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The challenges of managing a distributed knowledge management service center system

1 July 2010
A person wearing a headset

A knowledge management service center system is a tool that serves organization workers that provide customers service. It can serve workers that provide service to an external customer (service representatives, callers, bankers, etc.). but can also benefit intra-organizational service centers such as Help Desks that receive calls from organization workers regarding computer malfunctions, maintenance difficulties or even Human Resources processes).

Centralized knowledge management service center systems, managed by a team of content editors that receives the information from information streamers in the organization and specializes in content writing and editing, exist in Israel since the 90's. However, distributed knowledge management service center systems are still a locally rare sight. Unlike the classic centralized systems, in those distributed, content experts specialize in professional knowledge: the organization's professional personnel, responsible for professional doctrine, take upon themselves the responsibility of writing and entering content into the software system. They are those that till the knowledge management service center system was set up distributed knowledge via other means: through procedures, email updates or by briefing field workers. Large organizations occasionally have multiple professional departments, so that there are different expert groups that do not operate under one organizational umbrella.

This article will relate to a number of challenges one faces when setting up a distributed knowledge management service center system targeted at all service providers in the organization:

  1. Who is in charge? Who is responsible for the knowledge management service center system’s ongoing maintenance? In a distributed system, information generators from various departments are responsible for updating the content. But who operates them? Who serves as the link between the various experts? In other words, a distributed system nevertheless needs a staff to manage it, from setting up the system to the regular maintenance, embedding and developing it and most importantly- see the entire picture. This staff's director must be an organization HR functionary located in an influential unit that has a broad view and familiarity of the organization's service processes. The director will be accompanied by a staff of 2-3 workers responsible for setting up and operating the system: characterizing the system’s structure, defining the users' knowledge needs, the pages' content templates and navigation menus as well as directing content experts to write concisely and enter content. Following the knowledge management service center system launch, this staff will manage and monitor information retaining and updating processes (to be elaborated further in following passages).

  2. "why do we even need this?" or in other words: "how do we make the organization's information generators cooperate? By setting up such a system we've provided them with even more work!". In this case, initiating the system is complex regarding centralized directories, too. However, setting up a centralized system requires investing more resources in the initiation and recruiting management since the set-up process is long and complex and after content experts still need to regularly update the information and answer user feedback. This is why the system manager must be someone an influential and authoritative figure. After recruiting the management, the junior management level and the information generators - they should be explained how the system benefits both them and the organization. If possible, it is preferable to recruit workers from the professional units, thus retaining the professional connection to the field and their connection to the content experts can benefit process promotion.

  3. "I got work to do, I don't have time for this": what to do when content experts don't answer user feedback or are delaying their response? Another role the managing staff is responsible for is managing responses to feedback. The feedback tool is the central tool through which the workers (as users of the knowledge management service center system) communicate with the organization's professional staff. This is the tool through which the organization learns the field's needs and the challenges the service providers face. During the knowledge management service center system set-up process and towards the implementation stage, the work feedback management work processes are defined under the title of SLA (Service Level Agreement). A central key for workers using the knowledge management service center system depends on quick and beneficial response to feedback and on updating the system as a result of the received feedback. While one of the centralized system’s top priorities if responding to feedback, when a variety of expert contents are responsible for the system besides or as part of their main job answering feedback is not top-priority. In some cases, they will make sure to answer the feedback in real-time yet will not update the system accordingly due to a lack of time or even a lack of understanding that this system will save the time spent on future questions. In this case, the staff manager's job is to make sure that all feedback was handled on time, was answered correctly and that data is followed after wards, that the answers are sufficient and that the data was indeed updated due to the feedback. This isn’t a simple position and occasionally it requires the involvement of Senior management.

  4. "This isn't my responsibility- I don't need to answer this" or in other words: what do we do when the user feedback slips through the cracks?

Another challenge is feedback on subjects not included in the content expert's defined responsibility. This type of feedback is transferred to the staff manager's hands and it is their responsibility to locate who is handling this issue and report to the sender. This, too, requires a broad view of the process in order to identify whether this is a singular case or questions that repeat themselves and may require recruiting another content expert in this field and set the information in the system. Usually, these subjects are the regarded as organizational "black holes" to which ushering in a knowledge management service center system can raise awareness and in turn a solution.

5. "That's what I think it should be like- let's upload the presentation to the system for it to be viewed" or how to implement the importance of dissecting content and editing it in set templates. A centralized system features a high level of finishing: the content is well edited by experienced content editors that are particular of their defined standards. A distributed system, which holds content written and entered by content experts that are less experienced and occasionally do not fully understand the importance of the issue, usually does not feature a high finishing level. Furthermore, it is sometimes difficult for content experts to give up the information distribution format that preceded the system; this leads to some friction. This issue, too, requires much involvement of the managing staff and their control of the setup process which will enable retaining standards and straightening the digressers out. The training stage also plays an immense role here- the more the content expert implements the benefits of the system, the easier it will be for them to accept its demands.

6. Setting up a knowledge management service center system is a complex project. Setting up a distributed system is an even more complex, as it requires full support from management (on all levels) and requires a strong managing body to lead the project and direct it to its goals. Nevertheless, organizations that already have an infrastructure of content experts, active in the organizational portal or intra-organizational knowledge websites, should probably choose this format. Furthermore, as time goes by, content experts that wrote the content themselves and set the system up develop a commitment to the process and become full partners in the process of implementing the system among the workers and making it a work-supporting tool.

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