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The amount of information and data being generated by businesses each day is exponentially high. But if this data is unorganized, it won’t be of any value to your business.
However, managing the increasing volumes of data and gaining maximum insights from it are precisely the challenges that small businesses currently face.
Small businesses, particularly those in customer service, require KM software to streamline their training processes. The tool could help customer agents reduce the time taken to search for answers to customer queries.
In this buyer’s guide, we define the core features of KM software, look at the deployment options, highlight emerging trends, and list important questions that you should ask potential vendors before purchasing a solution.
Jump to the following sections for a quick look:
Knowledge management software is technology that captures, aggregates, organizes, and contextualizes raw data (obtained from product data, customer interaction, leads analysis, etc.) into a database. Employees can use this database to carry out functions such as document sharing, training, and sending product-related updates. On the other hand, customers can use it to solve their queries and avoid reaching out to the support team.
KM solutions can range from email packages to advanced collaboration tools designed to establish business processes and reduce the time and resources required for training.
These tools are generally available as an essential component of any organization’s external website as well as on the intranet. Many vendors provide customizations that allow employees to write content in the form of blogs, articles, etc., and then publish it on the knowledge base. These articles can be indexed in internal search engines and be accessible to other employees.
A KM tool can help users create the following elements on their website:
Forum or community feature
Education and corporate training programs
To select the right KM tool for your business, you first need to understand the various types of solutions in the market. The next section breaks down the most common types of KM software:
Database management system (DMS): This is among the simplest KM tools in the market. Its easy storage and retrieval options allow users to access the data stored on the database.
Electronic document management (EDM) system: It’s used as a single repository to store, retrieve, and control versions of business documents such as spreadsheets, emails, audio-video files, and HTML forms. This tool includes features such as cataloging and indexing, search and access control, and bulk upload.
Knowledge map tool: This type of solution does not store or retrieve knowledge. Instead, it provides a locator feature that helps users find people who own a particular content file. The tool categorizes a person’s expertise (what they know and their proficiency at a given task) into searchable catalogs.
Groupware: This type of software allows multiple users to engage in live, simultaneous, and reversible editing of a single file. It also lets employees send and receive messages as well as share calendar appointments across the organization.
Key question to ask your vendor before you buy: Is your software suitable for my business size and for the kind of business I do?
After you decide the type of software you need, the next step is to select the right deployment model.
GetApp’s website focuses on cloud- or web-based software options. In general, these tools come with lower up-front costs, faster implementation time, and automatic updates; they also better support remote use, scale more easily, and minimize the need for IT staff and real estate.
However, it’s important for potential users of the software to understand their options with respect to deployment. Some vendors offer their products via only one deployment model; others will allow a buyer to select their preferred deployment. Below are the deployment methods of most solutions:
Cloud-based: This option is offered as a per user per month subscription model. It allows users to remotely access the KM system from any device, as the data is stored on the cloud. The availability of basic and advanced features depends on the pricing tiers. These solutions are scalable and suitable for businesses with an expanding database.
On-premise: This option is offered as a per-user license. An on-premise KM software is suitable for businesses that need a higher level of security and have dedicated IT support to manage the solution. It has the pre-built infrastructure, including communication servers, network equipment, and a hosting environment. However, the upgrade costs can be tedious as it involves recurring costs and knowledgeable staff.
Web or browser-based: These can be deployed on the intranet or browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. Users can log into the KM system from anywhere in the world. This is beneficial for businesses in multiple locations as they have a common platform to share best practices, problems, customer interactions, etc.
Key question to ask your vendor before you buy: What are the pricing plans for your KM tool based on the deployment option?
In this section, we've covered the key knowledge management software features that you should consider before purchasing a solution. Most small businesses will need most of these features.
Content classification: Allows users to store and categorize the content in the form of articles, guides, case studies, and product updates. This ensures that the information is clear and relevant for both employees and customers. Also, you can ensure that they are up-to-date on the information they seek.
Content classification in Altiar
Self-service customer portal: Allows customers to access modules such as FAQs, product updates, guides, and community forums. This feature helps your customers avoid unnecessary calls to the customer support for basic product details.
Freshdesk’s self-service portal
Search and browse: Provides search filters, auto-suggestions, natural language search, and search engine indexing options. Some of the advanced search options include intent-based search, which matches keywords to common reasons why users search the knowledge base (e.g., how to buy an upgrade plan).
Search, queries, feedback, and pageview in Helpman (Source)
Publishing options: Provides formatting options for content such as text, hyperlinks, videos, and images. Some advanced tools provide templates from their marketplace, where users can create their own policies and procedures using the editing tools.
Add rich media, such as video and images, in Way We Do
Decision tree: Provides an automated process flow that instructs users to follow a series of steps to find the related information or troubleshoot common issues. At each step, a data tree requires user inputs to transition them to the next step for solving the issue.
Decision tree in Yonyx
Capture feedback: Features built-in feedback options that allow administrators to capture employee feedback, customer experience, and votes on the relevance and helpfulness of articles. Users can also add comments. It ensures that business knowledge is relevant and current, so that the information provided to customers is accurate and up to date.
Capture and edit information to build a knowledge base in myBase
RSS feeds: Keeps users updated about new and useful articles related to their business, competitors, and the industry.
Live media feeds in IntelligentBank Boards (Source)
Key question to ask your vendor before you buy: What are the most relevant features in your software that suit my business requirements?
Here are some of the integrations that you should consider integrating into the KM solution you purchase:
Customer service software: Provide your customer service agents the knowledge to stay updated on the latest product offerings. The integration ensures fast and accurate answers as agents and users can get the information from the common knowledge base in various ways.
Employee management software: Offer employees centralized, remote access to all vital documents. It also helps with onboarding as new employees can find answers related to the organization culture and policies.
Key question to ask your vendor before you buy: What are all the integrations you offer in your solution that can help my small business?
Now that you’ve understood the common software features and integrations, the next step is to evaluate the advanced features that you could need. We haven’t labeled these features as “common”, but some of these could be vital to you based on your business type.
Tooltip: Explains unfamiliar terminologies that are uncommon and difficult to understand. This feature is used to describe technical features, disclaimers, policies, etc.
Pop-ups: Displays interactive content; it can be used as signposts (to give directions) to help users navigate the content.
Conditional logic: Constitutes a set of rules and conditions that let you hide or display specific content on your knowledge base. This feature lets you modify the access rights to view and edit the content.
Merge tags: Includes a few words or text strings that you can add to any page in your knowledge base. The feature allows you to make site-wide changes by editing the merge tag source instead of having to modify each individual page one by one.
Watch out for the following software trends in knowledge management industry to stay ahead of your competition:
Increased integration of BI tools: Adding business intelligence (BI) to knowledge management offers meaningful insights and improves knowledge sharing practices. This will help you make better business decisions. BI can help businesses get a better analysis of their operations, trends, and processes.
These BI insights can help you form an effective knowledge-sharing strategy to reduce operation costs and create a better product that meets customer needs. Businesses that integrate BI in their KM strategy will become more efficient and see a significant increase in ROI, in terms of both money and time.
Enhanced content sharing on social media: Many businesses are adopting enterprise social networks, such as Microsoft Office 365 and Workplace by Facebook, for online threaded discussions as they have a better user interface. A KM tool allows users to access the knowledge base using a social media platform of their choice. It can also help you in indexing, filtering, and having full control over content delivery into each channel.
Key question to ask your vendor before you buy: Do any features in your solution offer integrations with BI or social media tools?
We referenced the following documents while creating this guide:
GetApp knowledge management catalog (Date accessed: 01/23/2019)
Best Knowledge Management Systems-2019 (Date accessed: 01/22/2019)
5 Tech Trends for Small Business, Capterra (Date accessed: 01/23/2019)
*Note: The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context, and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations, obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.