Implementing a Corporate Wiki

It seems all of a sudden, the two buzz words in the corporate IT world are wiki and blog. Corporate wikis are emerging as cheap, intelligent, flexible systems for shared-document collaboration and content management. Because they are browser based, wikis are quite easy to implement and deploy.

The wiki works well in the corporate world as it solves two problematic areas, the need for internal collaboration and document management.

Collaboration

A wiki aims to replace the email, review, reply-to-all, repeat cycle most corporate environments are more than familiar with.  A wiki enables documents to be written collaboratively, in near real time.

The content on a wiki can be updated with no real lag time and little to no administrative intervention.

Centralized Document Repository

A wiki is made of a collection of individual wiki pages which are connected through hyperlinks. In essence, a wiki is repository for creating, browsing, and searching through information. A wiki can provide a central location for managing items such as meeting notes, company policies, manuals, agendas and calendars. Because the information is centrally located, there is no need to distribute, like you would with an email. Wiki’s have the ability to centralize more than only text data, they can store and keep track of changes of many commonly used corporate file types including Doc, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF and images.

Choosing A Wiki

Requirements

For corporate use the requirements are quite different that they would be for something like wikipedia.

Easy to Use

Like everything else in technology, people will only use tools if they find they fit their needs and are easy to use and intuitive. Additionally, old habits are hard to break, so we better choose a wiki that is painless for people.Some (most) wiki’s have their own formatting language that people need to learn to write effectively, though there is a good reason for this, it certainly doesn’t help adoption. We need a wiki that has a wysiywg editor and is intuitive to use.

Access Policies

Unlike Wikipedia, in the corporate world not all information should be publicly accessible or editable. The right wiki would control access policies by group or user.

Supports Media with Versioning

As the old adage goes, a picture is worth 1000 words, yet many wiki’s are text centric. Since the corporate world is full of diagrams, whiteboarding, attachments, etc. we need a wiki that supports this media. Like everything else wiki, we need to be able to track versions of files.

Fits into your IT structure

Ideally a wiki would just be an extension of the normal workflow. The only way to make this really seamless is to integrate with the existing structure, whether that is a Windows AD, or an LDAP or something else.

Search

As the wiki grows, search becomes an increasingly critical feature. Bonus if the wiki search supports commonly attached file types as well.

Security

A successful wiki will certainly contain sensitive information. We need to ensure that the wiki is protected.

Options

There are literally hundreds of options. Here is the list I examined for our deployment.

BrainKeeperCommercial. Hosted. Focus on knowledge management tools. Per user licensing.

ClearWikiCommercial. Hosted. Provides search within Office and PDF files. Permits backup to zip files.

DekiWikiOpen Source & Commercial. mono & PHP. Extensible. Supports Active Directory and LDAP. ACL. Drag and Drop desktop software for windows.

MediaWikiOpen Source. PHP. The software Wikipedia uses for its websites. Most popular wiki software available.

MoinMoinOpen Source. Python. Similar to MediaWiki in features.

SocialtextCommercial. Hosted Appliance. Aims to be user friendly. Many large companies use SocialText.

WetpaintFree. Hosted. Easy to learn and edit. Good for less savvy users.

Corporate Adoption

The learning curve for using a wiki is relatively small. The larger challenge is to change the mindset of your corporation to accept this new form of communication.

Set up the right structure

This, more than anything else will determine if the wiki is a success or not. A thoughtful structure will set the tone for future wiki use. There is no rule that is right for any company, what you need to determine is what structure would be the most logical for your users and take into consideration access rights as you setup your tree.

Here you will also setup the look and feel of the wiki. Users will be much more likely to use a tool if they like the way it looks.

Jump Start the wiki

People will be much more likely to use a tool if they see the value in it. A great way to convey this is to populate the wiki with documents that have are either collecting dust on some network drive, or are continually emailed. Place things such as  meeting notes, calendars, address books, directories, manuals, etc. This way, when users first see the wiki, they find valuable information. This teaches the users that when they need to find something it is probably on the wiki, or at least it should be on the wiki. You want the wiki to be the first place your users think to look for it.

Grassroots

The best way to start wiki adoption is with a limited group of users. Place some compelling and useful information on the wiki and invite them to collaborate. Ask the users for feedback and incorporate that feedback. Encourage those users to tell other employees about the wiki and to use it for their projects, documentation, notes etc.

It is critical that you get some of the executives to be a part of this trial group. Once they are hooked they will help adoption spread rapidly.

Once a solid group of users are using the wiki and adding content you should feel ready to take the wiki to the masses.

Teach the Masses

The first step is to inform the company that you have a wiki and what your intentions are in using it. This should come from either the CIO or the CEO, or the head of whatever group the wiki is aiming to serve. A wiki will only be successful if it is continually being used. Have appropriate corporate communications migrated to the wiki. Mention it in emails and newsletters and in meetings.

Common Craft has created a series of video which and conveniently be placed on the front page of the wiki. The advantage here is that people can watch the videos on their own time and review as needed. The series is called Wikis in plain english.

Because of the paridigm shift a wiki presents, not everyone will immediately see the value in it and many will out of habit keep using inferior tools. Be patient. As more and more people use the wiki and as more and more information migrates to the wiki the adoption will become widespread.