to identify when a prospect is open and ready to hear a pitch, or adopting the mannerisms and personality that engages an audience during a presentation. 

All three types of knowledge are important, but making all of this knowledge available to employees and customers can be difficult unless you have a comprehensive knowledge management system.

What Are the Benefits of a Knowledge Management System?

An effective knowledge management system offers many benefits for employees and customers.

Less Time Spent Searching for Information

A knowledge management system centralizes all of a company’s organizational knowledge. This allows employees to know exactly where to find information, rather than trying to track down a subject matter expert or search through email, the company intranet, or other systems. Whether employees need to find training documents, best practices, or product information, they know they can go to the central source—the KMS—and quickly find what they need. And the less time employees spend searching for information, the more time they can spend on core job responsibilities and other impactful activities (and the larger the ROI of knowledge management).

On-Demand Training for Employees

Onboarding can be an overwhelming process for new employees. With a user-friendly knowledge management system, employees can find all training materials in one central location, so they can get up to speed quickly.

But training doesn’t stop once onboarding is over. A knowledge management system also allows employees to easily access training materials on-demand, giving them opportunities to enhance their job knowledge, pursue professional development, and upskill.  

Retained Knowledge

Today, recruiters advise employees to switch jobs every three to four years, which means it’s likely that even your most senior employees will eventually leave your company. And when they depart, they will take their knowledge with them—unless you have a way to document and share it with the rest of your organization.

Knowledge management systems ensure that organizational knowledge stays within your company, even as employees come and go. That allows new employees to benefit from your most knowledgeable workers—even if those employees have moved on.

Better Customer Experience

With more knowledgeable employees comes a better customer experience. Because employees have easy access to a central and trusted source of information, they can more quickly and confidently answer customer questions. For customers, that can translate to less time spent on the phone with customer support and less frustration. Through these positive experiences, customers can also gain confidence in your company’s product and service, generating trust and loyalty. 

Examples of Knowledge Management Systems

To choose the type of knowledge management system that will provide the most benefit to your company, it’s important to understand the different types of solutions available.

Learning Management System (LMS)

Designed primarily to house, distribute, and track training materials, learning management systems (LMS) are often used in the education, nonprofit, and enterprise training industries. Learning management systems typically include functions to build, manage, and track online courses.

Digital Asset Management System

A digital asset management system serves as a private portal or resource for employees to access company documents. Companies use this type of content management solution to store all types of documents for the company product or service. For example, the marketing team might use a digital asset management system as a repository for media assets.

Enterprise-Wide Knowledge Management System

This type of knowledge management system is designed to be used for information sharing across an entire company. An employee would use an enterprise-wide knowledge management system to access information shared by subject matter experts that represent all functions, departments, and teams. While it can certainly be used for department-specific or employee training purposes, an enterprise-wide knowledge management system is robust enough to serve as the centralized information hub for an entire organization.

Successful knowledge management system implementation is a critical step toward better collaboration, more informed employees, and a better customer experience. With a thorough understanding of the types of document management systems available and the types of knowledge critical to your company’s success, you can choose a knowledge management system that’s right for your business.

May 12, 2021

How to Choose an Enterprise Knowledge Management System

Are you currently evaluating knowledge management systems for your department or entire organization? Check out our guide to choosing enterprise knowledge management software.

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