What is a knowledge base and why you need one in 2020

Dec 31st, 2019

What is a knowledge base ?

knowledge base is a centralized and online repository where you can store and retrieve information. The knowledge it contains can be of any kind related to a specific department, topic, or project.

TechTarget defines it as: "…a machine-readable resource for the dissemination of information, generally online or with the capacity to be put online… a knowledge base is used to optimize information collection, organization, and retrieval for an organization, or for the general public." 

To better understand it, you first need to know that there are two types of knowledge bases: 

  • Internal knowledge base provides all kinds of information for your company employees: company policies, HR process, new product launches, employee onboarding, etc. 
  • External knowledge bases aim at serving your customers and are therefore made public. That's typically FAQs, user guides and help centers on companies' websites. 

Both types of knowledge base work as self-service helpdesks, improving either your employees or customers' life.

Why do I need one?

Every day brings an enormous amount of data and information that often gets stored (if ever) in multiple different places: from different tools to different people's minds. The information often gets lost and is quickly forgotten. 

It's a huge waste of potential: good information management can make teams more efficient. It can help them find answers to their recurring questions faster, it can prevent them from repeating the same mistakes and it can break down silos between departments. 

A good knowledge is here to enable all these things by making knowledge easy to organize and find, in turn making your team more efficient.

Below are the more specific and use case reasons that make a knowledge base a strategic asset for every business.

Increased team productivity

A good internal knowledge base will help your employees find the right information quickly without having to tap on their teammates' shoulders asking questions and repeatedly distracting them. 

A study conducted by McKinsey revealed that improved communication and collaboration through technologies could raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20 to 25 percent (source). On top of that, it keeps everyone on the same page and is consistently pushing toward the same direction. 

Better employee onboarding

Growing your team can seriously slow you down without the right employee onboarding structure. 

Having a single source of truth with up-to-date information will help new employees get up to speed smoothly. It'll also make sure the onboarding process stays consistent across employees. 

A good knowledge base gives new employees a feeling of autonomy—they can self-help themselves, get a sense of how the company works and familiarize themselves with the material in their own time. You can even create a new hire onboarding checklist to guide their way into your company's knowledge.

Overall, a knowledge base can lay the foundations for a better employee onboarding process, creating a better work environment for new hires, in turn allowing their team to focus on the essential training required. Most of all, it reduces average new employee onboarding time and reduces onboarding costs.

Improved customer support

An external self-service knowledge base will allow your customers to get quick answers to common questions. And let your support team focus on critical issues (but with an internal knowledge base this time, you get the point). Ultimately, you'll deliver a better customer experience and you'll increase customer satisfaction. 

Stronger business foundations

One of any business's main assets is the knowledge produced by all employees over time, from user research, processes to strategy, and roadmaps. Every company experiences employee turnover, resulting in a lot of company knowledge being lost. 

If all this precious information is written somewhere where it's easily accessible—a knowledge base!— you're sure to keep this information forever, strengthening your company's foundations, avoiding long-term knowledge gaps, and decreasing knowledge dependency on just specific people in the team. Some great examples of teams already doing this are BasecampGitLab, and Netflix.

Templates and examples of knowledge bases

Internal knowledge base

At Slite, we use our internal knowledge base to increase productivity and collaboration across teams. Here's a sneak peak into our internal handbooks. Check it out.

Slite's knowledge base example

Meero uses its internal knowledge base to align its customer Success team as they grow across different countries. Discover the template they use.

Customer success internal knowledge base template

We gathered a lot of other examples from internal knowledge bases - from fast-growing companies such as Buffer, Gitlab or Intercom. Discover many examples of internal knowledge base contents here.

16 logos of fast growing companies

External knowledge base

Canva provides a classic example of a well designed external knowledge base: with top search bar, most popular searches and featured articles right when you land on their support page.

How to build your own knowledge base?

The issue with a knowledge base is that it can quickly become static and irrelevant. It's something all companies have to deal with: how do you make your knowledge base work in the long run, with the guarantee of having up-to-date information that's easy to find and navigate?

Luckily, we've identified a few tips to help you achieve this in your company.

Start small and be strategic

Chances are you won't be able to document everything at first. Instead of planning to record everything, you first need to identify the most critical parts of your business that need to be documented either for internal purposes or for customer support. Better done than perfect. Over time, you'll be able to spread your knowledge base content to less strategic areas and eventually document every part. 

Make it a collaborative process

Involve your employees in your knowledge management strategy from day 1. They should be able to contribute to your knowledge base articles with their ideas and insights. After all, they're on the front lines of what's happening in the company every day. It'll help to keep the information fresh and relevant.

Split the structure into topics and define an owner responsible for each one of them. They will help keep the knowledge consistent across each area of focus and be able to identify lacks in your information and ping the relevant teammates.

Define clear guidelines 

Guidelines will guide all your employees to help them know how to contribute. Start with a style guide clearly stating how to format articles across your knowledge base (for example, you can check out MailChimp's). With time add more specifics depending on the area of focus, like how to format technical support, when should screenshot inserted, etc. 

It will enhance readability, accessibility, and navigation. Keep it clear and straightforward, or it might have the opposite effect of scaring your potential contributors.

Choose the right knowledge base software

You'll probably start with documents of all formats spread in thousands of tools (Slack,google drive, project management tools, you name it). Nowadays, a wide range of good knowledge base software exists. From a simple content management system to a more advanced real-time system with premium collaboration features or artificial intelligence.

Assessing the right tool for your needs should be part of your process when you start thinking about your knowledge management system within your organization. 

Few questions to ask are: 

  • What are the internal or external use cases it needs to fulfill?
  • Can it scale with your team? 
  • Is this intuitive enough for everyone to onboard? 
  • Does it integrate with the tool you use (slack, trello...)?
  • Can I find back information quickly through navigation or search?

Give Slite a spin

If you're looking for an internal knowledge base that's collaborative and user-friendly, you can check out Slite. It ticks most of the above boxes: simple to use, integrates with your toolset and has a powerful search.

Leverage your knowledge now