Best practices for knowledge sharing in field service are understood but too few companies are allocating the necessary resources, warns John Ragsdale, vice president of technology and social research at the US’s Technical Services Industry Association
Ragsdale was revealing the findings in the TSIA’s annual research: The State of Knowledge Management: 2015. “It is frustrating when best practices for knowledge management, such as knowledge-centred support are understood, but companies refuse to allocate the necessary resources. I continue to hear companies struggling with problems we know how to solve, but there isn’t support from executives to provide the funding, staffing and cultural support required to be successful.”
But there’s hope as some companies are building modern knowledge-sharing platforms to help techs access the best information available, from any device. Here, Ragsdale explains to Derek Korte, editor of Field Service Digital, how to build a next-gen knowledge base that techs will actually use.
Whose job is it to build a digital, “virtual” knowledge base?
Ragsdale: That may depend on who has the “intelligent search religion” in your company. Some very large companies are hiring a new position —knowledge czar — who reports to the CIO and ensures each department captures and shares knowledge amount peers.
But full-time resources are rare within support and field service companies, so multiple employees dedicate time to nurture the knowledge program. The starting point is to identify all of the content sources across your enterprise — and across the Web — with valuable content to include in the search indexing, then prioritise each source for inclusion. The starting point is to identify all of the content sources across your enterprise — and across the Web.
The starting point is to identify all of the content sources across your enterprise — and across the Web.
Isn’t that complex?
Ragsdale: A simple way to do this is to ask service techs which content sources they find valuable. Field service leaders will likely be surprised at the variety of sources employees use. Look at the search platform analytics to identify content and to find articles that need to be updated or removed. Then, use relevancy analysis to understand the most-used content. Some search products may be able to index everything at once, while others may require some custom filters or integrations to access every repository.
What companies have successfully put this plan into action?
Ragsdale: During my recent Technology Services World presentation, I highlighted three TSIA member companies that have embraced this concept with great results: Tricentis,which sells software testing tools; Broadsoft, a provider of unified communications and collaboration software and services; and Informatica, which delivers enterprise data integration and management software powering analytics for big data and cloud services.
Each company offers an elegant user interface with a single search field that retrieves content from multiple sources. They also offer filtering options to help employees find exactly what they need. It’s a much better option that scrolling through pages of results. In general, once the virtual knowledge base approach is implemented, users will respond. Employees will conduct more searches, access and download more documents, and spend more time overall on the site. That not only helps employees become more productive, but it also streamlines customer self-service, which has huge cost savings implications.
Is a smart knowledge management strategy the best lever at a manager’s disposal to fight against the looming talent gap?
Ragsdale: I think service managers have a few levers to pull (scheduling automation, mobile devices, remote access, among others), but knowledge is definitely a critical element. We continue to hear that large numbers of senior techs are retiring in the next two to three years, so now is the time to proactively begin capturing their hard-earned knowledge any way possible.
Nearly half of field service respondents said a 20-30 percent improvement would be possible, while more than a quarter pegged improvement at 30 percent or more. The results from our latest research, The State of Knowledge Management: 2015, make clear that employees and managers understand the potential value of knowledge.
Why isn’t that potential realised?
Ragsdale: In my report, I talk about the key obstacles to realising this potential, including insufficient resources, broken or outdated processes, and the lack of a sharing culture. I also talk about how to incorporate some key knowledge metrics into executive operational reviews, to at least introduce the subject and hopefully place it on the exec’s radar.