Some companies use SharePoint (part of Microsoft Office) as an unusual way to build an company knowledge base. There are some good reasons to do so, but also many drawbacks in using Sharepoint knowledge base.
Microsoft SharePoint actually used as a document management storage system and to suit for a wide variety of other needs. It has version control and a shared workflow – all things you need for a knowledge base.
Still, SharePoint is best understood as a tool for online collaboration and hacked to make as a knowledge base.
Difference between Knowledge Management and a Knowledge Base
Before considering whether Microsoft SharePoint can be used as a knowledge base, it helps to learn the difference between the discipline of “Knowledge Management” and a knowledge base.
Knowledge Management typically refers to the storing and sharing of knowledge within an organisation for internal objectives, such as improving productivity and knowledge-sharing. It originated in the Management Consulting industry, and has a body of business research behind it.
In contrast, a knowledge base (compared to the discipline ‘Knowledge Management’) is a digital asset that automates more customer support tasks by enabling customers to self-serve. Typically no human intervention required for most knowledge base queries.
A knowledge base can be internal or external – typically aimed at end users, developers, internal staff, or any other combination of stakeholders. Your internal team may be your ‘customers’ who are self-serving. Your documentation primarily aimed at more than one type of audience.
You could say that SharePoint Knowledge Management (KM) tool instead of Sharepoint knowledge base software. This means SharePoint is ideal for KM processes such as collaboration and knowledge-sharing, but may not be as suitable for a knowledge base.
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Advantages of SharePoint knowledge base
First we’ll look at advantages of using SharePoint knowledge base.
Easy on-boarding for Microsoft users
It’s likely that your staff members already know how to use SharePoint, or at least are familiar with the rest of the Microsoft Office suite. You can keep your knowledge base in the same systems your staff used to using, and reduce on-boarding.
Knowledge base administrators don’t need new accounts with more passwords to worry about.
Using a single system
Since SharePoint integrates with Microsoft Office, you have the advantage of using a single system for more of your toolstack. Employees won’t have to remember to use a new platform and IT won’t have to worry about vetting a new supplier.
Secure and reliable
Microsoft is a trusted software enterprise supplier globally, so you don’t have to worry about things like data protection, hacking, or the company going bust. It’s a brand that’s not going anywhere any time soon.
SharePoint as a knowledge wiki
SharePoint is best suited to be an internal, collaborative, version-controlled tool for your Knowledge Management strategy.
In simple terms, this means keeping your company information in one place, accessible across a large, distributed team, and enabling people to work together better. It could be compared to Google Drive in this way – document hosting in the cloud for teams.
An internal knowledge base is more likely to be a wiki, which means that anyone can add content and access the Content Management System. Having a few centralised administrators who post content would inhibit this collaborative workflow, so SharePoint is ideal in this instance.
Before you can get started, your SharePoint administrator has to set up Wiki Pages site. You’ll end up with a CMS that your staff can use to post text, images and videos on content pages. You can also format the content and make the metadata searchable.
Drawbacks of using Sharepoint knowledge base
The drawbacks of utilising SharePoint knowledge base are numerous. The built-in features of SharePoint geared towards making it a collaborative internal tool focused more towards knowledge management. This results in a completely different software model, making it ill-suited to use as a knowledge base.
Non indexed contents
Let’s imagine you don’t have the resources to set up a complicated Wiki Page.
If your documents are hosted in your Sharepoint knowledge base in a variety of formats such as Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoints, Word documents and PDFs, these aren’t going to be indexable.
Search queries will be difficult, you won’t be able to easily browse the content, or ultimately find what you need.
Even if you make a Wiki site, only the metadata tagged and indexed – versus the actual body of your article in a regular knowledge base. This limits the search capabilities still further.
No information architecture
Creating a Wiki in SharePoint still means there will be no oversight of the Information Architecture beyond the initial set up.
Users will hit your knowledge base and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of unstructured information presented in quite a basic way. You can’t even categorise your content in SharePoint.
Having too much content, especially unstructured, means your knowledge base will be worse than useless.
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Restricted number of users
A public-facing knowledge base needs to have a potentially unlimited number of ‘users’, who are typically your customers. Most self-service knowledge bases do need to be public-facing, as requiring a login is just too much of a hurdle for your average customer.
If your knowledge base requires a login, you wouldn’t be able to scale your knowledge base quickly and cheaply as you acquire more customers. On the other hand, if you make your SharePoint knowledge base public-facing, approval workflows and scheduling will not be available.
Lack of version control
If you cannot have version control, publishing permissions, or scheduling, collaboration within SharePoint is no longer possible.
If you can’t have a proper editing process, this will hinder team productivity.
Not usable out-of-the-box
SharePoint is not actually knowledge base software, so you need to build it using the Wiki Pages feature, or use other third party knowledge base software that deploys on top of SharePoint. This removes the advantage of using Microsoft because you have introduced another supplier.
Limited online features
SharePoint Online (the SaaS version of SharePoint rather than the installed on-premise version) also has reduced features compared to the desktop version. You may not be able to do everything that SharePoint promises in the web browser, limiting how agile your iteration process could be.
Enterprise price tag
SharePoint aimed at the enterprise, and the enterprise price tag may be a barrier to entry for smaller companies or startups. You’ll have to pay for every user in SharePoint whereas a knowledge base usually has a limited number of ‘administrators’.
In SharePoint, the administrators are also ‘users’, whereas knowledge bases also have non-administrative users who are ‘customers’. This isn’t possible in SharePoint – without developer help to make an public-facing Wiki Pages site.
Knowledge versus action
One of the most misleading things about the term ‘knowledge base’ is that they are actually aimed at helping users accomplish tasks – not just passively absorb knowledge. So knowledge bases must be actionable and include proper Information Architecture.
You might not be able to accomplish this with a SharePoint knowledge base, if the assumption is that it’s a wiki and everyone in the organisation is responsible for it. With unmaintained wikis, this usually ends up as no one being responsible.
The point of a knowledge base is not precisely to ‘share knowledge’, but rather help users to accomplish tasks or solve problems related to your product that you have previously defined. It involves having an idea of the customer journey, and pain points with your product.
Your goals should be based on actual user needs that you have identified through surveys, conversations, or analytics data.
You need to decide what the knowledge base should accomplish and collect knowledge based on that goal. The knowledge articles and contents presented in a way that external customers, without advanced knowledge of your company, will easily understand.
That’s where a SaaS knowledge base comes in.
The advantages of a SaaS knowledge base
SaaS knowledge base software are far better suited to making a customer knowledge base compared to SharePoint because of various advantages.
Supports limited administrators
A knowledge base managed by a limited number of team members and the process will usually led by a Knowledge Champion. This could be a Senior Technical Writer, Customer Support Director, or anyone else who has the most stake in your documentation. This is someone who will drive documentation forwards and take responsibility for its success.
That’s why you will want to pay for your knowledge base software on a per user basis – including only people who will be uploading, editing and writing the documentation. You pay for the licenses you use, and can scale up or down according to your needs.
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SaaS knowledge base solutions are always browser-based, so you can access from anywhere, and make changes any time. This way of working supports modern, flexible, remote teams, and it also matches the iterative development processes of SaaS DevOps.
User Experience built-in
Your knowledge base needs to be carefully designed using User Experience principles. SaaS knowledge bases come bundled with tested templates that aimed towards helping users self-serve. This means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Some of the features included are:
- Article tagging
- Contextual help
- Suggested articles
- Popular articles
- Feedback forms
- Intelligent search
Good editing capabilities
A crowdsourced model for your knowledge base is not sufficient without the oversight of a dedicated team member or team.
Documentation often goes through a number of iterations. Knowledge base software facilitates this editing process with permissions-based editing and editing approval processes.
Easy team on-boarding
SaaS knowledge bases typically have such good UX built in that getting your team to learn a new system is not much of a learning curve. Unlike a lot of legacy software you may use, it should be as easy to use as any standard Content Management System (CMS). Your team are already no doubt using one in some form.
No development required
You also need developers to build you a knowledge base if you use SharePoint. Because you need a lot of resources or budget you need to allocate to getting set up.
SaaS knowledge base software is usable right out of the box, with no coding experience. You can and usually customise colours, fonts and layouts to match your company brand.
Some companies might want to use SharePoint because they trust Microsoft from a security standpoint. But your SaaS knowledge base solution should be fully compliant with standard security requirements like authentication, data protection and testing if you choose an experienced supplier like Document360.
Microsoft SharePoint is a good product for internal teams who need to collaborate with each other. Finally, it is not a knowledge base software. There is a growing variety of SaaS knowledge base solutions that better suit your needs. Some of them will be even more budget-friendly.
If you pick SharePoint, you’ll have to hack it for your purposes, and the development requirements will slow you down. As a result, SharePoint is not suitable for the fast growth of SaaS companies, where legacy software requirements limited by use.
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