The importance of having a comprehensive internal knowledge base

01 Jul 2021 5 min read

Written by

Nicoleta Binca

, Marketing Specialist

In our previous article, we discussed the ins and outs of building a knowledge base. This time around, we'll go in-depth about the importance of having an internal knowledge base and why it can make a difference for you, as well as your employees, in terms of sharing information, improving productivity, and enhancing collaboration. 

What is an internal knowledge base?

An internal knowledge base serves as a virtual workspace where you can store, share and maintain knowledge for team members to access as needed. The information found inside an internal knowledge base is meant to be quickly accessible and help employees do their job more efficiently. Unlike an external knowledge base, which is public, an internal one is only accessible by the members of an organization.

What should be included in an internal knowledge base?

Your internal knowledge base should include as much relevant information and documentation as possible to help employees get tasks done with minimum interruption and no effort looking for what they need. It can consist of information from every employee, department, stakeholder, or interested person. Here are a few examples to consider: 

  • Company information — Office addresses/information, employee contact, press contacts, and websites
  • Brand guidelines — Design do's and don'ts, templates, logos, branding handbook, fonts, color codes
  • Organization structure — Chain of command, how teams are structured, and where they belong
  • Onboarding — What to expect as a new employee, an overview of the company and how things work, what technology and tools are used, how and where to ask for help 
  • Calendars — Holidays, important dates to keep track of
  • Sales collateral — Sales information sheets, latest numbers, forecast for upcoming periods
  • Market research — Competitive information and pricing 
  • Documentation — Procedures, guides, best practices
  • Customer service — FAQs, troubleshooting tips 

How should an internal knowledge base be structured?

Depending on your business needs, a knowledge base can be modeled to any structure. A best practice is to create one central knowledge base that includes information from across the entire company, then include sub-workspaces for each department. For example, here at XWiki, our internal intranet is the main wiki - acting as the central hub of information - that includes several sub-wikis dedicated to each team, from marketing and HR to support, sales, and more. This provides both a centralized space with general knowledge and creates dedicated spaces each team can organize according to their needs and where specific information can be found.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to an internal knowledge base, the way you go about structuring it depends on both your and your team's needs. Even so, there are a few basic tips to keep in mind to make the most out of it and really help enhance collaboration across the board.

1. Make navigation intuitive

Keep in mind that an internal knowledge base is more than a place to dump all of your organization's information. It's supposed to act as a self-service online library and make it easier for employees to do their job. It needs to guide those who access it, so it should be designed to emphasize accessibility and findability. Go beyond simple text and add structure to pages, so that you and other users can always know where to find a particular document or the procedure in place. One way is to base your content categories on a hierarchy unraveling information only when needed. Include a search functionality, breadcrumbs, use tables to filter and sort pages, and design forms/templates for your pages. This will help facilitate navigation and ensure you don't have to worry about a cluttered virtual workspace again.

2. Use links strategically

Adding links is a useful way to direct users to other relevant topics. Related pieces of information should be connected via hyperlinks, tags, or even mentions to give the full, clear context. Keep in mind that you only want to do it when clicking a link is the next natural step since too many links scattered around can be distracting. 

3. Create easy to read content

Try not to intimidate your users with lengthy walls of text. If possible, avoid burying information in long, multiple topics pages that have no break paragraphs and leave no room for the reader to breathe.  Try to incorporate distinctive headers, bullet points, lists, spacing, and visuals to highlight important information and offer an overview of what they're about to read. The information provided should be short and concise to prevent confusion or leaving it up for interpretation. 

What are the benefits of having an internal knowledge base?

An internal knowledge base can become the foundation upon which your organization grows and evolves. It not only curates knowledge accumulated through time by centralizing it but also eliminates repetitive tasks and reduces redundant effort. An internal knowledge base can help retain information when key employees leave, ease onboarding for new ones, boost productivity, and enable better collaboration. All in all, an internal knowledge base lets you do more with less.

1. Improve communication

An internal knowledge base acts as a virtual workspace that helps employees engage with each other (even when remote or time zones apart) in different ways — be it through comments, mentions, forums, and so on. Platforms such as XWiki or any other CMS (Content Management System) ensure collaboration is facilitated and ideas, strategies, or suggestions can be freely shared and accounted for.  This way, teams are encouraged to maintain an open line of communication and different departments can stay “on the same page” by having access to each other's data. 

2. Enhance collaboration

With the collaboration features an internal knowledge base offers, it's easier to share knowledge. If previously, classic tools such as white papers or emails managed to do the job and get the information across the organization, that is not the case anymore. Having to ransack through emails or backtrack through numerous chats to get that one piece of information is a time-consuming and counterproductive process that no employee wants to go through — especially if it can be avoided. With an internal knowledge base, however, teams can work together in real-time, mention each other for faster response rates, request edits, leave comments and receive feedback much faster. Making all company knowledge freely available also enables transparency, which, in turn, fosters trust. 

3. Ease onboarding

Systematized information streamlines work, saving time and, in some cases, budget. Having a strong knowledge base, where new employees can easily find any relevant information and get guidance makes for faster, successful onboarding. Training new employees is an essential step to the success of your organization and, as such, should be a carefully thought-out and easy-to-follow process. New team members need to be brought up to speed to understand the ins and outs of the company.

An internal knowledge base can lay the groundwork for a quick learning and strong orientation environment. This not only saves costs but also translates into a better, smoother working environment.  The main reason is that each new employee will be able to take their time going through the information they're provided with rather than having to sit through presentations or training. Make the process easy by gathering all relevant and necessary onboarding information in one dedicated space in your knowledge base that is easily accessible to new hires. It can contain videos, pictures, guides, and everything else a new employee needs to learn to not feel left out of the loop. This part can even be gamified to become as interactive as possible and make the learning process an interesting experience.

4. Boost productivity

Sometimes, employees will hit a wall and won’t know how to resolve a certain task. This is where having a well-curated and structured internal knowledge base in place can make the difference. Having access to past documents means they no longer need to wait for an email response or spend hours trying to figure it out on their own when the solutions might've already been discovered before. Readily available and easily accessible information results in a more knowledgeable team that's able to swiftly get tasks done. This way, the business operates faster (internally and externally) with employees spending less time searching for information and more on accomplishing meaningful work, which translates into an increased level of productivity across the organization.

5. Prevent knowledge loss

The more your company grows and evolves, the harder it is to keep track of all the knowledge accumulated through time. Without a dedicated space where this information is stored, it can not only be easily misplaced but also lost when veteran employees leave. This is especially important in today's rapid-evolving business world where the only thing you possess at the end of the day is knowledge. You don't want to tie that vital information to several employees and have to watch organizational memory walk out the door one step behind them. 

An internal knowledge base solves the problem and saves you from spending time, energy, and resources to regain the lost know-how. It enables you to transfer that knowledge and make it available for everyone to use and improve.

Best practices to successfully maintain an internal knowledge base

Once you've got it up and running, remember that your internal knowledge base is a self-service operation. However, to ensure it's consistently serving its purpose and helping your team out, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Prioritize user experience

The point of an internal knowledge base is to make it easier for your employees to do their jobs and get their tasks done. As such, usability should be a top priority so that users can have a clear sense of where to go for what they need. Use the right content hierarchy, include a thorough search functionality, consider headlines to help navigation, and add tables of contents to make long articles easier to follow.

2. Manage access carefully

An internal knowledge base helps you foster a community spirit and make everyone feel involved in the company by making information widely available. That's why it's a good idea to give access to users even across departments and let them access non-sensitive documents outside their area of work. It encourages new ideas and innovation, while also opening up curiosity. However, sensitive information should be treated as such and only specific users should be able to access it. With XWiki, for example, you can use the finely-grained rights system to set up access to certain users or groups at different levels to prevents unfortunate accidents and ensure you don't compromise anything you don't want to.

3. Use templates

With an internal knowledge base, you can do more than save time — you can streamline processes and improve quality by creating different templates. A template is reusable and allows you to set a standard for how an article, meeting, project overview, etc. should look. This keeps a level of consistency across the board and also allows users to focus on filling the template with relevant content rather than having to start from scratch. For example, in XWiki, we have various templates that act as predefined pages you can fill and use as you see fit.

4. Encourage feedback

An internal knowledge base encourages employees to share all the valuable information assimilated throughout time, based on both accomplishments, let-downs, and experience. As the company evolves, it becomes harder and harder to keep track and accurately account for everyone's opinion. A dedicated space for information sharing and discussions enables a collaborative working environment, all the while encouraging innovation and entices employees to learn from each other.

5. Review content

Don't ever think of your internal knowledge base as complete. Your organization and the teams within will continue to grow in different ways and those changes should be reflected in your knowledge base. Create additional content and edit it accordingly, while also making sure it's up to date. Make sure you don’t repeat the same information over and over again, so you can avoid being redundant. Check thoroughly and make sure that every change and improvement being made is done with good reason behind it

We hope this was a helpful guide that highlighted why having an internal knowledge base can make a real difference in terms of improving collaboration. It has many benefits and can bring the change your organization needs, but it also requires time, team effort, and real work to get right.

If you are ready to get on board and streamline your business with a knowledge base, XWiki could be the right tool to get you started. Try it for free or get in touch with one of our experts to discuss a custom project.

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