It’s tricky to navigate the landscape of software products for your company. There are countless products available, and many of them look extremely similar at first glance.
Most people are confused by the distinction between internal knowledge base software, and internal collaboration tools.
Since it takes a lot of time and effort to invest in a new tool for your team, it’s worth getting clear on the differences between them before you commit to anything.
Where the Confusion Arises
There are so many different tools out there that fall under the banner of “Knowledge base software”.
Software review sites like Capterra list a whole range of products under the category of Knowledge Management. This category includes both internal collaboration tools, as well as internal knowledge base tools.
It’s in the interests of every vendor to have their software tool fall into as many categories as possible. This increases market reach and the likelihood that more customers will discover your software.
And yet, there’s a real distinction between internal collaboration and internal knowledge bases.
Firstly, internal collaboration tools are more likely to be interactive and dynamic, like Microsoft SharePoint, Google Docs, etc. The intended users for this software limited in to a specific number who usually within the same team or organisation. It’s decentralised and everyone participates in the project management process.
Knowledge base tools, on the other hand, made centralised and static. Tools aimed at a potentially unlimited audience who passively read, watch, or listen to, the help content. This content has a purpose and a pre-existing structure called Information Architecture.
What is Knowledge Management?
Knowledge Management is a discipline that concerns managing the internal knowledge within your organisation – retention, curation, learning, sharing and creation. It provides a competitive business edge if companies improve how they use and transmit knowledge.
Knowledge in this context defined as any useful information asset within a business that can confer an advantage if used properly. For example, it could be tacit knowledge or skills, data, factual information or analytical insights.
Knowledge Management has already been an important area of focus in larger companies, public institutions and non-profits for many years. Now more companies – including SMEs and startups – are starting to see that they need to have better knowledge management.
Collaboration and knowledge base tools are both concerned with the Knowledge Management discipline at different stages in the same process.
Collaborative tools are concerned with effective communication of existing organisational content within internal teams. In contrast, knowledge base tools are concerned with powerful repository management of content with a future focus on knowledge collection, authoring, editing and optimizing tool for document writers.
What’s the Difference?
There’s a difference between collaborating on internal documents and processes, and documenting a product, team, service or workflow for a future purpose – although these activities can blur together. Both are essential knowledge tools, but one is more active and one is more passive.
Internal collaboration focused towards creating and communicating knowledge actively as projects driven to completion. They make teams more effective as they can collaborate on their shared goals. They are actively concerned with passing knowledge between people in real-time.
Knowledge bases store and organise knowledge for a future date. This knowledge is likely to be useful over and again in multiple scenarios and for a larger number of users. It captures what is important and makes it available for anyone to learn.
The distinction is important because it determines which features your software needs and how much you should be paying for a certain number of users.
Internal Collaboration Tools
Most larger organisations will already have some form of internal collaboration tool in operation. One of the main hurdles in this scenario is employee adoption, when the tool is too difficult or cumbersome for employees to use.
It’s important to pick a tool pitched at the right level of technical complexity, especially because everyone on a team is usually expected to use the tool.
While there are practically an unlimited number of collaboration tools, some of the most popular are:
Collaboration tool features include:
- Documents collaboration and editing
- Version control
- Document and file storage
- Group chat
- To do lists
- Message boards
A collaboration tool is normally priced on a model where you pay per user. They can get expensive, fast.
A tool like Slack is priced on a freemium model so any team can use Slack for free with limited features. This ensures widespread market reach, while their paid plans have more sophisticated features and are priced at £5.25 per user.
We’ll go through a few use cases of when you might use some of these tools.
Slack as a very popular internal collaboration tool which has all the functions of team chat, managing and tracking docs – and more. All types of organisations use Slack and it’s free for basic features. Slack also has a huge marketplace of apps which means you can extend the functionality, integrating with all your favourite apps.
Microsoft SharePoint is sold as part of the Microsoft Suite of Office 365 products. If you’re already invested in Microsoft then this can be a good choice, and it’s used by 75% of the Fortune 500. It’s highly customisable with a wide variety of use cases, and aimed at helping teams collaborate. It’s available through the cloud and starts at $5 per user per month.
A favourite with developers, GitHub is a collaboration tool for teams. Many teams want to use it for their projects even outside for software. It can present a steep learning curve for staff members who don’t work directly on software development projects, as it’s specialised for development teams. GitHub is free to use unless you want to host private code repositories.
Definition of Internal Knowledge Base
As we mentioned in a previous post, employees are also your customers. Empowering your employees is as vital as retaining external customers. An internal knowledge base provides information your staff need instantly, enabling them to provide better and faster service for your customers.
A knowledge base has a back-end content management system attached to a front-end website. You can manage categories and content pages, as well as reorder articles after they have been published. Features include a publishing workflow, author permissions, versioning, formatting options and search capabilities.
You can find a number of different tools for the purpose of internal knowledge base. Here are just a few examples:
Typically your employees will be publishing content as members of a team, so it’s important to keep this workflow in mind.
A knowledge base is scalable. No matter how much content you add, it always remains navigable (in contrast, collaboration tools tend to bloat and become unusable).
Each team has their own section to make the content relatively standardised. It can include:
- What that team does
- What the team structure is
- How it fits into the wider organisation
- Who is the primary contact on that team
- Rules and regulations
- Technical support
- And anything else!
An example use case would be the heads of all your teams coming together to decide what content needs to be shared with all staff members.
Document360 is our very own knowledge base software suitable for a wide variety of teams. Our easy-to-use WYSIWYG editor, multiple versioning, Markdown editor and article commenting for publishers are popular with our customers.
Document360 integrates with many other software tools such as Google Analytics, Intercom, Segment, Disqus and Olark to provide seamless workflows. Creating your own navigation is easy and you can customise the look and feel of your knowledge base.
Built-in searchability with Algolia means your customers can easily find the content they’re looking into the documentation. Alternatively, pre-built templates with navigation makes browsing content a breeze.
Prices begin from $49 per month. While there are certainly cheaper solutions out there, Document360 scales with your team. The functionality we offer for our standard monthly fee is unparalleled.
After reviewing a dozen knowledge base products, Document360 was the clear winner. Their amazing markdown editor and SEO features were unrivaled. – Matt Watson, CEO of Stackify.
HelpDocs is a popular knowledge base tool which is easy to set up and use. It integrates with Intercom, a popular customer support tool. It’s $39 a month for five team accounts, making it a very reasonably priced knowledge base for growing teams.
Benefits of Internal Collaboration Tools
Many teams are large and distributed. It’s important to communicate instantly across time zones and to store that information for use at a later date. Many tools used as smartphone apps, allowing employees to collaborate on the move.
It’s much easier to work on documents and projects at the same time with multi-user access and version control. Teams can communicate with each other instead of relying on email chains and other bits of information scattered across different platforms.
It’s easier to search back on messaging history and everyone has access to messages. Conversations divided into channels on many platforms, helping to organise the workflow.
It’s also more secure to share sensitive documents in an internal collaboration tool rather than sending unsecured emails flying back and forth.
Benefits of Internal Knowledge Base Tools
Having an internal knowledge base has numerous benefits, and is becoming increasingly crucial for many businesses – for several reasons.
Your employees are also Knowledge workers. Knowledge workers are specialised by knowledge domain, and they contribute their specific knowledge to projects within that given context.
Knowledge bases capture and preserve some of this valuable information, so that it’s less likely to be lost if someone leaves the organisation or project.
You can preserve your team’s culture far better with an internal knowledge base, as well as help people to follow the rules. Important information is easily accessible at all times, helping you to comply with regulations and reduce the burden on your HR staff.
It makes onboarding new employees far more efficient, since the content of your knowledge base does the job effortlessly. Knowledge transfer done in no time, thereby cutting down the cost on resource and time
Customer Support Benefits
It can improve customer query resolution times for your support staff too. Keeping the information handy resolves customer queries quickly, which is one of the key metrics for your customer satisfaction score.
All of your knowledge made centralised so that people don’t waste time hunting around for the knowledge that they need. Once the knowledge has been curated properly, less effort is required to access it in the future.
Features of Knowledge Base Software
A knowledge base is a complex information object that needs to be navigated. An internal collaboration tool tends to operate in real-time and facilitate team interactions. A knowledge base is relatively static while an internal collaboration platform is dynamic.
For this kind of static information, you need knowledge base software with Information Architecture.
This means it has features like:
- A homepage
- Custom domain
- Content pages
- Multi-level categories
- Tagging system
- Topic-based authoring
- Authoring permissions
It’s more like a regular website than a collaboration tool is likely to be, along with pre-defined Information Architecture and categorising capabilities.
Learn the tips and tricks about how to create a good internal knowledge base?
Internal Collaboration + Knowledge Base
Both types of tools aimed at improving productivity within an organisation. Some collaboration tools come with built-in knowledge base functionality – such as the ability to create and organise knowledge base content, along with version control – and we’ll go into a few of them now.
Atlassian’s Confluence is a crossover between an internal collaboration tool, wiki and a knowledge base.
It’s not suitable for everyone, but it can be very powerful for development teams. Confluence integrates with Atlassian’s other software Jira for a connected support experience, with tickets easily turned into documentation.
Documentation in Atlassian’s Confluence is basically a note-taking functionality, and it can’t be used as a proper knowledge base.
DropBox is file storage and document collaboration, and DropBox Paper is their add-on knowledge base. You may find you have trouble scaling this type of solution as Paper is basically a document editor, but your content certainly looks beautiful.
SharePoint has functionality to extend it into a wiki but this requires some development resources. Not everyone will be able to collaborate in your wiki and this makes complex to use SharePoint as a knowledge base tool. You can still collaborate on documents but it’s not as easy to create documentation.
Nuclino is a lightweight knowledge base and collaboration tool aimed at more technical teams. If your team is remote, works on development projects, and has other tools to integrate, this could be a strong contender.
There is a necessity for both types of products, and some companies will choose to combine collaboration and help content. It’s best to choose a tool that suits your unique workflow and can scale comfortably with your company.
Although many companies would like to use the same tool for both internal collaboration and knowledge base, this doesn’t always work. Functionality will be more limited in your knowledge base if it also includes collaboration features.
To achieve any complexity with your documentation, your knowledge base sophisticated Information Architecture and categorisation to show your users where they can find information.
Typically it has been larger organisations that have a need for Knowledge Management, but now as more teams become remote or distributed, there’s a need for better knowledge sharing across the board.
Document360 can help you curate your company’s knowledge for future use.