By “organizing the world’s information,” Google became the world’s most popular search engine, made the internet far more useful, and earned global revenue of $74.54 billion (as of 2015).
So what could you accomplish if your information were better organized?
That’s the purpose of knowledge management software, which comes in a variety of flavors.
For customer service teams and small businesses, a self-service knowledge base can drastically reduce customer service costs, while reducing work for your agents. A self-service knowledge base is like an FAQ section or forum, where customers can search for answers to their questions before they reach out to customer service.
A Dimension Data study showed that 73% of consumers would rather search for the answers they need before reaching out to customer support. Other studies have found that 91% of consumers would use an online knowledge base if they could, and 67% of consumers prefer self-service to phone calls.
But there are other applications for knowledge management beyond customer service self-help.
Knowledge management actually encompasses a pretty wide swath of activity. According to Google, knowledge management is “efficient handling of information and resources within a commercial organization.” Gartner’s definition of knowledge management was first published in 1998, when Google looked like this:
“Knowledge management is a discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise’s information assets. These assets may include databases, documents, policies, procedures, and previously un-captured expertise and experience in individual workers.”
Here are five free and open-source knowledge management software solutions:
OpenKM is a great way to create a full-featured knowledge base for free. The catch is that you need to be fairly technically adept to make it work and make it look pretty.
However, if you can manage that, you get a mobile-optimized knowledge base, forum, and wiki with task management, collaborative editing, and integrated calendar. Make notes, annotate, and view and revert back to earlier versions of documents. OpenKM integrates with third-party apps including Bonitasoft BPM, Joomla, WordPress, Google Drive, Microsoft Office, and Vtiger. Check out what an OpenKM knowledge base looks like by default here.
Sourceforge reviewers love OpenKM, saying it’s easy to install and easy to use. However, they note that not all features are available at the free level.
eXo calls itself “The open-source, enterprise social collaboration platform software.” Using it requires a login, so keep that in mind if you want to build a publicly available knowledge base. But for intra-team collaboration, it’s pretty full-featured for a free option. It offers document collaboration with version control and access permissions. You can build your own wiki and forum. There’s a calendar app and chat for collaboration. And task management with customized workflows. It’s even got a CMS. And native iOS and Android apps.
Capterra reviewers like eXo, giving it an average rating of 4.5 stars. One reviewer wrote, “Using eXo Platform we created a secure portal-based site and an intranet that encourages employees in an organization to exchange knowledge, documents, work collaboratively, task management, contact data… All done socially and mobile.”
Slack may not bill itself as knowledge management software. But it’s got some powerful knowledge sharing functionality, even at the free level. Like eXo, it’s a social collaboration platform. The main functionality, of course, is chat. Slack stores the most recent 10,000 messages and up to 5GB of files per team. It’s got native apps for iOS, Android, Mac & Windows. And it integrates with a lot of different apps. Upgrading gets you unlimited message storage, unlimited app integrations, and more file storage.
Slack’s channels have the real-time aspect of IRC and the organization and searchability of forums. You can grant permissions by creating private, invite-only channels. Slack offers drag-and-drop file sharing and team members can comment on files within Slack. You can also search the contents of files within Slack. Slack facilitations private direct messages to individual team members and as well as groups. It also offers features most knowledge management software doesn’t, like desktop notifications.
Like eXo, using Slack requires a login. But for my money it does everything it does better than eXo, it just does less. You could use Google Drive with Slack to get document collaboration with version control and access permissions.
4. Google Drive
Speaking of Google Drive, it’s a pretty powerful knowledge management tool in and of itself. You can basically easily hack it into your knowledge base and forum. Anyone who wants to see the information you store in Google Drive must be logged into a Google account to see it. However, most of us do have Google accounts and are logged in most of the time. And unlike eXo and Slack, you can create a knowledge base in Google Drive and make it available to the public without them having to log in to or sign up for your community specifically by making your folder publicly available on the web.
Drive offers native mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows, and Macs. Set access permissions to decide who’s allowed to view, comment on, and edit your documents. Chat within documents, revert to earlier versions, see who made what changes and when. Obviously there’s an integrated calendar. Drive offers task management through Gmail or you can choose one of the task management Chrome extensions that work with Google Drive.
myBase is software for creating a knowledge base or research database.
Paul J Miller reviewed myBase and enjoyed its plethora of features such as the hierarchical tagging/keyword system. But he complained about the lack of support for universal links. But it tends to slow down or crash with large data sets or file sizes over 300MB.
Google might have done a pretty good job of organizing publicly available information. But you still have to find a way to organize yours.
If you’ve got access to developer talent and you need to build a knowledge base that’s accessible without a login, I’d recommend OpenKM. eXo is great if you need free document collaboration with version control and access permissions along with integrated wiki and forum building tools, a calendar, chat, and task management and don’t mind making people log in. If collaboration is key, Slack can work great. Google Drive is best for collaborating on documents. And myBase is the free way to build a database.
Any I missed? Let me know in the comments.
Looking for Customer Service software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Service software solutions.