Breakthrough Knowledge Management: A Conversation with David Kay
While as a services technology analyst I cover lots of different types of tools, there is no denying my real passion is knowledge management. Early in my career as a support manager, a KM implementation revolutionized the way we did business, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve worked for knowledgebase vendors, I’ve been a product manager for KM products, and I’ve implemented KM in the field for dozens of companies. As an analyst, I’ve been answering KM questions and making product recommendations for IT and service professionals since 2001. And one thing is very clear: while this may be maturing technology, with oceans of best practices and now recognized industry standards for KM in ITIL and Knowledge Centered Support, very few companies have it all figured out.
One person who does have it all figured out is David Kay, principal at DB Kay & Associates, and a longtime friend and partner of the TSIA. David is my go-to guy when I don’t have the answer, and he always has great insight and examples from the real world. David will be leading a professional development course, “Breakthrough Knowledge Management: An Introduction to KCS,” at our upcoming Technology Services World Conference in Santa Clara, CA on May 2nd. I had a chance last week to chat with David about current KM trends and his course on KCS. Here are some highlights.
John Ragsdale: For the uninitiated, could you give a brief overview of Knowledge Centered Support (KCS)?
David Kay: Sure! KCS is the industry best practice for capturing, structuring, reusing, and improving knowledge while delivering service and support. KCS has been around for nearly two decades, and many TSIA members including IBM, Cisco, Intuit, Yahoo!, and Symantec have contributed to making it as mature as it is today.
The big difference with KCS is that knowledge management is integrated into the job, so the knowledgebase is created and maintained as a byproduct of doing the things that people are already doing. Over time, without extra effort, the knowledgebase becomes a valuable repository of the organization’s collective experience.
Ragsdale: Over the last couple of years I know you have done KCS workshops with many TSIA members. Do you have a feel for the adoption of KCS in the high tech industry? It seems to have become a recognized standard.
Kay: Oh, it really has. When I started this eight-plus years ago, things were so different. The key premise of KCS, the fact that the people actually solving customer issues are the best people to capture their resolutions in a knowledgebase, was actually very controversial. People assumed you needed knowledge specialists or English majors or something. And the dirty secret was that some organizations didn’t really trust their own people to solve problems correctly. (In which case, we might ask, why were they putting them on the phones?)
It’s very different now. I remember at a recent TSW workshop, I asked people “how many of you are doing KCS?” and almost the whole room raised their hands. I was shocked! It’s silly, but I was somehow under the impression that I should have known at least some of them if they were all doing KCS. But it is really so much bigger than any one person or organization can keep track of now. It really has become the standard.
So perhaps the question to ask today isn’t whether you’re doing KCS or not, but how effectively are you doing KCS?
Ragsdale: I’m seeing more CRM/multi-channel/knowledgebase solutions being designated as KCS compliant. If you buy a KCS compliant product, what can you expect? What are some of the requirements for support platforms to be KCS compliant?
Kay: The Consortium for Service Innovation has a KCS v4 Verified program for technologies (and consultants like us). Details are here, but you’re right about the high-level goals.
To support KCS well, technologies must
– integrate knowledge capture into the case-answering process, avoiding duplicate effort
– make it easy to improve content in the workflow
– search effectively
– track how knowledge is reused when resolving cases
– support solution approval and publication without formal review queues
– report on knowledge activities and quality, as well as business outcomes
Beyond that, we’ve found that tools really need to keep things simple for the users. I expect you have the same reaction I do when watching some tool demonstrations with complex feature after feature…who has time for all that? So, as the KCS Practices Guide says, “tools must function at the speed of conversation.”
Ragsdale: In your course description, you talk about having the right culture for KM success. I’ve had 2 inquiries just this week from members who are having a hard time getting new support techs to fully document incident notes or create new knowledge articles. Could you talk about making a cultural shift to value—and participate in—a KM program?
Kay: I’m glad you asked about this, because this is tremendously important…and why starting a KM initiative without executive support is nearly impossible.
It all starts with the question, “why does our organization exist?” Sometimes when I ask that, people laugh a little bit and describe themselves as a “necessary evil,” or just shrug and say their product isn’t perfect. But mostly, especially at a senior level, they realize that the point of their organization is to help customers receive and perceive value — to make customers successful, to create loyalty, to drive repeat business, referrals, and deeper relationships. In short, they realize they exist for precisely the reasons that J.B. Wood wrote about in Complexity Avalanche, and that you and TSIA have been researching for years.
We’re all fixated on closing cases, getting to the next call, and reducing backlog. And closing cases is important. But viewed from the bigger perspective of customer success, closing cases is just one means to that end. Sharing knowledge on the web can help ten times as many customers–or more. Knowledge reuse can drive product improvements, pre-empting customer problems. And sharing knowledge internally can make every case go smoother, faster, more consistently, at first contact–all the things that delight customers. Viewed in that light, what could possibly be a more important job for support techs than capturing and sharing what they learn?
Leaders must articulate what the organization’s mission is, and why knowledge is central to that mission. Couple that with including knowledge into job descriptions, making knowledge part of the employee review process, communicating effectively, and recognizing contributions, and what we’ve seen is that the culture change is unstoppable.
Ragsdale: I’m working on a report right now about how many KM programs fail because there is no ongoing maintenance of content, project champions move on and efforts stall, and project staff get moved to something new 6 months later. Could you talk about the importance of ongoing maintenance to the success of a KM program? Does KCS include recommendations for content maintenance?
Kay: Hey, anyone can start a knowledgebase. The trick is keeping it up to date.
The traditional approach to this is to make knowledgebase maintenance someone’s job. Expire content every 365 days and, boom!, it ends up in their inbox to review for currency. But this is completely non-scalable. Who can keep up with the hundreds of articles that “expire” every day? Who has that breadth of expertise? What happens when they leave or get reassigned? Do we really want to wait a year to check to see if everything’s up to date? And who honestly wants to do this job, anyhow?
KCS recommends the only practical approach I can think of, which is to make every use of knowledge a review. If I’m working on a customer issue and I find a relevant article, if I use it as is, I’m effectively saying “This article is just fine.” If I see that it needs to be updated–it needs clarification, or it applies to a new software release, or maybe I’ve just learned a better way to solve the issue, it’s my job to do the update. Assuming I’m certified, I make the change then and there. Otherwise, I flag it with a comment for someone else to change.
The beauty of this is, the more frequently knowledge is used, the more often it’s “reviewed.” And besides, who’s in a better position to review content than someone who’s actually trying to use it to solve a real customer issue?
Ragsdale: Could you give an overview of how your professional development course is structured? How will attendees spend their day?
Kay: We’ll stay busy! We’ll set a little context by exploring what knowledge really is, and how shared knowledge is so powerful. We’ll look at the details of the KCS practices, many of which your questions touched on today. We’ll dig in to the structure, format, and style of content, which ends up being really important–we keep it really simple, because we don’t want people to think they need to become technical writers to contribute.
Perhaps the most enlightening section is our conversation about measures. Many KM initiatives fail because managers focus on numbers, rather than on behavior and outcomes. (Exhibit A: how many of us have made the mistake of setting quotas on how many articles everyone has to contribute to the knowledgebase?) We work through a scenario to show which metrics to track, but more importantly, we explore how to use those metrics.
We’ll close with the practical steps to go back to the office and actually roll out KCS. One of the things that has made me feel the best about TSW Professional Development Workshops is the fact that attendees have gone home and successfully implemented KCS, in many cases with no further help from me. That lets me know our time together was well spent.
People who want a five-minute preview can check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXAZQUulBk8 (which I made for our last TSW conference in Las Vegas.)
Ragsdale: Great to talk to you David!
Kay: Thanks for the opportunity! I’m looking forward to seeing you, and many TSIA members, in Santa Clara.
We’re going to have some great KM content at the TSW event, including case studies from VM Ware and IBM/Netezza, a session from Avaya (2 time STAR Award winner for best knowledge management practices), and more. I hope to see you there. And as always, thanks for reading!