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Wiki’s troubled way into the enterprise – and how to overcome it

Web 2.0 tools are getting more and popular in the internet. But why don’t they catch on like wildfire within enterprises?

In a lecture in KMWorld 2007 (6-8 Nov), Yair Dembinsky and I talked about this subject in general, and in particular about the unlocked potential of enterprise Wiki. Let me share with you my thoughts about this topic.

As a starting point, let’s look at the main advantages of Wiki –

Wiki is Collaborative – it enables the mass to edit content and comments (talkback/comments). It also provides alerts (via RSS or email).

Another important (sometimes overlooked) feature that Yair emphasized, is that Wikis are associative – in the sense that they provide simple means for creating and browsing networks of issues, and network of people. In terms of installation and administration, Wikis are lean, and have low TCO (I don’t think anyone can measure Wiki’s ROI). Modern Wikis within the firewall are also secure.

However, today’s Wikis have major limitations, when it comes to enterprise usage. First, the leanness and agility inflict the ability to enforce compliance. Secondly, Wikis lack the capability of dealing with structured content. But most importantly, I think, is the fact that Wikis are bad at a crucial aspect of enterprise computing, namely – integration.

All this, I argue, lead to the current situation, where Wiki’s are present in enterprises, but mostly as niche solutions – you don’t find Wiki performing as platform for core business processes. However, I see potential for much better contribution of Wiki to enterprises, and I’ll try to explain how this can happen.

Let’s concentrate on the most important inhibitors for Wikis acceptance into the enterprise, namely – lack of integration capabilities and the breach between the unstructured data stored in Wikis, and the structured data stored in other enterprise application.

In order to solve the integration problem, Wikis should be capable of doing (hopefully – all of) the following:

  • Enable mesh-ups of external content into the Wiki
  • Consume Enterprise Services (SOA)
  • Provide solid scripting capabilities with robust quality assurance

All the above are related to inbound integration. In addition, it is important for Wikis to enable outbound integration – expose Wiki content to additional applications and presentation facets throughout the enterprise

  • To the Enterprise Search
  • For mesh-up/syndication
  • Preferably – via SOA

A major contribution of Wikis would be if they enable harvesting of collective wisdom represented in their content and the relevant metadata (who knows what, what happens when, etc.).

In my next post I’d like to present a happy marriage of Wiki (and its great collaborative editing capabilities), with a promising presentation layer, which enables one click access to the Wiki content.

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  • Hi Ariel,
    Great post, as usual. However – some comments:
    1. I disagree with the “Low TCO” axiom. Setting up and maintaining a wiki for a large enterprise (e.g. SAP internal wiki) is not cheap and not easy at all.
    2. This Web 2.0 mantra according to which you can’t measure TCO for web 2.0 offerings is, IMO, untrue. If you go to our colleagues in AP who invested heavily in their internal wiki for training developers, I’m pretty sure you can measure the ROI. The trick here (I’m not inventing this, just qouting) is to measure the effect of the wiki/blog/whatnot on the ROI of the entire business process it was aimed to assist. A wiki doesn’t exist in outer space – it is accessed when a user has a need for information. Usually – that user needs that information in order to perform a specific task. Has the wiki aided this user? how much time did it save? Enter time cost, reduce wiki TCO and there you have your ROI.
    • Thanks.
      Low TCO  –  as compared to portals (and certainly other enterprise scale applications)
      ROI – for all practical matters, I do think that measuring the Return (rather than the Investment) would be a nightmare. Maybe feasible – but still a nightmare. In these cases I’d go for a qualitative check, rather a quantitative one (ask employees and managers how beneficial the Wiki is for them and their respective groups)
      • i empathize with the “hard to measure return” thread.  many of us who are asked to create structured KPIs – performance indicators to measure how well a wiki, or any community component, has gained traction – are puzzled about how to represent comments such as “because of this, i’m staying in my job,” “thank you for the wiki – it made all the difference”, and a whole additional host of “thank-you” type comments.  it’s possible to measure some pure quantity indicators (#hits, #comments, etc), but i agree that insisting on keeping a qualitative measure there is key.

        on to the structured vs unstructured — there are lots of interesting initiatives going on in the area of semantic extensions for wikis. once this nut is cracked, it could be key, if not downright revolutionary…

    • Hi Ariel,

      The domain you are discussing is Enterprise 2.0.
      Enterprise 2.0 combines Enterprise Service Qualities with Web 2.0 Qualities, some of these qualities you mentioned.

      First of all I do not want to write about ROI. It is no question, that Wikis and other Web 2.0 elements represent a very high value for the enterprise.

      Let me talk about TCO:
      What Yariv is refering to, are experiences we had with different Wiki implementations. So yes, many Wiki implementations (Open & Closed Source) are not scaling out sufficiently and are hard to manage in a high volume mode.
      Web 2.0 Technologies represent a different way of using the Web. Many Wiki implementations do not incorporate this simple fact within their core architecture.

      PS: All this is only relevant for us for the On-Premise Business of SAP. In the area of On-Demand, there are/will be wiki service providers who will ensure most of these qualities for you, and the concern of an Enterprise would be limited to the topic of integration. (one of SAP’s core competencies)

      Best Regards,

  • Hi,

    Actually, the ability to integrate into the WIKI is very much related to the WIKI implementation itself.

    Check out my blog: The specified item was not found. to see how WIKI plug-ins bridge this gap.