Wikis: Enabling Effective Knowledge Sharing Across the Organization

Wikis are a relatively simple and compelling addition to the collaborative options currently available.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

December 15, 2005

5 Min Read

"Wiki" is currently one of the most popular new buzz terms in business discussions. Unfortunately it is also one of the most incomprehensible for many people. But what are wikis, are they important, what benefits do they provide and are they being used successfully within large corporations?

A wiki is an online tool that allows users to update and publish content collaboratively. Anyone who has access can edit the content, using a very simple tool and an ordinary web browser. Wiki usage is known as ‘collaborative authoring’.

The first wiki was a complement to the Portland Pattern Repository, created on March 25, 1995 by Ward Cunningham, who based the name on the Hawaiian term “wiki wiki”, which means “quick.” And, the largest and most famous wiki is Wikipedia. This is a web-based encyclopedia based on free collaborative content. Founded in 2001, it already has more than 1.6 million articles. A more recent example of Wiki innovation is Wikicities, a collection of communities with websites that you can edit.

Within the corporate environment, wikis are proving to be valuable tools for:

  • Project collaboration, information sharing and managing content

  • Design collaboration

  • O rganizing a community around a written project

  • Distributed intelligence gathering

  • A knowledge base or collaborative extranet

  • Fostering information flow within an organization

  • Helping distributed teams work together seamlessly and productively

  • Eliminating the one-webmaster syndrome of outdated intranet content 

The main features of Wikis are:

  • A simple (and free) way to build and manage content

  • Support hyperlinks and has simple text syntax for creating new pages and crosslinks between internal pages on the fly

  • Accessibility from everywhere without any software installation (just a browser)

  • Easy to track and constantly up-to-date

Organizations that have leveraged Wikis include Disney, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (DrKW), Yahoo, IBM, Lufthansa , New York Times Digital and Motorola. For example, Disney Corporation uses wikis, integrated into a collaborative toolset along with internal blogs and RSS feeds, as part of an information sharing strategy aimed at facilitating internal discussion, and documentation.

Investment Bank DrKW uses wikis to empower geographically dispersed individuals to publish and collaborate, for tracking project development, decreasing the number of emails, plus sharing and developing new system specifications and product overviews.

Some organizations are already adding wiki-like features to their existing systems to support collaborative efforts, resulting in combined systems promising great updatability and optimised sharing of knowledge and information. We have also seen the emergence of commercial, wiki-based collaboration software, like Socialtext and Confluence (“the Enterprise Wiki”), which offer an improved, user-friendly interface with wiki capabilities.

As Wikis become more mainstream, facilitated by the evolution of their technology, some organizations will start to adopt them as part of a holistic approach to knowledge creation and management, linked to cultural change. Wikis can be used for:

  • Knowledge and information sharing

  • Identification of best practices

  • Content publishing

  • Project management and documentation

The added value from Wikis is varied and includes:

  • Being a simple and flexible repository for shared information and collaboration

  • Enabling your team to work more collaboratively

  • Turning static and outdated documents to live and dynamic ones

  • Facilitating the search and retrieval of documents

  • Encouraging people to share

  • Providing a structured approach

Some pointers and key factors to consider in creating a successful Wiki include:

  • Make it relevant, encouraging usage and personal involvement

  • The leaders should be identified and encouraged

  • The leaders of the Wikis should also be editors, spotting mistakes and changing them automatically

  • Show who is the content provider

  • Include meta-content to encourage and engage (individual user homepage, statements about the goal or culture, instructions, pages with jokes, best or funniest contributions, etc.)

  • Communicate the value of joint ownership of the wiki’s content. The most convincing way is for the manager to contribute valuable content himself/herself

  • Provide incentives in the form of praise, respect by one’s peers and influence. Continuous participation with the wiki should be a reward in itself

There are always challenges when dealing with new technologies, but Wikis represent a relatively simple and compelling addition to the collaborative capabilities available for your organization. However, using Wikis in isolation will significantly limit the potential for knowledge sharing and collaboration. Instead, they should be considered as one of a number of tools supporting internal communities. In turn, those communities also need to address key issues such as providing compelling content and the need to change behavior, in order to unlock the real benefits of collaborative working.

Graeme Foux, Director of Knexus, has extensive experience in developing and managing communities. He works with leading companies such as Honda, BT, BAT, HSBC and O2 to develop innovative Community and Collaborative solutions that drive out costs, enhance customer relationships and deliver improved economic performance. Graeme is also founder Chairman of Knexus Community, Europe's leading corporate business club and network. Before Knexus, Graeme was founder CEO at Momentus Group, an eBusiness consultancy acquired by DiamondCluster International in May 2000. Previously, Graeme worked in the US high tech industry and as a journalist and author within the Economist Group.

About Knexus
Knexus creates successful Customer Communities and Communities of Practice for leading global brands. Knexus Consulting works with a number of companies such as British American Tobacco, Honda, Lloyds TSB, Marsh and Telegraph Business Club.

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