Technique 3.3: Linking
The Importance of Linking
The ability to associate a system of record (email, case, incident, community thread, tweet) with the KCS article that resolves the issue is a critical element of the KCS methodology. The data generated by the association is necessary for many of the Evolve Loop analysis activities. For example, calculating the link rate for individuals and teams, or calculating reuse and enabling the new vs. known analysis are all based on the ability to associate events in the system of record with articles. The association of articles to events is most often done by linking the article to the event in the system of record. Hence the term linking has become part of the KCS vocabulary. Organizations that cannot associate the system of record with articles or link them are at a disadvantage.
Linking to an Existing KCS Article
If a KCS article with a relevant resolution is found, it should be linked to the event in system of record. The existing article should be updated (improved) with any additional symptoms or relevant environment information.
If a relevant article is not found in the knowledge base, a new article should be created. Ideally we already have a WIP article, which has the words and phrases we first used to search (searching is creating), or if the requestor started the process in self-service, the words and phrases they initially used to search. The WIP should also contain the notes we took during the problem-solving process. Now all we have to do is update the resolution field (and the cause field, if appropriate), review the environment statements for relevance, and put the WIP into an appropriate state based on our confidence in the article and our license level.
Referencing and Linking to Other Information Sources
No single content resource can hold all knowledge needed to solve all issues. A rule of thumb when creating a KCS article is to keep it to one page and insert hyperlinks to other KCS articles and/or specific sections of online documents (work instructions, policy documents, product manuals, diagnostic guides). Because KCS articles are written in the context of the requestor, the articles can act as a context-sensitive index to the other resources. This approach eliminates redundancy and the need to maintain information in several different places.
Use of links to reference documentation in KCS articles allows more experienced users to move quickly through the content and at the same time enables less experienced users to understand and implement a complex resolution.
Best practice when we have multiple data sources is to provide a unified search capability: a single search across multiple databases. Preferences can be set in most search tools to prioritize data sources, so that the current knowledge base and preferred secondary resources are searched first. It can also be helpful to allow the knowledge worker the option of selecting the sources they wish to search.
Linking to Non-KCS Content
As search engine technology has improved over the past few years, many organizations are now able to index and search multiple repositories or databases with a variety of different types of content. In this environment, linking to the non-knowledge base content that resolves the issue is legitimate if the following criteria are met:
- The information is captured in a maintained repository or database
- The specific resolution or answer (a sentence or a paragraph) is findable by the search engine
- It is accessible by the audience being served (could be internal or external users)
- The content is in the context of the audience that is looking for it (they can find it, using their words and phrases, and they can use and/or understand it
When these criteria are met, the links to other types of content satisfy the fundamental goal of KCS: create findable, usable knowledge for a specific audience. So in this situation, creating a KCS article would add little or no value. Links to other types of content that satisfy the above criteria should be counted in reuse counts, link rates, and the new vs. known analysis.
An important rule of thumb is to avoid duplication of content; whenever possible, link to content that already exists. When linking to non-KCS content from a KCS article the same criteria listed above applies. If all the criteria is not met, the content should be copied and placed in the article.
Managing Article Versions
Many of the knowledge management tools today offer article revision history. The version of the article allows us to see the article's content when it was provided to the requestor as a resolution to their issue. Because articles that are being used should be improved, the current content of the article may be different from what was delivered.
In environments that do have article versioning capability we have to have a way to preserve the content of the article at the time it was delivered. Here are few thoughts on how to do that.
Capture the resolution as provided to the customer as part of the incident
- The responder should be able to establish a link between incidents and articles. Links should be implemented in such a way as to be available to other processes - e.g., reporting, search-ranking algorithms, and search results display. (In other words, a hyperlink embedded in a text field as part of an incident note would not satisfy this requirement.)
- Responders should be able to link and unlink articles
Persistent link and snapshot
- The linking mechanism should allow a responder viewing the incident to see both the current state of a linked article(s) and the content of the article at the time it was delivered to the customer. (For example, by recording a snapshot of the solution at the time of delivery, or by including a link to a specific version of the article if the knowledge base supports version history.)
Many-to-many relationship between incidents and articles
- The linking mechanism should allow for multiple articles to be linked to an incident. Optionally, links may be associated with a link type, for example, "resolved" vs. "referenced."
Next up is the Improve practice, even though we just gave an example of how capture, search, reuse and improve all play together. We are beginning to see that the Solve Loop practices are tightly related. In talking about one practice or technique we cannot avoid discussing how it relates to the others.