Continuing the publication of my insights on Knowledge Management (KM) made possible by my friends at Parature, I want to focus on maintenance as what is likely the biggest problem of, and most important job in, KM for customer service today.

In research I conducted on adoption and usage of Knowledge Management, some of the findings on budgeting and maintenance were concerning, to say the least…

Lack Of Upkeep

Just 34 percent of companies have proper maintenance processes for KM. When talking about maintenance processes with respondents, it became clear that the biggest problem is that less than 6 percent of companies have KM budgets allocated as part of their customer service practices. This lack of budget translates into either lack of maintenance or improperly funded maintenance.

There are two widespread approaches to maintenance that are being used. One of them is to wait for customers (or agents) to complain about an article or knowledge entry not being correct. Sometimes this is “accelerated” by polling users after the knowledge is displayed whether it was the right answer or not. The issue with this approach is that, at best, just 2 – 3 percent of users will provide feedback – and less than 6 percent of them will “complain” if an entry is incorrect. This leads to an improperly maintained knowledge base.

The second approach to maintenance is to get usage reports on all knowledge base entries and focus efforts in making sure that the most used articles are well maintained (read, the information is correct), and that the ones that are never used are not maintained, or better yet, improved or deleted. While this certainly improves the quality of the knowledge, it does not do much to address another issue: missing knowledge.

Little Investment

Although both efforts above are commendable, neither adequately address the issues of knowledge maintenance properly done: actively creating and maintaining the right information (that which answers the customers’ questions), and making sure it is find-able and useful. Further, the use of outdated or limited knowledge causes users to not trust the knowledge base and usage to drop.

The answer to the maintenance problem became more apparent in the second area where we focused the research. On average, KM maintenance costs rise around 8 percent. This number has held over time, historical ranges from previous research indicates 7 – 15 percent for KM maintenance costs over time. This is a significant number, and one that cannot be addressed without proper budget planning.

However, the most troubling statistic related to this area is that the average investment in KM maintenance is less than 5 percent, which means that even among those that are making an effort to invest and manage KM properly, there is not a significant amount of budget allocated to proper knowledge maintenance.

The Rodney Dangerfield Of Business Functions:

How To Get KM The Respect It Deserves

The bottom line: KM is the Rodney Dangerfield of business functions: it gets no respect.

In spite of the clear ROI and results that match needs and plans, we still don’t properly plan for KM expansion and maintenance. The more surprising part of this is that virtually all research ever done on KM indicates that maintenance is the most important aspect of its success.

Based on the conversations I had over this research, as well as prior research, the recommendation is threefold:

  1. Create a budget line item as part of customer service operations for KM maintenance.
  2. Make sure it covers the basic costs of maintenance (rule of thumb: maintenance of KM costs 15 percent of initial investment in KM systems over the first two years).
  3. Make sure the increase in budget is at least sufficient to cover the average rise (8 percent as stated above) of those processes.

Of course, the above steps indicate that you are among the one-third or so of companies that have implemented maintenance for KM.

Have you?