Businesses rely on knowledge management systems to operate internally. Employees need to access documents; teams need to collaborate; and departments need to share policies and forms easily. If you’ve ever used outdated knowledge management software, you know how it can hold your organization back.
What is knowledge management?
Knowledge management is a tool or process to manage, access, and share information within an organization.
It's in your documentation—your manuals, guidelines, lists, databases, memos, and files. And it's also in the minds of your team members – the expertise that enhances your business. Knowledge is power, and when properly harnessed, it fuels a successful company.
Technology has a tremendous impact on knowledge management, inspiring the development of robust software platforms to leverage knowledge management strategies. Knowledge management software continues to evolve in response to new demands and challenges.
Let's look at 17 knowledge management trends for 2021 that are changing the course of knowledge base software.
It’s no surprise that social media is one of the biggest knowledge management trends for 2021. Every industry has altered the way they market, communicate, and work… and the same goes for your intranet.
A human-centered platform facilitates knowledge sharing and collaboration through an organic, free-flow of communication. Notifications, activity streams, comments, votes, and likes are some of the many social elements that get your people talking and working together with just the click of a button. Employee directories are also a great source of knowledge sharing. Newer versions show more than just contact information, but also personal interests, authored internal content, current projects, and spaces they are part of. It’s about connecting employees and developing relationships.
Your people are your greatest knowledge base, therefore you want them to find each other, share thoughts with each other, and grow together.
A strong knowledge management tool is nothing without a strong search engine. If users can’t find what they’re looking for, what good is the information? Developers know this, and as we enter 2021, search capabilities will be front-and-center.
Specifically, internal search indexes will be easier to navigate, quicker, and retrieve the most relevant information with little help. By entering a person, keyword, title, department, or anything relevant to a topic, you’ll yield all results related to your search.
In 2021, flexible and diverse collaboration tools will be part of many intranet packages. You’ll notice a move away from Gantt charts to features with easy scheduling, transparency, and trackability.
Task management, spaces, wiki pages, cases, and forums are some of the many collaboration tools to look out for. Between 2005 and 2017, the number of US employees who worked from home “at least half the year" grew by 115%... and it’s predicted this number will rise. Therefore, tools that support seamless collaboration, editing, and communication – no matter where users are located – will be a defining knowledge management trend.
Nowadays, mobile is king. Just ask Google—more than half of search queries worldwide happens on phones. Which brings us to our next major knowledge management trend: mobile apps. Modern consumers like convenience and accessibility, and the same goes for employees. You’ll see more intranet software and knowledge management tools compatible with mobile. The goal is to have the digital workplace at the users’ fingertips, whether they’re out in the field or out of office.
Early versions of knowledge management software featured long lists, elaborate file names, and dense bodies of text that users sorted through to find documents. Those days are in the past. Image-focused and simple layouts will be a big knowledge management trend for 2021. It’s all about easy navigation for the user—finding the information you need easily and instantaneously.
Between communicating, scheduling, managing projects, creating content and other activities, many of today's professionals find themselves juggling numerous instances of software just to stay on track. External processes will always be necessary, but that doesn't mean they can't live in the same place as knowledge management. Intranet software eliminates the need to log into several different applications. Users can work from an integrated suite that allows for all processes to be handled in one convenient space.
Roles and permissions are important for many companies—they want to encourage creating and sharing information, but they don’t want their intranet to be the Wild Wild West. As a result, knowledge management is shifting from control to cultivation, so that your team can share information organically, but with content governance. Amenable permission settings will be a knowledge management trend to keep your eye on. You’ll be able to empower employees to contribute to your knowledge base while monitoring quality with as much, or as little, supervision desired.
Refined content categorization is a continual knowledge management trend. In 2021, users will have a host of options to filter content so that it is searchable and selective. Blogs, articles, and wikis will be tagged to give them a unique and easily searchable home. Users can also locate information by format, author, and department. This helps to cut down on confusion and makes knowledge management a more interactive process.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: if you’re not segmenting your departments or groups, you should be. Your knowledge management system is a social community in which information assets are shared, refined, and organized. However, businesses often suffer from information overload, particularly during periods of rapid growth and success.
Your people are your greatest asset and need their own digital workplace to organize information and have a home within your organization. Digital workspaces, or segmented groups, aren’t new, but improved user-friendliness will be a big knowledge management trend for 2021. Create private or open groups, enable as many tools you want members to access within that space, and send immediate notifications to users.
Easier navigation, user-friendly, human-centered… these are buzzwords that describe knowledge management trends of today. I’d be remiss to skip the ultimate area where navigation is imperative… your user interface. The user interface is what your staff sees on the screen when logging in, and it directly affects how users navigate and experience the system. A well-designed UI will allow you to leverage your system properly, while a confusing UI will only frustrate and confuse your team.
New software is merging functionality with user experience—interfaces are far more attractive, customizable, and compact without overwhelming the end-user. (We’ll discuss improved customization capabilities in #13).
Programs, software, or tools outside your intranet or knowledge management system can still live in one space that your employees see as soon as they sign in. Knowledge management system interfaces will centralize these necessities with launchpads, quick links, and social media streams, so pertinent information is front-and-center in your intranet homepage. The goal is to reduce wasted time, declutter opened tabs and applications, and improve employee experience.
In recent years, knowledge management trends have shifted from email—the primary communication source for decades – to more immediate and direct forms of communication.
Can you count on more than one hand when you received unnecessary emails in the past week? Chances are, you’ll need a couple hands. Notifications are the solution in 2021. Members in a space or workflow can receive announcements and relevant messages from team members without cluttering their inboxes.
For a knowledge management platform to truly be a one size fits all solution, you need easy-to-use customization features.
When I say customization, this of course includes the look and feel of your knowledge management system, but also the tools you want to enable, what you want to call them, and where you want them to be. In 2021, you’ll be able to do this without an IT team. Especially during the rollout of your intranet, customization is essential to a successful software implementation. Keep pages equipped with the right tools, so users are excited to do their work.
Customer support is vital to an organization—it determines your reputation and increases customer retention. We briefly discussed external communication in #6, but customer service is such an imperative business component and worthy of its own spot.
Since your company knowledge base houses pertinent company information such as your product and service documentation, customer support cases should also live there. With external communication tools built in your intranet, customers can create cases in an intranet helpdesk, or connect in a chatbot when they have questions. Employees will be notified immediately, assigned a case, and the inquiry will be stored in the database. Customer service integration will always be one of the most important things for any organization.
Speaking of customer cases, employees can file cases, too. When users have questions, they can post in a Q&A or discussion forum for the entire community to see and respond. Questions can be marked as resolved and live in the knowledge management system for other employees to refer to if they have the same question. This is your company’s growing directory of information straight from your employees.
Cloud-based SaaS (Software as a Service), isn’t particularly new, but it continues to make the cut for hot knowledge management trends. Cloud intranet software is an attractive option for many companies because it’s flexible—users can access information anywhere with an internet connection. Privacy and security are also top notch with trusted vendors, thus moving more companies away from on-premise to the cloud.
“Intuitive" is used a lot to describe intranet and knowledge management trends. The goal of any great platform is to support every action of the end-user and if possible, do the work so they don’t have to. Case in point: automated content. Your knowledge management system will aggregate relevant content to share with members of a department or the entire company on homepages. This is a very helpful way to keep members informed and engaged, while freeing time for space admins to focus on other work.
Your people are the heartbeat of your organization. How they find, share and create information will move them forward or set them back…along with your company. Meeting users where they are, rather than forcing them to find the information, is the epicenter of knowledge management trends. Evaluate the tools your members are using today and keep an eye on the tools they could be using tomorrow. The world's most forward-thinking businesses are already using these software suites on a daily basis, with proven results.
When employees are supported, they excel.
Tim is president and co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.
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