Greener Pastures Through a Wiki WorldBy Dennis McCafferty | Posted 2009-09-04 Email Print
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Greener Pastures Through a Wiki World
As a senior executive in the renewable-energy industry, Brandon Stafford often tapped Wikipedia.org for both business and personal use. Then, more than two years ago, Stafford had a thought that changed the way his office did business: Why can’t our company collaborate like the wiki world does?
In his case, the company is San Francisco-based GreenMountain Engineering, where Stafford is a principal engineer working out of an office in Boston. GreenMountain creates devices that serve the “clean tech” industry. For example, it recently built a robot that can take long strips of solar panels and cut them into 4-inch-square solar cells. The amount of technical complexity that goes into such designs can be immense, and GreenMountain staff often collaborated on extensive reports that would be compiled using Microsoft Word.
“We’d start out with a document that would be named SolarReport,” Stafford recalls. “Then someone would do edits and rename it SolarReport_Edits. Then another person would jump in, and it would then be named SolarReport_TomEdits. And on and on it would go. When you looked at the report, you didn’t have any idea who did what and when they did it. It was really difficult to track changes and see the overall evolution of the report.”
To solve this problem, GreenMountain decided to invest in a Web-based collaboration tool from Socialtext that allows the company to collaborate daily on these reports using a wiki-like application. The document can be accessed by anyone working on it, at any given time, from just about anywhere. All changes made are tracked, pinpointing who made them and when they were made. The product also manages the application, providing database upgrades and security.
“When we use this tool for internal reports, the application also allows us to note who elaborated on a certain point and demonstrated some knowledge that we didn’t realize existed before,” Stafford adds. “So, it has helped us find out who on our staff has expertise in a particular area.
“Socialtext also provides a strong sense of security and overall administration. And we needed something that was user-friendly. We wanted the reports to be edited in WYSIWYG fashion, rather than needing to type in a bunch of symbols to boldface a word or phrase.”
GreenMountain is so pleased with the product that it has expanded its use. “We thought this would just be an easier way to compile reports and create a library that would provide a historical record of what the company has done,” Stafford says. “But it’s much more than that now. For one thing, we use it to assemble a list of every company that competes in our industry.”