Enterprise Knowledge Base (and Microsoft’s Lack Thereof)

Photo by Iker Urteaga on Unsplash
Photo by Iker Urteaga on Unsplash

Once businesses reach a certain size (usually when they have two or more people filling the same role–e.g. two client support people or two devops people) they realize they need a repository where they can store knowledge to be shared internally across the organization.

That first knowledge base probably consists of some .doc files in a shared folder. That is not a bad solution to the first requirement of a knowledge base:

  1. Make it easy for users to enter knowledge

People are familiar enough with Word to be able to enter their notes, add screenshots, and format it in a manner that makes sense and is digestible to others in the company.

Unfortunately, this approach fails at the second thing that knowledge bases need to do:

  1. Make the knowledge easily surfaceable (searchable)

The knowledge base is worthless if it is difficult for people to find the answer they are looking for–or worse, not know that information is there at all.

At an enterprise level there are many other requirements that vary from organization to organization. (80% of users use only 20% of features but never the same 20%.) In my case those requirements are:

  1. Permissions
    1. Read/Write permissions–Some knowledge should be shared with just your team rather than the whole organization and some articles should only allow specific people to update.
  2. History
    1. When was an article last updated? Who updated it? What were the changed? When was it last reviewed?
  3. Structured Data
    1. There should be:
      1. Variables
      2. Templates
      3. Styles/Themes
  4. Video embedding
    1. If a picture is worth a thousand words then for some people a video is worth 10,000 when trying to learn something.

Having spent half a day looking at this problem I have concluded to the conclusion that Confluence is the worst enterprise knowledge base software–except for all other knowledge base software. Its main drawback is that it is SLOW. Entering data is a chore (particularly if you have multiple articles to create or edit) as the editor can take five to ten seconds to load. Rendering a page is slow enough that I think back to the days of dial-up as I switch tabs to do something else while it loads.

What else is out there?

OneNote seems to be a popular choice for businesses as they are likely already paying for it and it isn’t too difficult to enter information. However, data is not too discoverable (can’t search across multiple notebooks) and one of its main features is that it is unstructured.

Notion is gaining a lot of admirers as it transitions from a personal knowledge base tool to one used by teams. I haven’t used it in a few years so maybe it now has the team-based permissions that enterprises require?

Salesforce has Quip which is more of a collaboration tool than a knowledge base. Data entry is free form and, as of a couple of years ago, it also did not meet my company’s permission requirements. (Salesforce also has knowledge base software as part of Service Cloud but the aim seems to be more for building a customer-facing knowledge base.)

I’m not personally aware of any companies that successfully deployed Evernote across large numbers of employees. I’m sure there are some out there but, as much as I enjoyed using it for a few years, Evernote is waning in popularity.

Many years ago, we used an on-premise install of Mediawiki as a knowledge base. Was great for making the knowledge surfaceable and the learning curve for data entry was fairly small. Embedding media was cumbersome at the time. I am curious as to where this stands now? (Wiki.js seems to be an alternative here that looks nice but wasn’t quite there for my company when we demoed it. It was good but not good enough to switch off Confluence.)


Sharepoint has a wiki feature that isn’t very good. If you want to share knowledge it seems like a OneNote document within Teams is the way to go. I’m surprised they don’t have a true Confluence competitor. The bar doesn’t seem to be set very high.