This is a clear and useful article on Wikis in corporates, by Michael Hickins.
Large companies find communication difficult – a combination of cultural conservatism, finding an appropriate local, relevant scale, the limitation of the tools (“create a shared folder on Exchange[r]”) and the risk of putting one’s head above the parapet.
This leads to arcane, vital knowledge being condensed into a few people who fly beneath the radar of seniority and becom effectively unmanageable (at worst) or underused (at best).
This phenomenon – known to all staff as they have to turn to the ‘wizard’ in the business to get things done – is not on the Board’s agenda until, of course, the triennial business restructuring kicks off and the process consultants note that there are three key people in the business who are single-handedly keeping the stock/finance/buying/security/whatever systems up and running… At which point, Corporate Security resolves to winkle out their knowledge, to never have single points of failure again etc etc. This may sound cynical, but having lived through this more times that it’s polite to recount I don’t see that there’s a change.
Until wikis, of course.
There have been expert systems in the past, of course: knowledge-banks (big licences, arcane operating requirements, massive discipline overhead for categorisation), ticket and FAQ systems (where the users often lack the knowledge to apply the techical incantations they find there) or – gasp – “written documentation” that’s obsolete (or naive) from the outset.
Wikis, however, are lightweight, fast and free. They are so easy that there’s no technical barrier to usage and only the most basic requirements for authorship or contribution.
If you’re looking to set up a Wiki for your team or collaborators within your corporate then this article will help you write the inevitable ‘business justification’. Corporations love to hear nothing more than that other corporations are doing something 😉
The final radical point is that the use of wikis generally challenges both hierarchies and the notion of what’s “confidential”. Wikis are by their nature contributive and they value expertise, clarity, sharing and relevance.
If only that could become the abiding corporate standard for all communication then Web2.0 would have made a major contribution to Good Things Happening In The World… 😉
Update on 8 November, 2006: I see that Intel have launched a new service – SuiteTwo – that combines a wiki (SocialText), blog software (MovableType) and some RSS stuff into a ‘box’. Interesting to see a ‘chip company skipping over desktop software and appealing straight to the Enterprise via a browser and open source software…