How to Best Use a Wiki in the Enterprise

A wiki can be a godsend for companies grappling with tough knowledge management issues, but only if it's done properly. Teragram president Yves Schabes explains how to make sure a wiki is right for you and, if it is, how to make sure it's a success.

/images/stories/70x50/bug_knowledgecenter_70x70_(2).jpgA wiki provides a way for people to share, collaborate on and edit content on the Web. Organizations have started to use wikis in an effort to increase employee teamwork and communication, while cutting down on the volume of e-mail.

However, a wiki should not simply be installed onto a corporate network without first making sure that the proper measures have been taken to facilitate the process and minimize the risk of an unsuccessful implementation. In order to achieve a successful installation, the following three steps must be taken.

Step 1: Ensure that the IT infrastructure is equipped to handle a wiki

Once the decision has been made to start using a wiki, the first step is to make sure that your systems have the capability to handle it. If you are going to use a Web-based platform, then this step includes conforming to the network security and Web site-blocking policies for other similar types of Web-based programs, such as AOL Instant Messenger, Skype and social networking sites. Some organizations do not allow their employees to use these applications and these restrictions may mean that corporate systems are not equipped to manage a potentially larger application such as a wiki. Also, make sure that you have enough storage space on your server to operate a wiki. If server space concerns you, there are products that host the wiki on their servers instead.

There are two more issues the corporate IT department should be concerned about: security and mobility. Since there have been an onslaught of data breaches over the past year or so, it is imperative that, when a new application such as a wiki is being implemented, IT ensure that it is as secure as the rest of the information assets in the organization. Each department within an organization may have proprietary information that needs to be password-protected from unauthorized users. In addition, IT professionals should be aware of mobility concerns as they are choosing and using a wiki. The use of a cell phone or a PDA to obtain information is becoming commonplace and the mobile work force will want to use their devices to query information from the corporate wiki.

Step 2: Update internal corporate policies to reflect the use of the wiki

Many organizations have developed blogging policies in response to the overwhelming number of personal blogs on the Web. The same should apply to wiki usage. When you have chosen the wiki that best suits your company's needs, the next step is to update internal corporate policies for wiki users. It should be clearly noted that the information on the wiki is proprietary and that, while it may facilitate communication, it does not mean that the rules for communication are any different. Since this is a corporate application, the content on the wiki should not be taken outside of a work environment. Also, policies should not only state which employees and departments will have permission to participate in which sections of the wiki, but also should affirm which, if any, sections of the wiki will be publicly available versus internally visible.

Step 3: Create an incentive program to encourage wiki participation

Once a wiki has been chosen and internal corporate policies have been updated, the final step is to make sure that the people in an organization will actually use the wiki to communicate. A main point to consider is that there are several age groups that will likely have different opinions on using the wiki. Generation Y enters the workplace with a fairly strong technology background and tends to understand that technology changes rapidly. The Generation Xers and Baby Boomers are not as likely to immediately use the wiki and will need some encouragement and training along the way. IT can execute a two-pronged plan to smooth this transition for reluctant employees.

First, quarterly wiki training classes will give users a chance to have hands-on experience with the wiki and ask questions. Second, IT can train the higher-level executives on the intricacies of the wiki and, in turn, these "power users" will provide extra guidance to their departments and enforce the proper use of the wiki. The power users can also become the point people to IT for any wiki-related questions the department has, thus decreasing the number of inbound requests about basic wiki topics.

While the first few steps in this process may exhaust a significant amount of time, they'll hopefully help your company's employees begin to organically use the wiki and cut down on the number of inbound help desk requests. If done properly, the implementation of a corporate wiki can save time, reduce corporate e-mail usage and ultimately save the company the cost of lost productivity.

/images/stories/heads/schabes_yves70x70.jpg In 1997, Dr. Yves Schabes and Dr. Emmanuel Roche co-founded multilingual natural language technology company Teragram Corporation, a SAS company. Dr. Schabes has spent the past 15 years working on issues relating to natural language processing and computer science. He is the author or editor of more than 50 international scientific publications, including co-editor with Emmanuel Roche, of "Finite-State Language Processing" (1997, MIT Press). Dr. Schabes also is an Associate to the Division of Applied Science at Harvard University.

Prior to founding Teragram, Dr. Schabes was a senior scientist at Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories in Cambridge, Mass. He also held a position as a research associate at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Schabes has been a program committee member of many international scientific conferences and journals. In 1990, he received a Ph.D. in computer science from University of Pennsylvania. He can be reached at