KCS 5.3 Dealing With Duplicate Knowledge Articles: Knowledge Centered Support

So how should we deal with duplicate knowledge articles?

Duplicate knowledge articles are inevitable if the organization is truly practicing KCS. To some extent, duplicate knowledge articles are a necessary ingredient in a successful knowledge management practice.

Duplicate articles become a problem when multiple articles with similar symptoms and the same resolution are showing up in response to a search.There are two causes of duplicate articles. One is necessary and productive; the second is not.

Duplicate articles are a necessary ingredient in a successful knowledge management practice

Duplicates As The Result Of Good Practice

The first is naturally dealt with in the KCS methodology. A customer experiencing an issue may describe it in a totally different way or in a different environment than the way in which an existing article in the knowledge base is documented (article A). The Support Analyst is not likely to find the existing article and will create a new one reflecting the customer’s described experience (article B). If the issue is one that customers encounter often, others will search with a variety of symptoms and may find article A. They should update the symptoms to include the customer experience if it is not already in the article. Other Analysts handling this issue may find article B and should update the problem description appropriately. If both of these articles are being used often, then over time they will eventually show up in a single search. The Support Analyst who first sees them both should merge articles A and B together.

If we are following the reuse is review practice and constantly updating the articles based on the customer experience, duplicates will evolve over time to the point where they are close enough to both be found in a single search. That is the point when they should be merged.

Duplicates As The Result Of Bad Practice

The second cause of multiple articles with the same symptoms, environment and resolution showing up in response to a search is a result of not following the KCS practices. Lots of duplicate articles are typically a symptom of one or a combination of the following common process violations:

  • Support Analysts are given a goal for article creation; this drives the behavior of creating rather than re-using
  • Support Analysts are not following the “search early, search often” and/or the “search before you save” practices and as a result they create articles about issues that have already been solved and captured in the knowledge base
  • The culture discourages editing articles that are believed to “belong” to others, so Analysts create duplicate articles instead (individual ownership of articles is death to successful knowledge management practices)

In any case, we need a way to deal with duplicate articles.

Dealing with Duplicates – The Merge

So what’s the procedure for merging duplicate knowledge articles?

When duplicate articles are discovered they should be merged. Different KM tools have

different ways of dealing with this but the best practice, based on the members’ experience, proposes that the newer article (or articles) content and links be merged into the older article, and the newer articles are archived or deleted.

Here are some of the key reasons to preserve the oldest article:

  • It is important to keep the metadata: information like the date this issue first occurred, its revision history and other important article attributes and history
  • We don’t want to lose the links to the original incident and subsequent incidents
  • We want the reuse count to be based on the complete history of this article
  • It is typically less work; the older article is more likely to have a richer set of symptoms and environment statements recorded in it.

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Content as shown in KCS Version 5.3 Knowledge-Centered Support Practices Guide (2012) S2 [23.1-6, 24.1-3]. KCS v5.3 was written and edited by Melissa George, David Kay, Greg Oxton, Rick Joslin, Jennifer MacIntosh, and Kelly Murray.

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