Extending Slack for better KM

Slack apps for KM

Slack is a great tool for just-in-time comms, but it hits a wall when it’s your only centralised knowledge source or when conversations and channels get so vast, you have no hope of finding something that’s already scrolled by. Thankfully, there are a few add-ons that are coming to the rescue. It’d be nice if collaboration tool vendors would put a focus on building/acquiring good search in the first place, but it seems to be a universal condition, so let’s take a look at your options.

1. Niles

Niles is a bot that lives in and logs channels to learn the answers to common questions, and can be referenced directly within Slack. Anyone that’s supplied an answer will be prompted via email to review and refresh, if needed. Bots like this rely on machine learning, natural language processing, and time, so it won’t work perfectly out of the box. However, a great thing it has going for it is that there’s no external apps or extra logins. Interaction with the knowledge is all contained within Slack. It can be hooked in to your Google Drive to search docs and into Salesforce, which is great for sales teams. It’s filed under HR in the apps directory but it serves anyone that does any kind of support. More info in this Techcrunch article.

2. Obie

Obie is similar to Niles but has hooks into its parent product, Tasytt. Tasytt offers a CMS, process flows, and a built-in reward mechanism for knowledge contributors; and it integrates with a whole range of apps including Google Sites, Dropbox and Evernote.

3. qPod by nimeo

qPod takes it up a level and hits the enterprise right where it hurts—Outlook, Office 365 and Sharepoint; plus all the cool kids. Nimeyo aims to eliminate any friction by surfacing what you need directly in whatever you’re currently using. Intended for enterprise, pricing is on an annual per user basis and the baseline config is email analysis only. Context is king when it comes to knowledge and nimeyo is all over that.

4. Tettra

Tettra is a simple wiki that bolts onto Slack. Invoked with a slash command, it’ll show you a knowledge article within Slack and provide an option to share it with the channel. You can also allow requests and assign page ownership to domain experts. You can see what it looks like just by checking out their own support page.

5. Guru

Guru offers a Slack bot and a browser extension providing easy accessibility from wherever you spend most of your time. Guru’s schtick is trusted content, so they provide functionality for domain experts to verify knowledge articles and for search results to be prioritised by popularity score and filtered by tags, categories and collections. This is my pick if you’re in a chat-ops environment and you need to level up your reusable knowledge assets.  Integrates with a bunch of sales and support solutions.

6. Notion

Notion is a unified workspace, rather than a knowledge repository. It brings together your dispersed systems into one workspace that you can then customise based on your team’s processes and workflows. It integrates with Slack, but it also accesses content across Trello, Confluence, Google Drive, Basecamp and more, allowing you to move things around in a drag-and-drop fashion in a way that makes sense to how you work and what you need to know about.


KM for strategic advantage

Competition

Original photo by Flowizm

It’s easy to see the benefits of knowledge management when its applied to a support function. Problems are solved more quickly, customers are happier, analysts are less stressed. It’s almost a no-brainer to look here first for improvements to knowledge flow

Knowledge management has application across the whole lifecycle of a product or service, though—from strategy, to design, to delivery and operations, to support, to continual improvements, and finally, to sunsetting (and even failure).

So, imagine the wobbly movie image as we flashback to the early days of a new service offering when it was just an idea in the CEO’s mind. She heads up a successful organisation servicing a healthy niche, and she’s looking to the future to offer a new kind of service in hopes of deepening relationships with existing clients and broadening market reach to gain new clients. A CEO that doesn’t look for new opportunities, isn’t a good CEO.

If you were the CEO, what you do next? (Is there a market for Choose Your Own Professional Adventure books?)

I want to focus on the organisational knowledge that’s locked away on your side of that equation for now, so we’ll assume that the customer’s context, in terms of your existing service offerings, is well understood. You gain competitive advantage when you understand your market intimately, you see and sense the market trends, and you know your competitors well enough to differentiate your service in way that makes you more attractive to the people you want to sell to. You have to understand what your particular mojo is and draw that connection to the new service/product, especially when it seems a little distant from what you presently deliver.  

How does our imaginary CEO do that? How would you do that? Well, we’re all guilty of making assumptions, and they happen pretty regularly in businesses that aren’t big enough to fund a research team. When you gather your people together to surface the unknown knowns, articulate your particular kind of mojo (the combination of internal skills, passions, mission and values), and then co-create the strategic positioning for your new offering, that is knowledge management applied to strategy.

When you use knowledge management practices at the strategy phase you have:

  • A “stickier” product/service, as a result of mindful positioning
  • Better decision-making along the way
  • Broader buy-in from the in-house expertise who will be delivering the new offering
  • Increased speed to market

The entrepreneurial culture has glorified failure, but if we embrace a knowledge culture from step one, we’re taking one big leap towards mitigating that risk. And I think we’d all rather succeed, right?

 


5 steps to better search with RightNow Answers

Searchlight

I’ve been working on an interesting project with a higher education institution. They have Oracle Service Cloud Enterprise, which ships Knowledge Foundation as standard. Knowledge Foundation is what used to be known as RightNow Answers. They came to me with a need to fix their knowledge base—the search returned irrelevant results, there was a lot of outdated and incorrect answers, and there hadn’t been a knowledge manager role in the organisation for more than a year. The platform was good enough to do the job, but their previous workflow had a built-in bottleneck and the state of the knowledge base had only gotten worse since that one person left.

Knowledge Foundation allows you to serve knowledge articles to different audiences via interfaces and respective access levels. My client had three interfaces, each with a matching access level, set up to serve separate and distinct audiences—current students, prospective students, and internal staff. But, with an unclear knowledge strategy, content relevant to one audience was often appearing in more than one access level, making the whole experience of using search a difficult one, no matter the audience. There were also a few basic features that could be enabled, and some minor configuration changes that could be made, all of which contribute to a far more effective knowledge base. I’m going to share the steps I took so you can improve the search effectiveness of your Oracle Service Cloud knowledge base. For now, I’ll leave the roles and workflow process for another post.

1. Know the reason your organisation may have more than one interface and/or access level, and clearly communicate the differences between them. In my client’s case, when a staff member searched for information to do with lecture recordings, for example, they were getting a lot of answers relevant to students. That results in frustration and disillusionment with the knowledge base. I bulk-edited answers to update them with the appropriate access level.

2. Enable Search Result Limiting. How many pages get returned when you use a common search phrase? If you’re getting pages and pages of results, many of which are irrelevant, it’s worthwhile going into the configuration settings to tune the search results. Search Result Limiting uses an AND search except where there are no answers, then it falls back to an OR search. As an example, students like to know when the coming “census date” is. This configuration setting took 60+ results of “census” or “date” down to six relevant results of “census” and “date”.

3. Oracle doesn’t use keywords in the same way that you probably do. When you put key phrases into the keywords field of an answer, it artificially boosts that answer’s weighting in search results when that term is used. Most of us use keywords as synonyms, but Oracle provide a text file to do this job. Monitor the Keyword Searches report and add commonly occurring synonyms to aliases.txt in the File Manager of your configuration settings. Keep the keywords field blank unless necessary.

4. Enable SmartAssistant Auto Tuner across all your interfaces. I don’t know why this feature isn’t turned on by default, because it’s so helpful to search effectiveness. The Auto Tuner is continually learning answer relevancy and makes adjustments automatically. It’s influenced by how often agents reuse answers in response to incidents and will push those most reused answers, thereby deemed most relevant, higher up the results in both customer portal searches and the Smart Assistant suggested answers in the agent console. When you click on SA Auto Tuner in the config settings, you see a bunch of weightings under the current search configuration, and what the suggested config would be for a tuned search config. From here you only need to click one button “Accept new config” to have those suggestions applied. Once a week, a new datapoint is collected for the search relevancy graph that is also on this page. It’s early days for my client, but I suspect that the more the agents interact with SmartAssistant and Best Answer features in their ribbon, the higher these relevancy percentages will go. I’ll have to revisit this theory later.

5. Ensure you enable the Best Answer button in your agents’ workspace. Related to the previous step, the Best Answer button allows agents to select the best answer from those that were reused in the incident reply. This is a significant input to the SmartAssistant Auto Tuner algorithm and helps that work more effectively.

Separately from Knowledge Foundation, but foundational to knowledge management in general, is to embed a Search First culture. If your OSC agents aren’t using the search features within the console, you won’t see the productivity benefits available with the platform, so don’t skimp on the communications and training.


Knowledge is not understanding

I watched a video on YouTube last week and I want to share it with you. Destin, of @smartereveryday, did an experiment that shows how those things we do every day that are just like riding a bicycle, are actually complicated. And when we introduce even a minor change, it’s hard and we won’t necessarily be able to do it straight away.

Watch this video and tell me how this backwards-bike experiment makes you feel about your organisational change initiatives.

 


From customer experience to employee engagement

Recently, I was lucky enough to be a voluntary participant for a customer experience study at a cafe. (The things one can do when one is between contracts.)

I hadn’t been to a STREAT cafe before, so I was the ultimate “potential customer”—able to play the role of the person who was walking in for the first time. STREAT want their customers to understand how every mouthful helps youth homelessness and disadvantage, but they also want their customers to keep coming back and to know about their other services. As a first-time customer, there’s a lot of information STREAT would like me to take in—the difference I could make to a young person’s life by buying my coffee there, the locations of other stores, where the food is sourced, how the program works, how I can contribute more, catering services, the cook book I could buy, and the menu.

The customer experience team had a small group of us consider two different scenarios and talk about the customer journey from the street, to the counter, to the table, and back out again. Where would the opportunities be to show customers what they need to know? What changes could be made to improve turnover for the management team? And how would any of these changes improve the experience of the trainees the program actually benefits?

It’s the kind of journey we don’t often, if ever, take in the corporate world and it’s impacting employee engagement.

Next time you feel like doing a little management-oriented research, walk out of your building and go and get your coffee, (from STREAT, if there’s one nearby. 😉) Then, retrace your steps with open eyes and a fresh perspective. What does it feel like to walk in the front door—is it welcoming or intimidating? If you’re the hiring manager, do you make sure you’re there to show your new team member around? After all, your face will be familiar from the interview. What’s your process for explaining the logistics of a role to new staff—is the information all in one place and easy to find and navigate? Do you have buddies/mentors/senseis to smooth out that awkward new employee phase? Do all your employees feel connected to the purpose of your organisation? Because if they don’t, they’ll move on.


Introducing, new online training

New online training

 

Just in time for your new year training budgets, Knowledge Bird has partnered with Klever to bring you a fast and affordable course covering the fundamentals of knowledge sharing.

Share more—achieve a lot more

Become more effective with the people and technology you already have by using effective knowledge-sharing practices.

This is a self-paced, ~30-minute course, where you’ll learn fundamental skills on how to make searching, rating, updating, creating, and improving knowledge part of your everyday work habits.

Increase productivity and enable new team members to get up to speed more quickly.

But that’s not all. You’ll also find a selection of requirements-writing courses, because we all know how hard that can be. Click here for more details and contact me if you’d like to arrange some bulk pricing.

Happy holidays!

 


The Continual Service of Knowledge

ITIL and KCS white paperIt’s not often that anyone would bother to review a white paper. After all, a white paper is usually free (perhaps in exchange for your email address) and not that much of an investment in time to read. A white paper has come along that I really must point out to you, though. If you’re interested in improving your IT services, this particular one is valuable, and you don’t even have to pay with your contact info.

I’ve long believed that the parents of ITIL® and Knowledge Centred Support (KCS), (AXELOS and the Consortium for Service Innovation, respectively), should join forces in some meaningful way. This white paper looks like being a kind of first step. Though, I don’t know what might come after. AXELOS and HDI have come together to release Synergies between ITIL® and Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS℠). Written by Roy Atkinson, John Custy, and Rick Joslin, the paper explains that “together, ITIL and KCS can improve service management”.

ITIL® refers to the benefits of knowledge management (KM) at each stage of the service lifecycle and describes KM at length in the Service Transition phase. I’ve never understood why the authors of ITIL® placed the most emphasis on KM in Service Transition and not in Continual Service Improvement. This white paper goes through the history of both best practices and their shared challenges, but the meat of it is in the explanation of how KCS complements ITIL® throughout many of its processes, uncovering many opportunities for your own organisation to tap into the value of adopting the behaviours and processes.

Download from the AXELOS website.


When an icebreaker isn’t just an icebreaker

I was invited to present a workshop as a guest speaker for a team off-site, recently. It was an express introduction to knowledge management and the group I presented to were enthusiastic about knowledge, even though they hadn’t yet implemented any KM programs. This particular group of people are managers in different roles across the IT operations team. There are a couple of challenges for them to work with: their team is distributed around the country, and they work in a traditional industry that could be subject to fallout from an ageing workforce.

When I do a knowledge management workshop, I like to start by getting everyone’s name and job title. There’s nothing new in that, and it’s more helpful to me than them, especially when they already know each other.
But I also keep three columns of numbers.

The first is how long each person has had that specific role; the second is how long they’ve worked in that organisation; and finally, how long they’ve worked in the same industry—that could be IT, or the business of what their organisation does.

I like this opening exercise because, not only does it give me the cues I need to remember who’s in my workshop, but it demonstrates the amazing amount of collective experience that’s in the room with me. That industry experience, together with the years of experience in the context of the organisation, informs the decisions each person makes in their role every day.

This realisation really highlights the potential of knowledge sharing in an organisation like this one.


How to interview your experts

Today’s post comes from Michael Domanski and Sean Murphy. Michael is a software developer and Sean is an entrepreneur with a history of business development and customer support. Together, they are bringing tools for knowledge management to small teams. Learn more about Knowledge Flow.

What’s the most unnerving thought when interviewing a high profile expert?
Just imagine how depressed you would be after securing an interview with a subject matter expert and then conducting an interview that is a mix of stuttering and banal questions. I had tons of angst myself when I started conducting interviews. It’s not easy to interview an expert, mainly
because of the depth of their knowledge. It gets even harder when you realize just how precious their time is. To make my experience even more stressful, I knew at some point some of those people may become my
customers. Thus, I not only needed information, I also needed to make it look as if I knew what I was doing.
Since there’s little information (very little) about this subject on the internet, I decided it may be a good thing to share
some lessons learned. Let’s jump in.

8 tips to guide you through interviewing your experts

1. Research the subject matter and people you want to contact
Your interview always should have a main subject. E.g. if you were to talk to a SEO expert on the matter of recent
changes to Google algorithms, research as much as possible on your own. This background will enable you to
ask questions that are informing to your readers and provide new or niche insight into the subject. Also, pay
attention to the background of the person you interview. Ideally you want to have a list of people to interview that you
have almost personal relation to.

2. Rules of engagement
I usually contact people via email. It’s almost a given that experts get a ton of email every dail. At this stage you
should know them well enough to write an email that will interest them enough to contact you back. If you don’t
think you can write a good email, read “Writing that works” by Kenneth Roman (make sure it’s the 3rd edition). Do
write a personal email, e.g. when I wrote to Adii Pienaar from WooThemes, I’ve included a small personal hook,
which got a brief discussion over email and a comment: “Nice email, got my attention”.

3. Draft an interview agenda
You know the subject, you know the person you’re going to interview. Now, with your target length of time for the
interview in mind, draft an agenda of the key items that you want to discuss. I usually write it and then review it with
my co-­interviewer. We discuss it and then send it to the interviewee in advance so that they can prepare. My advice
is to always have someone have a look at it.

4. Have a co-­interviewer
The main reasons I can think of for having help is:

  • Fluidity. If you are out of questions for the moment he can take it from there.
  • Notes. I added tip on taking notes and having help makes it much easier. One of you asks the
    questions, one analyzes the answers and takes notes.
  • Brief and debrief. You can discuss the agenda and discuss what you have learned.

5. Prepare the environment
There are two types of settings for an interview. First type is “in person’ interview. It has the obvious benefit of you seeing the person you’re talking to. This gives you more clues about the feelings someone can have about the subject. On the other hand, those types of
interviews are expensive. They require you to secure a proper space and time to get there. You should never do an
interview in a space not private enough. I personally don’t believe in “coffee shop” interviews. The list of
distractions in such places is very long and you want the undivided attention of the person you’re asking questions.
Second type is the remote interview. Skype and gotomeeting are two most used tools for this kind of interviews.
While the interview can be much harder, ­­you can only hear the other person and see facial expressions or body
language­­, it has some logistic advantages. The whole setup is dirt cheap and the time spent on getting there is exactly 0 seconds. It’s also very useful when interviewing people over long distances.

6. Take notes
Take note of key words and phrases that your interviewee uses and pay attention to any term they repeat. Try to
write down things as they’re being said. You can draw your conclusions later. This is easier if you work with a
partner. ­That way, you won’t have to worry about losing the thread of conversation (believe me, it’s hard to take good
notes and follow the conversation at the same time, pay attention to how a good lecturer structures their
presentations).

7. Keep it on course
If you said the interview is going to take 30 minutes, be ready to end a few minutes before. A good guide is the
subject’s energy and engagement. If they seem happy, you can go over the promised time. If they’re showing fatigue,
try to wrap soon. It’s important to avoid data overload. ­If you ask too many questions, it can be hard to process them coherently. Having a planned agenda, with some questions and a general thread of thought will help you a lot.

8. Summarize
In case you got something wrong, at the end of the interview be ready to show or read a short summary to your
subject. While this is not as good as a thought-out follow up, it gives you the confidence, that at a high level, you
have the same view of the problem as the expert you’re interviewing. This is the end of the interview, but this is not the end for you and your partner. After the interview you debrief on the
situation, what you have learned and what you think is important to take note of. I also try to mention any
conclusions that seem obvious to me and that I drew based on the interview.

After the debrief I work on the formal summary of the interview. This may seem like a lot of work (and it is) but it’s
very significant since:

  • it enables you to confirm your conclusions with the expert
  • it makes you think hard to create a coherent picture and wrap it into words

Personally, I believe this is a step you should never omit. Even if you eventually end up not using what you have
learned, you will have a good notion of why it’s not useful. You will also be able to follow up with your subject and, if
you collaborate on it with your partner, you’ll be confident you haven’t overlooked obviously important information.
Fear of missing important information or the nuance of an insight are two reasons why I always email the
summary to the interviewee. Most experts are used to not being understood completely right away. Because of that,
most of them will read and correct what you got wrong. This is very similar to taking an exam and submitting your
answer. It’s crucial to perform this step, since you are going to base your action, or lack of it, on the conclusions
you deduced from the interview.

If you’d like to read more about conducting interviews, I recommend starting with this blog post. Having that in
mind, the set of rules outlined above is solid enough to get you through most interviews with very good results.­ I’ve been
using it now for two years, and it’s been tested by Sean (for a much longer period of time). Yet we’re still
curious what you think of it, so don’t hesitate to send us your feeedback.
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­


When documentation is against the religion

Last week’s KM Australia congress in Sydney had a different vibe to last year. (Here’s the storify.) There were quite a few different faces from 2012, a few of the same ones, the weather was better. The room configuration was different, and maybe that’s all it was, but a small part of me thinks it was because one of the presenters was a chief technology officer. At last! A knowledge management case study from an IT executive.

James King started by explaining the nature of his organisation and the DevOps environment that his team works within. Of course, the Agile Manifesto says developers value “working software over comprehensive documentation”, and that’s where James got the first objection to his plan for better documentation to avoid rework. His response was that the Agile Manifesto is a piece of documentation in itself, so clearly, some documentation has value.

And so, the story continued with the introduction of Agile tools, like storyboarding, to the product support and knowledge management process. Instead of documentation being engineered along with releases, it was produced on demand through the normal support transactions. Without mentioning the words Knowledge Centred Support, James was in fact describing a simplified implementation of KCS, which I confirmed with him afterwards.

Just this morning, I saw a tweet that reminded me of James’ presentation.

You see, the great thing about KCS is that it accepts knowledge has an imperfect nature. It has built-in mechanisms for improving knowledge on the fly. Indeed, why spend hours over-engineering documentation for software that frequently changes and may never be read in full?


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