A few years ago, the University of South Dakota’s Information Technology Services (ITS) division was like that of many institutions: Knowledge resided in silos across various departments, with insufficient communication between one department and another. The division was struggling to do more with less because it wasn’t efficient in delivering service.
“We’re a great department, but we haven’t always worked as one cohesive team,” says Katharina Wymar, who heads the Project Management Office within ITS. “We lacked that one platform, that one mindset that allowed us to share knowledge.”
Over the last few years, the university has been working to adopt Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS)©, a set of practices for managing and sharing institutional knowledge. The results have been dramatic.
Collecting all information in a single, easily accessible knowledge base has allowed ITS staff at the university to avoid a lot of repetitive work and improve their problem-solving capabilities. It has reduced the amount of time it takes to train new ITS employees. And it has eased the burden on staff by shifting a significant amount of their work to self-service by helping stakeholders find solutions to problems themselves.
“Early on, we saw an 18-percent reduction in time logged to service tickets,” says Knowledge Manager Paula Cottrell. “What would you do if you had an additional day a week?”
Adopting KCS has been a multi-year process that involved the entire ITS division. During a virtual summit hosted by
TeamDynamix, Cottrell, and Wymar described their university’s journey toward KCS and what they learned in the process.
The journey began when two ITS employees attended KCS training from the Help Desk Institute (HDI). The university brought in consultants who helped ITS realize the division would benefit from adopting self-service and a knowledge base. “We decided we were going to implement KCS throughout our entire organization, and not just our service desk,” Cottrell says.
Training has been a critical aspect of the implementation process. USD had a group of five core people attend the KCS Principles training from HDI, and the university had representatives from HDI come out and deliver its KCS Foundations training to the entire ITS division as well. In addition, coaches were designated to help employees through the implementation.
After the training, ITS asked for volunteers and formed a core project team with representation from all levels and departments. “That’s really essential,” Cottrell says. “No. 1, we had volunteers: You want people who are really excited about implementing this. And No. 2, you don’t want just team leaders, you want everybody involved because otherwise, you’re not going to get the information you need to make it successful — and it’s not going to be accepted.”
She adds: “We had at least one or two skeptics on the team, and I’m really happy to say they became believers. That was really important because when other people saw they were behind it, they realized: ‘OK, there must be something to this.’”
Before adopting KCS, the university didn’t have a knowledge base. “We had different information all over the place,” Cottrell says. “We had a Wiki page. We had information siloed within team-specific Sharepoints. We had old ticket notes, and we had employees with their own knowledge saved on their computers.”
In moving to KCS, Cottrell and her colleagues chose not to import any of that legacy information into the knowledge base they would create. Instead, they decided that service agents would create new knowledge articles as customer requests came in. “The rule we follow for legacy data is, we can link our internal articles to that information if the steps have not changed,” she says.
The process ITS uses is called UFFA, which stands for “use it, flag it, fix it, add it.” When service requests come in through the TeamDynamix platform, service technicians search through the knowledge base to see if there’s a related article that explains how to address the particular problem. If so, they link the article to the service ticket and use the information to resolve the problem. If not, then once the issue has been resolved, a team member creates a new article documenting the solution. If team members find the information they think is incorrect or out of date, they can either flag it if they don’t have permission to edit the information or fix it if they do.
Once an article has been linked to at least three closed service tickets (meaning the procedure it outlines has been successfully applied at least three times to solve a problem), then it becomes published and is available for viewing by external stakeholders as well as ITS staff.
In rolling out its knowledge base, the university followed the HDI KCS Adoption Roadmap, which is available on the Consortium for Service Innovation website (www.serviceinnovation.org/kcs). “Following this roadmap gave us a step-by-step guide,” Wymar says. “That made things so much easier. We didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Culture change with Knowledge-Centered Service
Adopting KCS involves changing the entire culture and mindset of an institution. “Culture change is never easy,” Wymar observes.
To get people to buy into the change, the university created a marketing and communications plan to highlight the benefits of KCS. The campaign included posters, games, and team-building activities. One poster simulated a concert flyer: “KCS Live at USD with Special Guest: 20% Time Savings!” A carnival-style game involved knocking down stacks of bottles intended to symbolize the challenges that KCS could help eliminate.
“There’s nothing like a competition to get ITS people moving,” Wymar says. “We wanted the teams to know why we were making this change and create excitement and acceptance — and it worked really well.”
The implementation team also developed elevator pitches to explain the concept of KCS and why it was important. They developed a “What’s In It For Me” document, as well as answers to skeptics’ questions. “Having skeptics on our team helped us anticipate those questions in advance,” Wymar says.
She notes: “Marketing and communication was a very important factor in the success of our implementation.”
Coyote One Stop
The university’s adoption of KCS hasn’t stopped with its ITS division. Not only can students find answers to their IT-related questions within the knowledge base, but they can also find answers to their questions about academics, registration, housing, financial aid, and more. USD’s knowledge base was rebranded as the Coyote One Stop.
In its first month, this one-stop-shop for customer self-service had more than 2,000 users and 31,000 page views. Six months later, “we were up to 31,000 users and 262,000 page views,” Cottrell says. The resource included nearly 5,000 knowledge articles, about two-thirds of which were publicly available.
One-Stop, KCS, and a Global Pandemic
When USD had to shift to online instruction during the coronavirus pandemic, students and staff had many questions — and they could find answers to most of these at Coyote One Stop.
“With COVID, our hits went up tremendously,” Cottrell says. The university’s KCS methodology “allowed us to get new knowledge articles published quickly for people working [and learning] from home.”
Keys to success
Based on their own experience, Wymar and Cottrell shared these keys to success in implementing KCS:
For more information about USD’s journey, including how team members set and maintained standards for quality and consistency of articles, you can watch the full session online.