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How to build an effective IT knowledge base

There’s a lot that can go wrong with IT, whether you have a small or large IT department. Take a business that has just one IT person. What happens when he or she is out sick for a week? And in larger companies, IT personnel are frequently called upon to handle minor issues.

An IT knowledge base can resolve many problems and prevent others from cropping up. Not sure where to start? We’ll discuss what a knowledge base is, as well as how tips on how to build one.

Purpose of a knowledge base

As Hubspot explains on its website, “A knowledge base is a centralized database for spreading information and data. Knowledge bases support collecting, organizing, retrieving, and sharing knowledge.” You can have knowledge bases for both your customers and your employees.

An IT-specific knowledge base does quite a bit, namely the following:

  • Gives employees quick fixes while keeping larger goals in mind
  • Serves as a living document to help your company as it grows and scales
  • Standardizes operating procedures
  • Empowers employees
  • Reduces IT support volume
  • Provides IT continuity
  • Records every IT issue the business has encountered
  • Is easily searchable
  • Includes answers to common router, firewall, desktop, laptop, software and cellphone questions–and many more.

Let’s get to the fun part now, how to build an effective knowledge base.

Talk with a managed services provider

The input of a managed services provider can be especially useful if the knowledge base is about IT functions for IT personnel. You can cover topics such as vendor relationships, data servers, colocation facilities, IT documentation processes and your office Wi-Fi network.

There’s a much-reduced chance you’ll forget to include something important, which may happen if you have just one or two in-house IT staffers.

Look at frequent problems or questions

What are the common issues that IT personnel have to deal with? What are the questions that end users most often ask? Start building your knowledge base around these topics.

For instance, maybe many of your employees contact IT to say, “The internet is slow. What can I do?” or “I can’t log in.” Ditto with, “My computer is slow.” These are good issues to start building your knowledge base. Look at your IT ticket requests to see which problems pop up often.

Moreover, when creating content for these topics, go with the language that users know instead of IT jargon (one exception is if the IT personnel themselves are the end users).

Organize it with deliberation

Many knowledge bases start as FAQs. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this approach, especially if the base is small. However, FAQs can quickly become overwhelming, and finding the right information becomes time-consuming or difficult. It may be better to group your knowledge base according to the tasks that your employees are trying to accomplish. You can also organize in categories and sections.

Develop a style guide

Consistency matters. Make decisions early on about issues such as:

  • Tone of voice (for example, humorous, encouraging or approachable, no “you’re doing it wrong” type of chiding)
  • Use of photos and diagrams where text wouldn’t be successful
  • Use of headers, lists and bullet points to make text easier to read
  • Editorial guidelines (for example, AP style and gender-neutral language)

Consider user participation

Often, IT personnel are in the best position to troubleshoot IT problems. But sometimes they have trouble communicating their process to others, typically because their expertise is second nature to them at this point. If your knowledge base is inscrutable then it isn’t at its most effective.

For example, ordinary users who solved a problem may be able to explain concepts better than IT staffers and in plainer, more accessible language.

Many knowledge bases are dynamic, with peers supporting peers. Jake in Accounting might be able to outline better how to solve a slow-computer issue than an IT staffer with 10 years of experience.

Use your judgment or a healthy dose of experimentation as to whether a peer-to-peer approach may work for your business alongside a more traditional approach.

Have multiple IT personnel participate

If just one IT staffer builds the knowledge base, the base could end up being unnecessarily limiting or incomplete. Have multiple folks involved in the project so you end up with a thorough exploration of IT issues and a range of solutions.

Solicit feedback

Did a specific entry in the knowledge base help resolve the employee’s problem? Use a thumbs-up or thumbs-down button to get feedback on how helpful your knowledge base entries are. You can also deploy a star rating system, but thumbs-up/thumbs-down requires less thought on the user’s end. Another alternative is a question that asks, “Did you find this answer useful?” with “Yes” and “No.”

Other metrics to consider tracking include who the users accessing the pages are, how long users stay on each page, and where they go next.

You also want to keep track of the entries that users are reading. This helps you gauge which IT issues continue to be common. Also keep a record of search phrases and/or have a box along the lines of, “Don’t see your question here? Let us know what it is.”

For the IT department in general, track whether you’re receiving fewer support tickets and if the knowledge base is actually freeing up your time. Which issues now comprise most of your support tickets? Can they too be addressed in the knowledge base?

Review at least once every quarter

IT should review the knowledge base at least once every quarter. Maybe some problems have become obsolete, or new issues have arisen (like if your business migrated to Office 365, cloud computing or implemented a BYOD policy).

It’s also good to keep an eye on user feedback. If an entry consistently gets thumbs down, take action ASAP instead of waiting for the quarterly review time.

An IT knowledge base can be fun to develop and is useful. Take the steps above to make it effective right from the start.