Originally published on November 18, 2016

Ninth in a series of 50 Knowledge Management Components (Slide 16 in KM 102)

User assistance and knowledge help desk: people who provide support by phone, email, chat, enterprise social network (ESN), and screen sharing to users, including tool consulting, finding reusable content, connecting to knowledge sources, process support, training, communication, and other assistance

It is a worthwhile goal to create a knowledge management environment that is simple, easy to use, and yields useful content with a minimum of effort. But inevitably, some users will perceive that tools are difficult to master, there are too many resources from which to choose, searching produces too few or too many results, or that it is difficult to connect to when not in the office. You should provide an easy way for users to contact experts on the knowledge management environment to obtain consulting, help with finding information, and other assistance.

To ensure that users have a readily-accessible source of support, a knowledge help desk should be established. The knowledge assistants who staff this help desk can help find information, contact experts, provide training, and answer questions on people, process, and technology components.

Knowledge assistants are people who help employees use the knowledge management environment by offering a variety of services. They can advise on how to use collaborative team spaces or how to use other KM tools. They can assist in locating reusable collateral or searching for information needed when a user is facing a deadline or not connected to the network and needs to find something out. They can find needed content and send it by email or post a link to it in an ESN.

They can help connect to other knowledge sources, either through communities or finding the right people inside or outside the organization. They can help with knowledge capture and reuse, assisting in submitting content to repositories, and evaluating the submitted content it is of acceptable quality

And they participate in ongoing training and communications. They host webinars. They help people with training. They communicate information on a regular basis to employees. The knowledge assistant is someone to contact with a question about how to do something, where to find something, or for assistance with any process or tool.

To aid users in contacting the knowledge assistants, it’s a good idea to provide a web site with names, phone numbers, email addresses, chat link, and ESN link. You can also send out to everyone in the organization a sticker on which users can write in the phone number of their closest knowledge assistant and stick it on their laptop or on their phone. In this way the contact information will be readily available when they need to contact the knowledge help desk.

For users who haven’t engaged with the knowledge management environment before but are wondering how to get started, one way is for them to call a knowledge assistant, mention some of the challenges they face, and let them offer advice on people, processes, and tools which address those challenges.

Some users need extra help in finding reusable content. When they are looking for materials to reuse, they can contact a knowledge assistant who is expert in searching the knowledge repositories. This takes advantage of specialized expertise in searching, reduces time spent searching unproductively, and frees up time for other tasks.

Appoint an organization knowledge assistant leader to coordinate efforts between all other knowledge assistants. This can be a role assigned to one of the KM leaders in addition to their other duties. Assign additional knowledge assistants for each key group within the organization. Groups include regions, large countries, business units, functions, and major work teams.

All assigned knowledge assistants should work as a team. They should provide backup to each other, provide follow-the-sun coverage for 24x7 support, and assist each other in responding to difficult requests.

To the greatest extent possible, knowledge assistants should also actively engage with users, not just wait for queries and requests to be received. By contacting project teams, managers, and key users in the organization to offer assistance, they can help bring the full power of all knowledge resources to bear.

Tasks

Knowledge assistants perform the following tasks:

  1. Help users learn about and use the available people, process, and technology KM components. Provide consulting on processes and tools.
  2. Facilitate collaboration. Connect people to others who can help them or whom they can help.
  3. Direct users to the right knowledge sources based on their specific needs. Locate relevant knowledge resources.
  4. Assist users in searching for content and knowledge. Find reusable content.
  5. Actively offer assistance to work teams. Engage by contacting users, not just waiting for requests to arrive.
  6. Review content submitted to repositories for compliance to quality standards, and follow up as required to improve quality.
  7. Solicit user feedback. Direct feedback to the right person within the KM team.
  8. Conduct training. Create and record self-paced courses.
  9. Search for information to help meet deadlines. Send search results to users who are not connected to the network.
  10. Network with other knowledge assistants. Back each other up. Help respond to requests. Take over open requests at the end of the work day based on being in different time zones.

For more information on help desks, see Creating Your Help Desk by Bob Spencer.

Examples

1. Deloitte’s Business Support Exchange (BSX)

2. HP’s Knowledge Advisors (K-Advisors)

Knowledge advisors helped with:

  1. Searching for information, especially when requestor was outside the HP firewall
  2. All types of collateral (e.g., proposals, references, information about solutions, partners, new products from HP or other vendors, project information)
  3. People and community connections
  4. KM tools, including training, installation, content submission, search, setting up collaborative workspaces, etc.

The following is taken from Knowledge Advisors at Hewlett-Packard: Connecting People with Information by Chris Riemer and Pam Coulter Enright of Knowledge Street.

RESPONSIBILITIES

The function of a Knowledge Advisor (also called K-Advisor) was interpreted with some variations in different geographies, as shown by the job descriptions that are included below. In summary, though, the advisors are responsible for four activities:

  1. Helping users search for information, especially when the requester is outside the HP firewall.
  2. Maintaining awareness of all types of collateral, such as proposals, references, information about HP solutions and partners, new product developments, project information, etc.
  3. Making people and community connections, so that experts can be leveraged for maximum effect.
  4. Training general users in the use of KM tools, including installation, artifact submission, search techniques and general maintenance.

In a typical day, the advisors were involved in monitoring the shared K-Advisor mailbox, logging calls and queries at the K-Advisor website, answering new queries and conferring with their colleagues on open queries. If an individual K-Advisor was overloaded, he or she called upon other K-Advisors for support, primarily within his or her own region.

The mix of tasks varied depending on the seniority of the individual advisor. Junior advisors tended to be more reactive, and focused on responding to incoming queries. Senior advisors were more proactive, and reached out to project teams, performed training, and conducted surveys to monitor the satisfaction of their internal customers. Senior advisors were also responsible for monitoring the quality of submissions to knowledge repositories, and checked on the usability and completeness of project profiles. (Their assessments in this area fed an overall KM program metric, based on the number of project profiles created.)

OPERATIONS

Advisors fielded questions from end-users (typically field workers and consultants), and questions were generally asked via email or telephone. Email was the most popular vehicle, as the technology that most easily transcends time zone issues. For K-Advisors who resided in HP offices, there was also a certain degree of walk-in business.

The advisors had a secure, dedicated website (called, simply enough, K-Advisor) which provided its own mechanism for submitting a query via email. All queries were routed to a common K-Advisor mailbox, and those submitted via the website tagged with the end user’s country or region. (Although there was a single, shared email box, there was no single telephone contact point for the Knowledge Advisors. If telephone contact was the user’s preference, he or she called a local K Advisor directly.)

Each submitter received an automated reply, which promised a response (although not necessarily an answer) within 24 hours. Messages marked urgent were given priority and handled as quickly as possible. There was no formal mechanism for marking a request urgent, but users generally indicated urgency either in their subject line or in the body of the message itself.

The program operated within normal business hours in each geography. However, since the K-Advisors were distributed around the world, they could respond around the clock. Advisors were primarily responsible for answering queries within their own geographies, but were encouraged to respond to anything, especially if an urgent query is received after business hours in its home region.

Depending on the type of question, responses were most commonly provided via email or telephone. For things that were more involved, NetMeeting was used to establish the connection. Queries of this type were referred to as “consultancies” and were not counted in the normal call metrics. The same was true for requests to assist in developing a CoP or selecting a collaboration technology.

The Knowledge Advisors had regular, informal calls to keep in touch. If a query could not be addressed locally, a “peer check” was initiated, and the query was forwarded to other regions.

COMMUNICATIONS

The K-Advisors used standard communications tools for keeping the rest of HP aware of their existence. This included posters, regular emails and the promotion of the service at local business meetings. The advisors also looked for coverage in HP newsletters, both local and global. A former Knowledge Advisor felt the in-person experience of local meetings went a long way toward building trust and gaining recognition, by connecting the name to a face.

The leaders of the program realized that taking it to a broader audience required some more aggressive sales work. The customers of the K-Advisor service were generally more than satisfied, but there were also a lot of non-customers to be converted and new markets to open.

With that in mind, the advisors sent out 8,700 mailers, each of which included a laptop sticker advertising the program, providing the intranet address and including a place for people to add the phone number of their local advisor. After the stickers were distributed, there was a significant increase in the number of Knowledge Advisor calls received. In the next month, calls in the Americas were up 240%, while APJ calls were up 58%, and EMEA calls were up 53%, for a worldwide increase of 73% overall.

Other than this effort, the advisors got the word out through multiple channels. The program was mentioned in general KM training (used by all consultants). A Knowledge Advisor was generally present during new project kick-off calls. The advisors also conducted ad-hoc and scheduled employee surveys; the latter targeted at 300 people several times a year, with a new population selected each time.

METRICS AND MEASUREMENT

For the K-Advisor program specifically, the metrics were what would be expected given its Help Desk antecedents: number of queries logged, time to resolution, number of outstanding queries, etc.

STAFFING MODEL

There are about a dozen people involved in K-Advisor roles; some full-time, some part-time. Some also acted as KM leads in their countries or regions, and only one advisor was 100% dedicated to the K-Advisor program.

In the early days of the Knowledge Advisors, the program was staffed by consultants on a rotating basis, with candidates often selected because they were not otherwise engaged. Ultimately, HP decided this was not the best approach, for several reasons. Training to full effectiveness took two to three months, and by the time people were thoroughly trained they were often ready to move on. HP also recognized that people are more prone to work with advisors with whom they developed a relationship; constantly adding new faces to the mix was an inhibiting factor.

Each country or region determined its own need (and degree of funding) for the K-Advisors, although the advisors themselves worked to help management recognize and understand the importance of the function.

SKILLS, TRAINING AND EXPERIENCE

An understanding of the local environment was key for a successful K-Advisor, followed by interpersonal skills and communications skills. The latter were most important in being able to identify any underlying issues and to ask good clarifying questions.

The local-level knowledge helped each advisor understand what was going on in the business as well as identify the most valuable resources. Advisors also needed training skills since they frequently acted as mentors to the end users, ultimately helping them to find things on their own. Advisors also needed to understand and have experience with HP’s existing knowledge systems. Consultative skills came in handy when dealing with skeptics.

There was no formal K-Advisor training. People were trained with a peer mentoring approach, in which the more senior advisors coached the less senior. However, the advisors were encouraged to attend general KM seminars and conferences, taking the opportunity to learn what other companies are doing.

WEB-BASED TOOLS

The Knowledge Advisors began with the Remedy Help Desk software as their platform of choice, but ultimately decided it was a more powerful and sophisticated tool than they needed. Too much time was being spent entering unnecessary analytical data. From Remedy, the advisors turned to Microsoft SharePoint to maintain a basic logging list as their main tracking mechanism. Reports were generated monthly to determine how many requests were received and cleared.

The SharePoint application was accessible to authorized users via the K-Advisor website, which is itself was open to all HP employees. However, the site was not actively promoted as a Knowledge resource. It was intended as a promotional vehicle for the K-Advisor service, not as a self-service tool for general users.

OTHER TECHNOLOGIES

The program focused on the human factor, but email remained an essential technology. However requests were initiated (by phone, by email or face-to-face), sooner or later a person had to be sent something, and email was the tool of choice.

NetMeeting was employed to show end users how to use a tool or navigate a system. Some K-Advisors used instant messaging to chat with each other, but the general population did not use IM to connect with the advisors themselves.

GENERAL RESULTS

Knowledge Advisors became a well-established part of HP’s KM infrastructure, providing an important human interface for the other tools in place. HP’s Knowledge Advisor program showed there was still a role for direct, person-to-person connections.

The HP experience also demonstrated that while technology is a necessary enabler for sharing and collaboration, doing a few simple things well can sometimes deliver the most value. An over-reliance on technology may do more harm than good.

LESSONS LEARNED

A number of things are important in establishing a successful advisor program:

  1. A model based on permanent staff, even if not long-term, is better than a model based on rotating consultants. People want to establish a relationship with the person from whom they’re asking support.
  2. A country-based support model is important. Culture plays a major role in knowledge sharing and it’s important for people to be able to speak with someone in their own language.
  3. Human interaction is key. The answers that people seek are often available someplace, in a FAQ or a CBT module. However, people want the reassurance of being able to ask a question of another human being. It raises their comfort level, reduces their fear of missing something important and lets them feel that another person is sharing in the responsibility of the search.
  4. Inside sales work and ongoing communications are essential. The best technique is to communicate briefly, but often, with messages that are short and consistent. Many of the target users work on client sites and don’t necessarily read every internal HP memorandum; the message has to be reinforced constantly.
  5. After-answer reviews are necessary. They are the best way for the advisors to be sure they are delivering value and to identify process improvement opportunities. These reviews should be done systematically, and are the best way to answer the all important question: “Is it working?”

Finally, local management support is imperative. Being endorsed as a worldwide initiative is all well and good, but not as important as having genuine support from local management.

JOB DESCRIPTIONS

1. HP Knowledge Advisor Job Description — Generic

Role Description:

  • Assist with our strategic tools and processes within the Knowledge Network
  • Help users get up to speed on the Project Profile Repository, SharePoint, Forums, Knowledge Briefs, and other KM tools
  • Facilitate collaboration needs
  • Direct users to the right knowledge sources based on their specific needs
  • Assist users in searching for collateral and knowledge
  • Actively offer assistance to project teams
  • Review project profiles submitted for compliance to quality standards, and follow up as required to improve quality
  • Solicit user feedback
  • Conduct training
  • Participate in other user support initiatives
  • Participate in the Worldwide Knowledge Advisors team

Skills Profile:

  • Good people and communications skills
  • Able to quickly learn about tools and processes
  • Eager to be of help to users
  • Experience in one or more of the following areas: knowledge management, collaboration, help desks, intranet/Internet searching, peer-to-peer networking

2. HP Knowledge Advisor Job Description — UK

Major Responsibilities:

  • Adhere to the Knowledge Advisors processes
  • Resolve and, where appropriate, escalate queries raised by users where they include:
  1. Queries on how to use KM tools
  2. Requests for help in finding people or documentation
  3. Requests for help in design and set up of km tools for a business purpose/problem
  4. Queries related to bugs, access issues and file restoration with KM tools
  5. Requests for more information about KM processes
  • Provide feedback on the issues raised by the business to the wider KM function
  • Where requests are made that do not fall into these categories, they should be passed on to the relevant group/individual

Organizational Linkage:

  • Part of a Worldwide team of Knowledge Advisors — provide support to other team members
  • Well connected to main organizational areas of business

Minimum Role Qualifications/Skills:

  • understanding of KM strategy, principles, and enthusiasm for KM and its benefits
  • good understanding of TSG business and its needs/drivers
  • good communications skills
  • good technical understanding of tools and how to apply them
  • training skills
  • consultative approach
  • facilitation skills
  • fast thinker and flexible attitude
  • happy to ask for help & to support colleagues

3. HP Knowledge Advisor Job Description — Asia Pacific Region

Role Objective:

  • Help drive the Knowledge Capture and Reuse processes within Asia Pacific (AP) by assisting Bid Managers, Project Managers (PMs), Solution Architects (SAs), and Consultants in accessing and using Engagement Knowledge Management processes systems and tools.
  • Provide advice and KM consulting to project teams and individuals to increase reuse and repeatability across the region.
  • Network with Subject-Matter Experts (SMEs) and other AP and Worldwide KM resources to identify and deliver required knowledge, expertise or collateral to K-Advisor callers requesting assistance.

Key Responsibilities:

  • Act as a broker to connect people to the appropriate SMEs
  • Where appropriate provide expert advice based on personal subject matter expertise
  • Assist users in searching for selling and delivery reusable collateral.
  • Assists users that are wishing to contribute new or improved collateral for possible reuse
  • Help users get up to speed on the Project Profile Repository, SharePoint, Forums, Knowledge Briefs, and other KM tools
  • Facilitate collaboration needs
  • Direct users to the right knowledge sources based on their specific needs
  • Actively advice and guide project teams especially at bid development or project startup to ensure their collaboration workspace are established effectively and efficiently as well as to encourage the teams to search for Project profiles of similar projects to leverage and share.
  • Solicit user feedback
  • Conduct training on KM process, systems and tools
  • Participate in other user support initiatives
  • Provide Monthly AP K-Advisor report with key metrics, issues/problems with KM process, systems and tool, and recommendations

Skills:

  • Good people and communications skills
  • Able to quickly learn about tools and processes
  • Eager to be of help to users
  • Subject matter expert in a solution set or discipline, e.g., PM, SA, Test Manager
  • Demonstrated understanding of C&I business initially, later expanding to the other business units
  • Excellent planning and organization skills, tracking and monitoring a range of activities at any one time
  • Good analytical & decision-making skills
  • Flexible and adaptable
  • Intellectually curious, actively keeps abreast of knowledge developments
  • Uses own initiative, demonstrates a creative approach to problem solving
  • Strong analytical skills
  • Drive and resilience to achieve challenging objectives
  • Calm and collected, even when under pressure maintaining a high level of performance

Experience:

  • 3–5 years’ team leader/project manager/solution architect experience
  • 2–3 years’ business pursuit/customer engagement experience
Stan Garfield

Written by

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Leader of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/