Wikis Are Alive and Kicking in the Enterprise

Look in the wiki!

If you haven’t heard that cry already, chances are you will soon, as the use of wikis in enterprise environments spreads like wildfire.

Proliferating virally, wiki usage has grown exponentially in recent months, along with other consumer-centric technologies—including blogs, podcasts and RSS—that have made their way into the workplace thanks in part to the influx of the tech-savvy entry-level employees of so-called Generation Y.

A wiki, which means “quick” in Hawaiian, is a Web site that enables users to easily edit and update shared content. Computer programmer Ward Cunningham originated the wiki concept and gave it its name more than a decade ago.

After slow growth initially, wiki use has exploded in the past couple of years. Wiki technology, which has been popularized by the widely used Web encyclopedia Wikipedia, took a big leap in mind share when Google purchased wiki software maker JotSpot for an undisclosed amount on Oct. 31.

Wiki usage in enterprises could further proliferate when Microsoft ships a wiki feature in Office 2007 and SharePoint 2007 next year and IBM includes a wiki technology in a social computing product code-named Ventura, due in the first half of 2007.

At Motorola, a high percentage of the Schaumburg, Ill., electronics company’s 68,000 employees are regular wiki users—and many of them don’t even know it.

Click here for an interview with Ward Cunningham, creator of the wiki.

Wikis were introduced to Motorola intentionally enough, coming into the company 18 months ago along with blogging and FAQ features in Open Text collaboration software. As such, wikis are one of several important pieces of Motorola’s collaboration infrastructure, which includes instant messages (12 million per day) and blogs (2,600 corporatewide).

After six months, Motorola’s wiki usage grew to a total of 500; after a year, there were 1,000 wikis. The number currently stands at 3,200. Altogether, Motorola’s collaboration infrastructure contains 17TB of searchable data.

“I’m not sure how many more we’re going to have—3,200 wikis is a lot. We’ll probably top out around 4,000,” said Motorola Corporate Vice President of IT Toby Redshaw, who, with IT Director Baldev Singh, has paved the way for the wiki invasion.

As at many enterprises that have seen wiki proliferation, Redshaw and Singh performed no cost/benefit analysis ahead of time and have not tracked return on investment. That’s because the investment in wiki technology is so low as to be negligible and the payback is intuitively understood, yet difficult to quantify.

“We don’t have a wiki police group,” Redshaw said. “We just think it’s the way the business runs. All a business is, is human beings talking to each other, trying to get stuff done.”

“People start using the capabilities as they become available,” said Singh. “They are not advertised, but widely used.”

Despite the laissez-faire approach, all is not anarchy at Motorola. Managing the platform’s usage are 250 “knowledge champions” who take responsibility for different subject areas in the Open Text collaboration infrastructure. The group meets biweekly to set governing processes.

“The knowledge champions are all part-time volunteers,” said Redshaw. “They are deciders. It’s just like Wikipedia. It polices itself.”

In addition to the corporate Open Text platform, engineers at Motorola are using TWiki enterprise collaboration software, which is better suited to engineering applications, according to Redshaw, thanks to some 200 plug-ins for creating mini-applications.

The hands-off approach would not be possible without airtight security to limit wiki usage to Motorola employees. “We have the fiercest, most hard-core chief security officer on the planet. The architecture is designed to support limited access to limited data,” said Redshaw.

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