What are the main outcomes you should be aware of when thinking about building and starting using your own corporate wiki ? In order to set up a corporate wiki, you will have to deal with some core issues. Here they are :
Evaluating your needs and expectations
This is the key, the point from where everything else proceeds. The main reasons for that are, first, that when you will evaluate the effectiveness of your internal wiki, you will assess it by comparing what you have with what you would have liked to got and, second, that you have to map the current situation before setting your corporate wiki up.
What should you come through at this stage ?
- What is currently done with others applications (E-mail, Content Management System, Intranet, etc...) and presents shortcomings in their present way of being used ?
- What would I like to see wiki doing as regards the ineffectiveness of these applications ?
- What do wikis really have to offer given the way my society is currently structured ?
- Is my company's culture open enough to embrace an employees-powered information system ?
- Are they able to matches the specific requirements it faces (e.g., security or regulatory) ?
- Is it worth it ? Does the will to get things done exists at the moment or should I wait until a more favourable period (i.e., not three days after the budget for next year is sharply planned and closed) ?
All these questions are of particular importance, for they determine whether the solution that you are going to implement really meets needs that you specifically identified or will deceive you in being an useless technological gadget.
Once you think that the need for a wiki is established, a next step follows.
Which technical solution do I chose ?
Now it's decided, you want yours. Great. But how do you get the wikis of your dreams, the application that will solve all you communication and coordination problems (amongst others) ?
You have to decide between different possibilities, each of which offers advantages and inconveniences.
- Go for it by yourself. We recommend this solution in only two cases, and you are strongly advised to think it through thoroughly should you decide to select it. Either you are a big company, hence having a strong IT department that should prove able to build the solution you need from an open-source basis and customize it to fit your needs, or, though of a small or medium size, your company includes at least one gifted individual when it comes to programming. The main advantages of this kind of solution are its reduced cost for you do not have to pay a provider, and flexibility for your IT specialists should be able to build what you want them to (although it is acknowledged that you have to master their particular realm of communication to achieve this). The drawbacks are directly linked to the level of skill of your own specialists and may hence be nonexistent, but you will lack the expertise of a specialized firm (don't worry, we are here !).
- Ask a Provider. There is a growing amount of them on the market, and counting. Their offer are not yet highly differentiated, though their prices may sometimes differ significantly. When it comes to choosing one, it is as much a question of how you like an interface compared with another, in which aspects is it user friendly, do you get an intuitive grasp of it, do you like the colors ?... Although this may seem quite superficial, these are some of the features that will commend adoption of the wiki by your employees. Once again, we have experienced many of them and can get you through the different philosophies that guided their elaboration and help you chose the one that suits best your company's mindset. Their principal features are quite advanced by now and should be able to fit your company, and providers are adding new ones at an accelerated rhythm, so the one you need will be available soon if it is not already. The last point I ought to mention is the existence of a customer service that knows what technical difficulties you might go through and is able to coordinate the wiki with the other systems used by your company.
By now you have a wiki operating within your company. The question is, will your users follow ? This raise a last issue, no to be forgotten.
Formation and Training
We argue throughout this blog that wikis are easy to use and may help you cut on email overload and tackle many other issues. This is fundamentally true, but so is the case of email though some employees may have experienced difficulties when first having to use that technology. The same can be held of wikis. The other prominent point is that you have to convince people to use it. The two steps are as follows :
- Getting people to use the system. Given the particular framework of your company, the expectations you have for your wiki, what are the best ways to make people use it ? Different strategies are relevant here, that you can combine as you wish. They include :
- Targetting geeks, which mean identify individuals most likely to play with any innovation and let them discover its features, sooner or later they will spread the word and generate curiosity about the application.
- Relying on the basically open structure of wikis to have people using it : they will be empowered and responsabilized by the fact that they are responsible for editing the content of pages and are expected to share relevant information. Moreover, this creates a feeling of investment which is a motivation to get information up to date.
- Put an emphasis on the network structure and let people interact together for a while on the structure before actually asking them to perform work-related tasks using it. You will be amazed by the speed at which the use of such a system can spread. (Some further case studies are to be presented and analyzed soon)
- The fact is that people will be more motivated and willing to use it if managers set the example and are asked to assertively encourage the use of the technology.
- Helping those who don't grasp it. Working with wikis requires some familiarization with the concept and practice, and some users may feel lost or simply unfamiliar with the system. This is absolutely normal and should be treated as such, by offering quick formations to the people concerned by the change. These formations should be held at three levels :
- Basic presentation : for all the employees concerned with the use of a wiki. This is meant to present the features and potential uses of wikis, give a global idea of what it is and how it works. This is a sufficient start and shall be naturally complemented by a period of free experimentation by the employees. Those could take place in the same day : presentation in the morning, workshops in the afternoon.
- In depth, semi-personalized help : for employees that are strggling with the whole thing. It might take a while to discover the full range of potentialities offered by a wiki, and some peope may start by rejecting the idea. Always remember : an efficiently treated complaint equals a happy customer equals a supporter.
- For the managers : they have to be able to understand how their daily practice can evolve by using wikis. Some challenges are embedded in this shift and they have to be dealt with, for relationships have to be partly rethought in terms of who controls what in terms of information flows.
We have now dealt with the principal aspects of this last part.
When you will come to starting your coporate wiki, remember the three important steps described above : Analysis of the situation, Technical Implementation, Support of the Staff. They are the sole determinants of whether your wiki solution will perform or not. And I'm quite sure that you'd rather see it perform, don't you ?
Want more ? Stay Tuned.
© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC