Documentation Tools for Admins

Seat of Knowledge

Projects, Projects

Some bug-tracking PM software tools also integrate wikis as a knowledgebase component. Ticketing systems designed for bug reporting, such as MantisBT [14] and Roundup [15], let you integrate wiki engines, although this can involve a modicum of effort. Other bugtrackers like Bugzilla [16] dispense with a knowledgebase component and accommodate additional information in free text fields.

Compared with wikis, PM tools are much better suited for help desk workers because they include an issue tracker as a central component; unlike a bugtracker, this feature also manages problems that have nothing to do with software. For example, if the company's front door is jammed, or if they need a new trash can, employees can open a ticket – a bug-reporting tool is not really suitable for this.

To open a ticket, the employee sends email to a specific address, and the software automatically generates the ticket from the content ("Hey, we need new trash can!"). From the help desk, on the other hand, staff members can manually convert calls from customers into tickets while on the phone.

In this way, an individually trackable number is assigned to each problem. The ticket manager then assigns a variety of details (metadata) to the ticket, such as the sender and coordinator of the ticket, the date, and the current processing status. Content from the knowledgebase or FAQ can also be stored with a ticket (e.g., PDF documents, articles, or links).

Most PM systems use a web-based approach; often, a wiki is used as a knowledgebase component. This raises the question of what features a knowledgebase actually needs to provide.

Wheat from Chaff

The main goal of a knowledgebase is to give users the tools to create knowledge resources in the form of articles and files and make them readily available quickly and at all times.

Intelligent categorization using hierarchies, metadata, and tags helps to recover information on a subject as quickly as possible later on. Even more important, however, is a good search engine that not only searches through the data quickly but also returns relevant results – including attachments.

The knowledgebase needs to be integrated with the help desk, making it easy to create new products, issue a ticket, or modify and delete existing articles. If email, wiki entries, and documents in PDF format act as data sources for knowledge, the system also needs to transfer this content to the knowledgebase, and the search engine needs to index the content. Ideally, it should be possible for a non-admin – after some training – to control the help desk and the related knowledgebase.

In addition to the technical components, social components also play a major role: Company management must actively support the establishment of the knowledgebase, providing resources and training for the staff dealing with it, thus motivating staff to contribute to the general process of gathering knowledge.

Ticket to Ride

Because free and commercial PM systems are a dime a dozen, I'll presents some typical examples of knowledge databases from known open source systems.

The Ohloh [17] website, which not only tracks activities in these projects, but also the number of users and especially the number of developers involved, helped me in my search for PM systems in widespread use.

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