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Knowledge Managers - Then and Now

1 December 2013
Sagit Salmon
Digital learning hub

"The consumer reality has changed dramatically. The consumer unequivocally knows that they have a lot of power, and businesses are very cautious too." (Galit Avishi, outgoing CEO of Emun Hatzibur, Yedioth Ahronoth - Money Friday, 22/11/13)

Knowledge managers, an organizational tool supporting customer service, emerged about 15 years ago. The pioneers in the field were communication companies (cellular, television, etc.) that managed large service systems and understood that in a world where they are expected to provide good service on various topics in a short time, they must provide the service provider with an appropriate support tool.

In the spirit of the Hanukkah days upon us, this is an excellent time to review the significant developments that have taken place in the world of knowledge managers from those days until now.

Or, in other words, what has changed in 15 years?

Not Just for Call Centers

When I started my work as a service representative at the call center of a cellular company 15 years ago, I met the service representative's best friend - the knowledge manager. It was perceived by me, back then, as very innovative (veteran representatives used to speak derisively about the "binders" it replaced), and it was immediately clear to me that it was indispensable. At that time, the manager mainly served the call centers and was affiliated with the company's telephone service system. The entire front-line service system did not benefit from the manager's services and needed to be adapted to it. It took time for the organization to understand that customer service is also face-to-face; therefore, a service support tool should serve all service providers.

Today, knowledge managers are perceived in organizations as a working tool for all service providers. In doing so, we ensure that the tool does not only serve telephone service providers but also those who meet the customer at the service center or home, as well as those who answer questions online (chats, Facebook, etc.).

Not Just Large Organizations

In the past, knowledge managers were known mainly in large organizations with hundreds of representatives, characterized by high employee turnover and many response areas. As time passes, medium and small organizations (up to 100 service providers) also adopt knowledge managers. These organizations also provide service and receive many inquiries every day. It is also essential for them to maintain a high professional level of representation and provide consistent answers to the customer. In some organizations, employee turnover is lower. Still, each such employee is a walking knowledge repository, and the knowledge manager is a suitable tool for preserving knowledge that remains in the organization even after the employee leaves.

Not Just a Large, Cross-Organizational Project

Implementing a new knowledge manager in an organization or replacing an existing one is usually a resource-intensive, long-term organizational project. However, it can also be done differently. A knowledge manager can also be established gradually, like a professional portal or knowledge community. The specification process will not be spared from us in the initial stage, but we can define organizational units or professional topics. In this way, we create the infrastructure on which we can constantly expand while simultaneously launching with an initial content core that can be made quickly and easily without relying on many factors. Anything added later will be done much faster and probably with more motivation (those who don't have it want it, too...).

Not Just on a Classic Off-the-Shelf Product

In the early years, it was clear that a knowledge manager could only be set up on a dedicated off-the-shelf product. Although these are excellent and advanced products with a wealth of capabilities, they are not suitable for all organizations, but apparently, there was no other choice.

Over the years, organizations have learned to leverage existing tools (mainly organizational portal platforms) for the knowledge manager as well. Familiarity with the technological tool, combined with precise requirement definitions, allows optimal (even if not optimal) utilization of the existing tool and saves resources. In recent years, a third family of tools has emerged: cloud technology tools. These tools do not require technological requirements or server purchases, as they reside online.

For more information on cloud technology knowledge management, click here.

Knowledge Manager as Part of the Overall Organizational Knowledge Management Activity

In the past (and in many cases also in the present), the knowledge manager and its employees were an independent unit in the organization, unconnected to the overall knowledge management system ("the knowledge manager is not the phone book"). Today, we are encountering more and more knowledge management units and managers in the organization responsible for the entire organizational knowledge management system, including the knowledge manager.

This allows for optimal utilization of human resources, the use of technological tools already existing in the organization (as mentioned in the previous section), a central entity to which activities are directed, and the provision of an appropriate solution for every need (when a particular unit needs document organization or work process construction, it does not require a knowledge manager, where the emphasis is on editing and structuring content for real-time information provision...).

Distributed Knowledge Manager - Not Just in Theory

For years, two models of knowledge manager teams have been discussed—a centralized knowledge manager and a distributed knowledge manager. In practice, in the early years, there were no distributed knowledge managers. The knowledge manager teams were homogeneous teams comprised of content editors who came from different organizational units and had appropriate professional knowledge and experience.

In the last five years, we have encountered the distributed model more and more, where the content editors (or subject matter experts, knowledge leaders, etc.) remain in their original organizational units and professional world and receive knowledge management support from the knowledge management people in the organization. Several factors can be identified as responsible for the change:

  • Time - not always enough time to form a team

  • Gradual activity: When the project starts small and each unit integrates at a different time, each subject matter expert enters the role at a different time.

  • Professionalism and connection to the field—continued affiliation with the original unit ensures familiarity with the professional content world and the needs of field users.

For more information on a centralized or distributed knowledge manager, click here.

And in conclusion, what are the challenges that still lie ahead?

  • Balancing content and visibility: To what extent does the use of graphics and images serve as an attraction factor for users? Do graphics and images not come at the expense of content (both in terms of the required investment and the user's focus)?

  • Use of smartphones and tablets for remote employees: To what extent is it necessary to invest in the interface? Is there not an information security issue? Alongside this, it connects the employees to the organization and ensures a high level of service.

  • Uniform updating of knowledge within the organization and for the external website: Saving time and money because the content is entered once, alongside the question of whether it is possible to write the content in the same way for customers and service providers, what information can be disclosed to customers and what cannot, whether employees work on the same system or separate systems.

  • Connection to CRM systems: Creating the connection between knowledge management and CRM, alongside distinguishing between them

  • Social network components: Employees are familiar with, use, and like social networks. The expectation is that the knowledge manager will be like... The challenge is incorporating the right components in the right mix so that users feel at home while still remembering that they are at work.

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