Knowledge Base Review – best knowledge bases for remote work

 

What is a knowledge base and why do you need one for remote work?

One of the key requirements in setting a company up for remote work is to build a knowledge base.  Most organisations of course already have a knowledge base, it’s Chloe in accounts, Joe in IT, Amit in Marketing and so on.   This just about works in an office environment but has always represented bad practice borne of lazy management and poor control of risk.

In remote work, you can no longer depend on being able to walk down the corridor and ask Chloe or Joe a question, so it’s important to have a centralised database of knowledge – a knowledge base.  This lowers risk and dependency on individuals, makes it easier for new employees to get up to speed and provides a consistency of response to customers.

The concept has been around for a while in customer service, particularly in IT support environments where the knowledge base has usually been a Wiki either in name or concept.  The idea being that if you have an issue that you don’t know how to fix, you first check the Wiki and if its not there, you find out how to fix it and then populate the Wiki with the answer – exactly the way that Wikipedia works.  This isn’t ideal in a remote work environment where you want authoring to be restricted and every article posted to be peer reviewed before publication, so that everyone is reading the experts’ view not what the last person who looked into it discovered.

So building a knowledge base must be a no-brainer then?  The answer should be yes, but many companies try to skip this step because they think they’re just too busy to create one.  This isn’t a great idea. I’ve come across call centres working remotely where operators unable to find an answer to a customer’s question end up just making an educated guess.

 

How can you fix this?

You need to buy a knowledge base application, work out how you’re going to structure its contents and then populate it.  Once you’ve populated it you need to be able to easily find what you’re looking for, so a search function is important too.

Our knowledge base review is aimed at packages we think are best suited to remote work.  There are a number of packages that are tailored to call centre and customer self-service use, particularly in the area of IT service desks. If you’re interested in these then we recommend you take a look at  Live Agent which is highly rated as is KnowAll for WordPress.

 

What features do you need in a knowledge base?

Search

The single most important feature of a knowledge base is the search function.  Knowledge bases can get quite big and if you can’t find what you want then they are of little use.  So search must be fast and accurate.  Many knowledge bases have Artificial Intelligence (AI) based search.  We’d recommend you go for one that has.  AI based search learns from what each user searches for and produces more focused, relevant search results, rather than a huge stream of results where any match is found.  The other thing in common for all knowledge bases is that search only works on the content in the knowledge base.  It won’t search any linked content.

Ease of production of content

Someone has to put together, organise and edit the content.  The ease of doing this is important.  So a top rate editor is required, an easy way of achieving the hierarchy you want and the ability to link to existing content.

Presentation and use

People have to read this stuff and find the content they need, so something that looks like Windows File Explorer is a non-starter.  The content needs to look good and be easy to access for users.

Access Permissions

You probably don’t want everyone to be able to see every part of the knowledge base and you may also want to differentiate employees from customers and editors from users.  As described earlier it’s also important to be able to restrict who is authorised to publish and change content.

 

So what knowledge bases are available?

Our knowledge base review covers the ones we think are best suited to use by remote teams:

Notion

Notion

 

If you’re planning on building your knowledge base from scratch then we really like Notion.  Its editing functions are easy to use and highly intuitive.  In fact if Microsoft was starting Word again from scratch we think this is how they’d do it.  It produces pages which look very attractive and readable and supports access permissions for both individual pages and knowledge bases.  It can link to a wide range of existing content, however as for most knowledge bases this is a bit clunky to use and can’t be searched so for best results you’d ideally copy all of your existing content into Notion.  The search function is good and fast but we don’t see any evidence that it’s AI based.  Notion runs on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.

Pricing for teams starts at $8 per user per month.  There’s a free version for individual use.  Enterprise deals are available on request.

 

KBee

KBee Review

 

KBee takes a different approach to every other knowledge base product and is streets ahead of them all if you want to set a knowledge base up quickly and relatively painlessly.

Most companies have lots of the knowledge that needs to be shared already available in existing documents, slide decks and spreadsheets but it needs to be organised and made easy to access and search.   KBee makes this easy.  It sits on top of Google Drive and allows you to build your knowledge base from the Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms and PDFs that you’ve already created.  This content may not be perfect and you will probably want to tweak and add to it, but KBee will get you off to a flying start by making it available and accessible really quickly.  It’s simple to use, looks good, is easy to search and combines all of the access controls you’ve already set up for your Google files.

KBee’s search is very fast and uses Algolia AI which is an AI driven search engine that aims to return relevant content and avoid you getting swamped by hundreds of search hits.  The other plus with KBee is authors can carry on using Google Workspace  (formerly G Suite) which is already a best-in-class office package with excellent support for shared editing.   KBee runs in a browser, so can be run on all devices but there are no apps for Android or iOS.

So if you’re a Google Workspace  user or are prepared to move everything into Google Workspace, we think this is the best package for you.   We like its simplicity, the AI search and pricing.

Pricing is by a single monthly charge rather than per user.  You pay $19 per month for unlimited users, up to three knowledge bases and one administrator or $49 per month for unlimited users and knowledge bases with three administrators.

 

Confluence

confluence

 

Confluence isn’t quite as easy to use as the best knowledge base products and in truth it’s probably feeling its age having been launched in 2004.  Its search function is not highly rated and we don’t feel its editing functionality comes anywhere close to the level of Notion, however it is very widely used and in common with other Atlassian tools it has a wealth of third-party add-ons for instance ones that can turn confluence pages into PDFs, to embed maths functions and language translations. It also links seamlessly to other Atlassian tools like Jira.

It supports access permissions for pages and knowledge bases and can link to existing content.  However as for all of the products described here with the exception of KBee for best results and to be able to include all of your content in searches you need to copy all of your existing content into Confluence.  Confluence runs on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.

So we think Confluence is behind all of the other packages in this knowledge base review, but worth considering if you already have other Atlassian products or want the flexibility that the add-ons bring.

Pricing for Confluence is $5 per user per month with limited storage or $10 for unlimited storage plus 24-hour support.  Enterprise deals are available on request.

 

Evernote

Evernote

 

Evernote has been around for a long time as a note taking app for personal use and isn’t the first package that comes to mind when you’re thinking about knowledge bases.  However, Evernote has recently launched a Business version and upgraded its look, feel and usability.  It has transformed a product better known for note taking and organising personal stuff into an excellent application that rates highly in our knowledge base review.

The editor is top notch and intuitive.  You’re offered a huge selection of templates that you can make use of for your knowledge base pages – everything from meeting minutes to project plan pages as well as allowing you to build your own templates.  Users are presented with a clean looking dashboard containing an index to all knowledge bases as well as a more detailed view of the ones they own.  Again while you can embed links in pages this isn’t great and can’t be searched so ideally you should try to get all of your content into the package. The search function is good, quick and is an AI based search, but as described for the other knowledge bases can’t search linked content.

Knowledge bases and individual pages can be shared or restricted. Evernote runs on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.

It’s a tough choice between Notion and Evernote Business in our book.  Both are very capable products, but we think Notion just shades it over Evernote because it’s just so simple to use and looks so good.  Then again Evernote already has around 200 million (mainly personal) users worldwide so you may find many of your team familiar with how it works already.

Evernote is free for personal use, $7.99 for the Premium version which adds some functionality and much more storage and the $14.99 for the Business Version which is aimed at teams sharing data by building knowledge bases.  Evernote takes a little longer than the others described here to get into, but it’s a good package and worth a look.

 

Conclusion

If you’re building a knowledge base from scratch then our choice is Notion, marginally ahead of Evernote, but if you already have content then KBee wins by a mile.  It’s simple, easy to use, looks good, has an AI search, makes good use of existing content and is great value.

Enjoyed our knowledge base review? Look at our other product reviews in our reviews section.

Gren Gale is a consultant who specialises in Remote Work and Project Management and is author of Remote Work The New Normal and The Remote Project Manager.

Articles and reviews on this site are written from an unbiased viewpoint.  Once written we look to see if some of the links can generate affiliate income.  It won’t make us rich but it helps pay the rent!

 

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