What Exactly Is a Knowledge Base?

If you’ve spent time researching ways to better organize company information and assist existing and new customers, you’ve likely come across the term “knowledge base.” But what exactly is a knowledge base, and how does it work?  

First, let’s start with a simple definition. A knowledge base is a centralized system that allows you to catalog, organize, and share information across teams. The sweet spot is creating a single source of truth for company data that’s easily accessible to customers and employees.

Knowledge bases first emerged as an evolution of FAQ pages to handle an influx of customer questions. But they now serve a far more significant purpose – condensing tribal knowledge to boost efficiency and productivity organization-wide. Knowledge bases run the gamut in usefulness, from product specs, to HR policies. 

This in-depth guide has all the details to demystify knowledge bases.

Getting Started: How To Build A Knowledge Base

Before diving into the types of knowledge bases, let’s cover the basics of how to put one together from scratch:

1. Identify Your Audience and Goals 

Who needs this information and why? Typical audiences include customers, employees, or both. Outline specific goals like improving self-service options, centralizing internal data, or speeding up onboarding.

2. Choose Your Software

You have a few options like hosted solutions, wikis, or help desk platforms. Weigh factors like access, editing privileges, and scalability based on your needs and budget.

3. Establish An Organizational Method 

Group related topics through tags, categories, or folders so readers can quickly zero in on relevant articles. Strive for intuitive navigation above all.

4. Create Your Content Architecture

Frame out the structure for how pages and subpages nest under categories. This hierarchy acts as a site map, guiding users straight to the answers they need.  

5. Implement It Through Your Channels

Embed on intranet home pages, link from software portals, and integrate natively into mobile apps to put your knowledge base front-and-center wherever users engage.  

Types of Knowledge Bases: An Overview of the Options

While all knowledge bases aim to compile information in one spot, they vary significantly in access and purpose. Let’s explore some of the main styles you’ll encounter:

Internal Knowledge Bases

Internal knowledge bases, also called intranets or company wikis, organize private company information for employees. Common uses include:

  • Centralizing tribal knowledge from individual experts
  • Documenting internal processes, guidelines, and policies 
  • Streamlining onboarding and training procedures
  • Providing employee self-service options for FAQs

Storing information internally allows control over who can access and edit each article in the system. Granular permissions boost security for sensitive materials while still enabling knowledge sharing.  

Self-Hosted vs. SaaS Knowledge Bases  

Next, you must decide whether to host your knowledge base internally using company servers or through an external software provider. 

Self-hosted options allow near complete control but require dedicated maintenance. All IT issues, from security patching to troubleshooting uptime, now fall directly on your plate.  

SaaS or software-as-a-service solutions require little upkeep in exchange for some customizability. Access and editing permissions may be more generalized, but the hosting service handles all technical hurdles. Monthly or annual fees apply, but scalability gets built into the system.

Open-Source Knowledge Bases

Open-source knowledge bases take a crowdsourced spin on organizing information. They allow public access and editing, inviting general contributions on topics. Individual experts peer review changes to uphold accuracy and credibility.  

The open nature enables these massive wikis to expand quickly. But it also relinquishes strict ownership over what gets published or altered. Fact-checking and admin oversight must govern additions to ensure quality.

External/Public Knowledge Bases 

Public or external knowledge bases flip information sharing outward to customers and site visitors instead of internal teams. They often function as expansive help centers offering self-service support content.

Embedding them directly into product sites, software portals, and community forums makes it easy for users to reference related assistance on the spot. Customers get quick DIY solutions without companies fielding repetitive inquiries.

How Can Knowledge Bases Help Your Business?

Now that you know the main types of knowledge base software available, let’s explore the key benefits they unlock:

Condense Tribal Knowledge

The average employee keeps crucial job information solely in their head. Churn, retirement, or absences erase years of collected wisdom in one fell swoop without recourse. Central repositories preserve this fragile tribal knowledge indefinitely.  

Boost Employee Productivity  

Scouring scattered drives for a needed policy or tracking down that one coworker in the know burns unnecessary hours each week. Knowledge bases serve answers on demand to keep everyone working at full efficiency.

Enhance Onboarding and Training

Helping new hires get up to speed while ensuring they grasp vital concepts is no small feat. Digital repositories let employees self-educate at their own pace by scrolling through onboarding guidelines or reviewing product specs without constant oversight.  

Improve Self-Service Options 

Customer-facing knowledge bases shift simple queries and troubleshooting to automated self-service. Visitors readily find solutions for common issues instead of waiting on live support. This deflection simultaneously cuts inquiry volume and boosts satisfaction.  

How can you tell if your business needs one? Warning signs include:

  • Difficulty finding correct documents or vital company information 
  • Duplicated efforts between teams to centralize critical data
  • Rising customer inquiries and support tickets
  • Lengthy employee onboarding and training processes  

A properly organized knowledge base is ideal if these scenarios sound familiar.  

Getting Started With Knowledge Base Software

Now that you grasp the incredible value knowledge bases provide, it’s time to put one in place for your organization. 

Luckily, modern options remove the historical barriers of development costs and overly complex interfaces that hinder adoption. Intuitive SaaS platforms require zero technical skills to launch yet still pack enterprise-level functionality.

When comparing your options, keep critical criteria like access restrictions, group permissions, and cross-platform accessibility in mind. Prioritizing convenience and ease of use ensures maximum usage and impact company-wide.   

Final Thoughts

Knowledge bases stand poised to become a linchpin for organizational success in the digital era. Transitioning from faded institutional memory toward consolidated smart documents represents the next frontier for productive teams. Use this overview as your guide to propelling your business forward with robust information sharing.

Interesting Related Article: “The Users of Knowledge Management