It’s simple! Computers are so much engraved in today’s businesses, but in the end, the ultimate goal is all about maximizing knowledge wealth and enhancing human intelligence. And for any company, this acquired intelligence is the single most valuable asset. When such intelligence is utilized, shared and factored in, innovation and inventions take precedent, spiraling the business and profit level of the company. Therefore, in today’s competitive world, companies take a great deal of efforts to implement an effective knowledge retention and management policy, to prepare and compete for the future. This is where, a knowledge management system or what we popularly refer to as ‘knowledge base’ can make all the differences in aiding productivity and operational skills of the people of the company.
Besides, enabling knowledge retention for future, a knowledge base system can be effectively used for addressing recurring issues reported by your end-users. Consider a scenario, where you and your support team frequently find trying to solve the same issue over and over. Your end-users send you emails on similar issues repeatedly. And if you are already aware of the solution, typically, you will try to compose the solution or if you have vague recollection of it, you would try to navigate to your existing document libraries, past email conversations etc. Just consider how much time and effort you had wasted in trying to find the right information at the moment of need, not to mention the delayed response to the support request. If there was a knowledge base system at place in the organization, you could have shared your knowledge with other team members so that everyone has the same understanding and are communicating the same message when asked about specific issues.
There are many ways of implementing knowledge management systems. One of them is using Microsoft SharePoint repositories. In most cases, you might already have a SharePoint based site already running in your company’s network, or may be using one of the hosted SharePoint services, such Microsoft Office 365, which is becoming quite popular for small businesses. And we already know, one of the great capabilities of SharePoint is its collaborative and sharing feature. This makes it very versatile for storing knowledge base articles, which can be shared among the staffs and personals, especially those involve in customer service.
However, there is one crippling limitation of SharePoint based knowledge base, which is its isolation state and lack of integration with email clients such as Microsoft Outlook. This is at disadvantage for customer support team that relies on email as the primary mode of communication. Because when a support request email is received, support staff would need to refer to the SharePoint site and search for the relevant knowledge base article, and if they manage to find it, there is no direct and effective way of using that article along with its associated documents and files in the email reply. One can copy the content from the KB article to the email, however, that is time consuming and cumbersome, and often not all information and files make it to the email. So, after putting much effort and time, you still didn’t get the complete KB article inserted into the email reply. Moreover, the frequent switching back and forth between the email client and SharePoint site tends to loosen the focus of the support staff, leaving him/her frustrated. Evidently, organizations and teams that leverage SharePoint as knowledge base would need to reinvent the wheel and implement an efficient way of importing SharePoint based article or document, to outgoing email reply.
Because of such limitation in SharePoint based knowledge base system, it made me thinking on how to bridge this gap and come up with a solution that offers a seamless integration of the SharePoint based KB articles in Microsoft Outlook. The effort of this work leads to the development of an Microsoft Outlook add-in, called ‘Team KnowledgeBase for Outlook & SharePoint‘. Currently available as a beta offering, with Team KnowledgeBase installed, one can effortlessly locate a KB article (stored on SharePoint) relevant to an issue from within Outlook itself, and insert it into an outgoing email reply in a single click. All these and more making sure, the outgoing email retains all the actual files and the original formatting of the selected KB article. No more frequent switching between Outlook and SharePoint, no more copy-paste job etc. In fact, you don’t even need to type in anything into the email reply. Team KnowledgeBase add-in does that for you on the fly.
There are two portions of Team KnowledgeBase – an admin install and a user install. The former is for managers and administrators, who would perform the global configuration of the knowledge base, choose and setup SharePoint KB lists, and map fields between Outlook and SharePoint, whereas the later is for individual support staff that will be making use of the KB articles stored in one or more of the administrator chosen SharePoint lists, from Outlook. Even though KB articles are stored on your SharePoint list, every user can make use of it in Microsoft Outlook to reply to emails in a snap.
A pop-up dialog box allows you to browse through the existing knowledge base articles, and select the relevant article to be embedded either as attachment, inline or as URL into the email reply.
You can make use of a filter, to refine your search. For example, you can display the KB articles listing by specifying a problem category and/or a type. Alternative, you can also specify keywords for a full text search such that matching KB articles that meet the criteria are only displayed, for selection. Selected KB article can be applied or inserted into the replied email in varied format.
You can choose to insert as attachment in the form of a word document (*.doc), Adobe PDF (*.pdf), Microsoft XPS (*.xps) or as single file MHTML (*.mht).
You can also embed the selected KB article directly into the body of the email reply. Any inline images and formatting are preserved in its original state in the reply also.
Alternatively, if your SharePoint site is opened (i.e., accessible via the web), then you can also insert the hyperlink or URL of the selected KB article into the reply, so that the recipient can simply click the hyperlink to open the relevant article in their web browser.
The good thing about a SharePoint based knowledge base system is the accessibility, not only for the staffs, but also for the end users. Over time, the knowledge base repository would have enough solutions on common problems and issues. You can exploit this wealth of knowledge, by allowing your SharePoint knowledge base site accessible on the web. Such that your end-users and customers experiencing technical challenges can self-service the answer to their problem by accessing this web-based knowledge base. They can even make use of the SharePoint inbuilt search functionality to query KB articles by keywords. This can eliminate unnecessary phone calls and allows your customers to quickly get answers to questions and maximize the use of your knowledge base.
On the cost front, as Team KnowledgeBase leverages your existing Outlook and SharePoint resources, there is no extra hardware/software cost that you will have to incur in implementing an enterprise-wide knowledge base for your team. As your team members are already familiar with Outlook, there is no requirement for any elaborate training, further lowering the cost. As you have network and SharePoint administrators in place, you don’t require dedicated personnel for maintenance. And the bigger advantage, in long-term, is the reduced number of inbound customer support questions, which will reduce the amount of time it takes to respond to support issues. This can reduce the number of support engineers needed, thereby reducing costs to your support desk at the long run.
Name: Team KnowledgeBase for Outlook and SharePoint
Product site: http://www.assistmyteam.net/TeamKnowledgeBaseSP/
Video: Administrative Configuration
Video: Using KB articles to reply to emails in Outlook