Wikis? Are they worth it.

“People are definitely a company’s greatest asset. It doesn’t make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps.” Mary Kay Ash

It has been said, by far to many CEO’s, that their companies greatest assets walk-out the door at the end of every business day. Meaning, that the unified knowledge, skills, workflow, ideas, networks, relationships and strengths are embodied within a company’s people. The tragic aspect of the relationship is that those human capital abilities are lost when people leave a company.

The idea of capturing the collective knowledge of a company’s people has been a goal for thousand-years. For 99.9% of that time, we have not been capable of achieving this goal. Much of it was due to a failure to have the proper tools.

For many organizations, their efforts were initially in writing down on paper some ideas. Which then evolved into more complex work-flow management systems. All which were great, but had the weakness of not being ‘modifiable, searchable, distributable and adaptive’. Recently, we created complex CRM systems which started to capture much of the client side of the company knowledge-base, but failed to integrate the sales-cycle knowledge that was developed.

With the advent of the internet, and many of the tools that it allowed, we have seen the rise of the Wiki. The word wiki a Hawaiian-language word for fast. A wiki is a type of software that allows users to easily create, edit and link web pages. Wikis are often used to create collaborative websites, power community websites, and are increasingly being installed by businesses to provide affordable and effective Intranets or for use in Knowledge Management.

Wiki’s can do what other tools, either soft-or-hardware based, cannot. As outlined previously, what is needed for an organization to capture this human knowledge is to have the system capable of ‘modifiable, searchable, distributable and adaptive’ knowledge collection.

Organizations that seek to organize their human capital and knowledge have been moving towards the development of internal wiki’s. Companies like IBM, Citrix Systems, Discovery Communications, and Boston’s College’s Gerald School of Information Management are using Wiki’s to: identify, create, acquire, store, organize, use and share information.

“As organizations increasingly rely on geographically dispersed workforces there is an emerging need to collaborate on projects that span distributed teams and with different time frames. This includes a need for collaboration in the form of brainstorming. Wiki may provide a powerful medium for asynchronous distributed collaboration in such situations” says Jonathan Davies, an expert on Wiki brainstorming and problem based collaboration.

Many organizations are experimenting with wiki deployment for many project specific management. These wiki’s are not displacing other tools for client management or work-flow management, but are being deployed as an advanced resource for the knowledge-base that is collected with these projects. Since they are primarily modifiable by the participants, these geographically dispersed groups, are finding the information searchable, and adaptive to the performance and success of their projects. The ability for the participants to determine how they will use the technology creates a collective value for the teams.

Sun Computer systems have been pointing out for years it is not the computers that is valuable, but the network. This equally applies to the deployment and use of wiki’s within organizations. As the collective wisdom, collaboration, development, uses and participation of the individuals are collected, the value to the group increases.

Once the knowledge is collected and drawn upon for wisdom, client management, sales process cycle management, and more, the more value the organization retains and the less it loses when they experience the loss of an individual contribution.

Is the use and deployment of a wiki an action that organizations need to make? Not necessarily. The original question was if wiki’s are worth it, and to answer that I suggest that companies individually determine what knowledge and wisdom their people have and what would the loss of that knowledge would mean if they left. The use of a wiki is not the only solution to retaining group knowledge, but it is one that will be used more and more as the tools for collaboration and knowledge retention increases.

© Copyright 2008 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.