Making Knowledge Management Work With Service Management

By Michael Pastore

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For a concept that dates back to the beginning of time, knowledge management suffers from an identity crisis. Some users lump knowledge management in with its younger, somewhat distant cousins, content management and document management. Others define knowledge management by taking a cue from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous definition of obscenity: "I know it when I see it."

In reality, knowledge management goes back as far as human memory. It evolved onto stone tablets, books, file cabinets and sticky notes. But knowledge management in the IT world has always suffered from a lack of context, a lack of a problem that KM is clearly designed to fix. Service management may be the answer.

"The service management framework lives and and breathes with knowledge," said Michael McGaughey, Service Management Framework Architect at TXU, the leading energy retailer in Texas, which serves five million customers in North America and Australia. "There's a lot of knowledge used across the process silos."

McGaughey is tasked with designing and implementing a framework based on ITIL, the IT Infrastructure Library, which documents the implementation of a framework for IT service management. ITIL itself makes service management and knowledge management perfectly complementary concepts. Different aspects of service management generate knowledge, depend on knowledge and use knowledge, but ITIL does not give specific instructions on how to store or manage the knowledge -- only how to use it. That's where knowledge management comes in.

Knowledge management is not a separate process, but is used alongside service management, according to McGaughey. And while there is nearly an infinite amount of knowledge management applications available from software vendors, as well as home-grown solutions, each IT department will have to deal with managing knowledge in a service management environment in its own way.

McGaughey suggests there are four questions that are key to developing a knowledge management concept for an IT service management framework:

  • What kind of knowledge do you need?
  • How do you get it?
  • How do you store it?
  • What do you do with it?
  • "One of the great myths of knowledge management is that it's a technology solution," McGaughey said. "It's not." This, of course, presents a different problem. "IT people are keen on implementing a piece of technology to solve a problem," he said.

    Even to those well-versed in ITIL and service management, knowledge management lies beyond the scope of ITIL because each organization has unique needs and issues.

    Making Other Processes Better

    Knowledge management as an IT concept has a lot to gain from working within an IT service management framework. One of the factors that led to the development of its identity crisis is that knowledge management offers very little in the way of a value proposition by itself. The value it offers is in making other processes better.

    The principles and concepts of knowledge management can be used to share and transfer knowledge from the different "silos" of a service management framework, such as capacity management, problem management and incident management. It allows information to be shared, stored and used by each process in a service management environment.

    In some ways knowledge management and service management can be considered a "chicken and egg"-type problem. The two concepts can rely on each other so heavily it's difficult to tell which one came first. In reality, they are different processes that can help each other.

    "One of the knocks on knowledge management is that it doesn't have a context," McGaughey said. "Service management gives it one."