Are you using Slack to store, search-for and access knowledge?

With Slack becoming a big part of the communication and collaboration toolset of many modern organizations, it often gets misused. Much like how email became a repository for historical knowledge, Slack has followed suit – for better or for worse (we say worse 😜). If you are intentionally (or unintentionally) using Slack to store your company knowledge, you should examine whether or not this is the right tool for your needs.

A short history lesson on the failures of email

Email became the “book of record” for many business operations, which in many ways was a great leap forward from using paper, but a detriment in many other ways. Email’s chronological filing and threading capability made it very appealing to become a repository for more than just transactional data, but for any kind of work, knowledge or data. Perhaps it was this realization that ultimately caused a shift to dedicated internal messaging platforms like Slack and MS Teams. Now internal messaging platforms have drifted away from their original design specification and grown to become more of a work operating system, like email before it.

Search is exactly where everything falls apart

How many times have you relied on your memory to try and recall the approximate date and the person who shared a piece of knowledge and used that to try and find it in Slack? This is arguably the worst workflow from a knowledge management perspective. Accessing knowledge shouldn’t require you to triangulate its location based on who said it and where they said it.

The problem with using any kind communication platform, like Slack, for storing or accessing knowledge is that you are relying on the chronological presentation of the data to direct you to the correct information. When you try to search for something specific but have a foggy memory as to who sent it and when they did so, the lack of structure beyond the date/time and name of the sender it becomes difficult to trust the quality and accuracy of what you’ve found. You can encounter false positives that will either provide incorrect information or simply provide too many related results that the answer cannot be trusted. So ultimately, this is a problem with the structure of the data and how it is stored. Slack’s search functionality allows you to search by:

  • Channel
  • User
  • Date/time
  • Keyword

The recurring challenge with these filters/flags, is that they might return numerous results, sometimes duplicates, which obfuscate the most accurate answer. Much like email, Slack is built for communication and not for storage, which is why it fails for this use-case.

How does Slack become a knowledge silo?

How Slack becomes a knowledge silo is a common sequence of events. Essentially, there is a lack of cultural emphasis on documentation for the purposes of self-serve support, even if the company has invested in a knowledge management solution. From that lack of connection, team members seek support in other ways, most commonly by asking questions questions in Slack, either publicly or privately via DM. Once someone responds, that answer becomes de facto codification of the knowledge and Slack becomes the repository of record. Now, instead of looking for support in a knowledge base or enterprise wiki, support seekers comb through Slack for the answers to their productivity blocking issues.

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Because of the issues related to Slack’s native search capability and poor data structure, it is a regrettable choice as a knowledge management tool.

What is the best choice for knowledge base software?

So what is the best choice for knowledge base software to replace a misused Slack workspace to retain your knowledge? The answer depends on your internal support needs. Of course, Obie is one choice, but there are many alternatives. Here are some important features you might consider to lead you in the right direction:

Search – Arguably the most important access point, you’ll need robust search functionality from directly in the knowledge base and from outside of it as well. Having the ability to search the knowledge base directly from Slack or from a browser extension is beneficial. This means, wherever you are working, you can access the knowledge you need.

Integrations – Gone are the days that teams just use Microsoft Office in their workflow. Now we use browsers, Slack, G-Suite, Dropbox, Confluence, Zendesk and the list goes on. Whatever the rest of your stack contains, ideally its compatible with the rest of the knowledge tool solution you have chosen.

Verification – Knowledge changes and gets out of date. We all need reminders to keep things accurate in order to ensure that team members don’t get blocked by a piece of inaccurate knowledge. Your knowledge solution should provide feedback to administrators of the knowledge to ensure accuracy.

Scalability – Scalability can mean that your knowledge base can be revised and edited easily, from the team workflow. So as knowledge gaps are identified, that anyone on the team can add to the knowledge base quickly and without much effort. Scalability can also mean that as your organization grows and your needs evolve, that your knowledge base is still suitable. Many companies start out with a few documents in Confluence or Google Docs, then outgrow the chaos of a disorganized shared drive of knowledge. An ideal knowledge base solution can adapt with organizational growth so as you add tools like an IT service desk ticketing software or a customer service desk tool, that everything that you have invested in the old knowledge isn’t lost.

Accessibility – If your team always has to open up Confluence or search Google Drive every time they need to find a piece of knowledge, that ends up resulting in a lot of application switching. Knowledge workers spend an abundance of time in tools like Slack or the browser. For knowledge to be accessible, it should integrate with those technologies to limit time wasted transitioning between platforms.

Robust Editor – Knowledge isn’t just words anymore. It can include rich text, markdown, images, GIFs, video, audio, embeds and who knows what else. If your knowledge base editor doesn’t have it all, it’s not going to cut it.

Reporting and Analytics – This is where a knowledge solution steps up to another level, especially for administrators. Reporting and analytic tools help admins identify where knowledge gaps exist, where frequently asked question patterns appear and help admins identify if employees are even using the knowledge base at all! Without analytics, admins will be left guessing as to how their team can be best served.

Security – Is your company data safe? I should hope so. It’s your data. Choose the solution that protects your company’s intellectual property and doesn’t make unprotected copies of it elsewhere.