February 27, 2006
Wikis In The Workplace
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The development and use of social software such as blogs and content-sharing sites like del.icio.us and Flickr is rapidly growing. But none is gaining traction in business faster than wikis.
A wiki is a Web site that can be edited by anybody who's granted permission. That can mean a workgroup, a department, or every employee in a company. The people who access the data and documents in a wiki are also the authors of the site, making it ideal for information sharing.
Wikis excel as way to archive documents and track workflow, and they let users gather all information and correspondence pertinent to a project in a central location. In addition to Web pages, wikis can link to spreadsheets, Word documents, PowerPoint slides, PDFs--anything that can be displayed in a browser. They also can embed E-mail and instant messaging.
Most wikis are open source or based on open-source code. Open-source wikis are free for companies that implement them, and even licensed versions--which include implementation and support--are cheap compared with standard project- or content-management applications.
Managers may fear a wiki will disrupt workers and their workflow and prove a distraction from "real" work. Or they look at wikis as a fad that will end up costing time and labor (mostly in the IT department).
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Angel.com has gone from one wiki hidden under a desk to broader use of Socialtext's hosted wiki.
That's why many wikis are launched as tests, often by departments with technically savvy workers or groups with a penchant for experimentation. Some are officially sanctioned, while others sneak in under the radar.
At Nokia, the first wiki was brought in as an experiment by the corporate strategy team without consulting the IT department. "After installing it, we were told that it was probably against company policy," says Stephen Johnston, a member of the corporate strategy team. IT was concerned about overhead costs, the delegation of control to users, and the passing-fad risk, Johnston says. But the wiki--built on an open-source platform--quickly proved it saved time and effort previously dedicated to the task of distributing and storing corporate intelligence.
Wikis have proliferated within Nokia since the initial test. Johnston says. The company has purchased 200 seats of Socialtext, and four wikis, on both open-source and proprietary platforms, are being used by between 1,000 and 1,500 employees. Because of the wikis' success, Nokia agreed to fund and support a companywide wiki and a host of other collaborative tools. A technology pro-ject team was established to provide new tools such as wikis within days to business groups, Johnston says.
At Angel.com, a subsidiary of business intelligence company MicroStrategy, the first wiki was brought in by a member of the engineering team as a way to manage customer support tickets. The company ran an open-source wiki called Quickiwiki, which came with the book The Wiki Way by Bo Leuf and Ward Cunningham.
The wiki ran for several years on a Linux box under the desk of Sam Aparicio, VP of products and strategy. When it was clear that it was a stable and functional tool, the company moved to Socialtext's hosted wiki to minimize the burden on the IT team.