How do I implement my own corporate wiki ?

First of all, contact us !

What are the main outcomes you should be aware of when thinking about building and starting using your own corporate wiki ? In order to set up a corporate wiki, you will have to deal with some core issues. Here they are :

Evaluating your needs and expectations

This is the key, the point from where everything else proceeds. The main reasons for that are, first, that when you will evaluate the effectiveness of your internal wiki, you will assess it by comparing what you have with what you would have liked to got and, second, that you have to map the current situation before setting your corporate wiki up.

What should you come through at this stage ?

  • What is currently done with others applications (E-mail, Content Management System, Intranet, etc...) and presents shortcomings in their present way of being used ?
  • What would I like to see wiki doing as regards the ineffectiveness of these applications ?
  • What do wikis really have to offer given the way my society is currently structured ?
  • Is my company's culture open enough to embrace an employees-powered information system ?
  • Are they able to matches the specific requirements it faces (e.g., security or regulatory) ?
  • Is it worth it ? Does the will to get things done exists at the moment or should I wait until a more favourable period (i.e., not three days after the budget for next year is sharply planned and closed) ?

All these questions are of particular importance, for they determine whether the solution that you are going to implement really meets needs that you specifically identified or will deceive you in being an useless technological gadget.

Once you think that the need for a wiki is established, a next step follows.

Which technical solution do I chose ?

Now it's decided, you want yours. Great. But how do you get the wikis of your dreams, the application that will solve all you communication and coordination problems (amongst others) ?

You have to decide between different possibilities, each of which offers advantages and inconveniences.

  1. Go for it by yourself. We recommend this solution in only two cases, and you are strongly advised to think it through thoroughly should you decide to select it. Either you are a big company, hence having a strong IT department that should prove able to build the solution you need from an open-source basis and customize it to fit your needs, or, though of a small or medium size, your company includes at least one gifted individual when it comes to programming. The main advantages of this kind of solution are its reduced cost for you do not have to pay a provider, and flexibility for your IT specialists should be able to build what you want them to (although it is acknowledged that you have to master their particular realm of communication to achieve this). The drawbacks are directly linked to the level of skill of your own specialists and may hence be nonexistent, but you will lack the expertise of a specialized firm (don't worry, we are here !).
  2. Ask a Provider. There is a growing amount of them on the market, and counting. Their offer are not yet highly differentiated, though their prices may sometimes differ significantly. When it comes to choosing one, it is as much a question of how you like an interface compared with another, in which aspects is it user friendly, do you get an intuitive grasp of it, do you like the colors ?... Although this may seem quite superficial, these are some of the features that will commend adoption of the wiki by your employees. Once again, we have experienced many of them and can get you through the different philosophies that guided their elaboration and help you chose the one that suits best your company's mindset. Their principal features are quite advanced by now and should be able to fit your company, and providers are adding new ones at an accelerated rhythm, so the one you need will be available soon if it is not already. The last point I ought to mention is the existence of a customer service that knows what technical difficulties you might go through and is able to coordinate the wiki with the other systems used by your company.

By now you have a wiki operating within your company. The question is, will your users follow ? This raise a last issue, no to be forgotten.

Formation and Training

We argue throughout this blog that wikis are easy to use and may help you cut on email overload and tackle many other issues. This is fundamentally true, but so is the case of email though some employees may have experienced difficulties when first having to use that technology. The same can be held of wikis. The other prominent point is that you have to convince people to use it. The two steps are as follows :

  1. Getting people to use the system. Given the particular framework of your company, the expectations you have for your wiki, what are the best ways to make people use it ? Different strategies are relevant here, that you can combine as you wish. They include :
  • Targetting geeks, which mean identify individuals most likely to play with any innovation and let them discover its features, sooner or later they will spread the word and generate curiosity about the application.
  • Relying on the basically open structure of wikis to have people using it : they will be empowered and responsabilized by the fact that they are responsible for editing the content of pages and are expected to share relevant information. Moreover, this creates a feeling of investment which is a motivation to get information up to date.
  • Put an emphasis on the network structure and let people interact together for a while on the structure before actually asking them to perform work-related tasks using it. You will be amazed by the speed at which the use of such a system can spread. (Some further case studies are to be presented and analyzed soon)
  • The fact is that people will be more motivated and willing to use it if managers set the example and are asked to assertively encourage the use of the technology.

  1. Helping those who don't grasp it. Working with wikis requires some familiarization with the concept and practice, and some users may feel lost or simply unfamiliar with the system. This is absolutely normal and should be treated as such, by offering quick formations to the people concerned by the change. These formations should be held at three levels :
  • Basic presentation : for all the employees concerned with the use of a wiki. This is meant to present the features and potential uses of wikis, give a global idea of what it is and how it works. This is a sufficient start and shall be naturally complemented by a period of free experimentation by the employees. Those could take place in the same day : presentation in the morning, workshops in the afternoon.
  • In depth, semi-personalized help : for employees that are strggling with the whole thing. It might take a while to discover the full range of potentialities offered by a wiki, and some peope may start by rejecting the idea. Always remember : an efficiently treated complaint equals a happy customer equals a supporter.
  • For the managers : they have to be able to understand how their daily practice can evolve by using wikis. Some challenges are embedded in this shift and they have to be dealt with, for relationships have to be partly rethought in terms of who controls what in terms of information flows.

We have now dealt with the principal aspects of this last part.


When you will come to starting your coporate wiki, remember the three important steps described above : Analysis of the situation, Technical Implementation, Support of the Staff. They are the sole determinants of whether your wiki solution will perform or not. And I'm quite sure that you'd rather see it perform, don't you ?

Want more ? Stay Tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

Focus on Teamworking

In many modern companies, the matrix has become the norm. It means that, most of the time, an employee will have to be part of a team created for a specific purpose (such as completing a project) to perform his daily work. This creates challenges and opportunities that can both be faced and worked out by using a wiki.

Basics of Teamworking

A team is group which members are aware they belong to. It has a definable membership structure (one supposedly knows whether or not he is part of a team) and a shared purpose (in a corporate setting, it will often be a piece of work that has to be completed collectively by members from different departments). This creates a challenge, for it means that a group of people who are unfamiliar with one another will have to behave collectively in a consistent manner in order to build something coherent. And this is why teamworking so often fails, for coordination has to be worked on and does not emerge from parallels behaviours.

Why a wiki makes things easier

When it comes to coordination, a wiki is near from a perfect form of answer. Here is a tool that allow people to work together on the same documents (no problems of shared information), at the same time (you do not have to find out who kept the last version of the proposition draft home). If you are tired of members taking excuse of a bad information and coordination system to get away with a low share of real work, using a wiki is a good way to improve situation.

Decide before acting

One of the main reasons for which teams fail is for they lacked a clearly defined goal to begin with. In order to be successful, a team has to spend time on chosing what are its objectives and how to pursue them. A wiki provides a space where members can review the last version of their objectives and comment on them. Therefore you will not be faced any longer with complaints that the guidelines were not clearly settled or updated. Once the task is properly defined (which will be quicker than with e-mail forwarding or even a meeting for this requires a high amount of organization time), the team can start working.

Roles in teamworking

Most managers met Meredith Belbin's classification of roles in a team at one time or another in their careers. For those who have not came through it yet, Belbin's classification offers a quick orverview of what are the functions that members of a group have to fulfill in order for that group to be succesful. Belbin lists 9 roles :
  • Company worker/implementer : the person who creates system that will produce what the team want
  • Chairman/co-ordinator : checks that everyone's point of view has been taken into account
  • Shaper : provides drive and impetus to the team, keep things going
  • Plant : is a source of creative ideas (sometimes too abstract for the others)
  • Resource investigator : he is the networker of the group and is linked to other groups, he can provide the group with what it needs
  • Monitor evaluator : the person responsible for questioning unfounded assumptions
  • Team worker : take care of relationships within the team
  • Completer finisher : the person that keeps an eye on details
  • Specialist : brings knowledge to the team

Now that these roles have been presented, it becomes clear that a collaborative interface where team members can interact and edit each other work is highly useful : the evaluator can immediatly point out in a comment what has to be worked on, the plant can propose ideas in an area where they will be discussed with others, the shaper can evaluate the level of everyone's work and what has to be done... A wiki offers a space for everyone voice to be heard, which facilitates the role of the coordinator.

Although most of the time individuals have a preference for a particular role, a wiki allows teammembers to play various roles at one time. Peer reviewing is made easier, a space for new ideas is easy to set up, and the strenghts of each member can be tapped into more easily.

A platform for more efficient teamworking

A wiki is not by itself a perfect solution for teamworking. It should rather be considered as a platform that allows usual teamworking issues to be tackled with more efficiency, more quickly. It eases the role of many members by centralizing information and documents and allowing them to coordinate with others effectively. By cutting on email (sometimes as much as 40%) it speeds up a whole process. Coupled with a blog, it can provide current information and replace a mailing list. RSS feeds make it easy to find out what is new and who has contributed recently. Try it, and you won't consider teamworking as a punition any longer.

Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

Why, though I am promoting Wikis, am I writing on a blog ?

Good Question.

And as such, it deserves an in-depth explanation. To address the problem properly, some structural analysis is de rigueur.

What is a Blog ?

Basically, a blog is a web page that one person, its Admin (it might be you), creates using one of the numerous providers available on the web. After a basic setup the process is quite straightforward : you easily publish your writings and get feedback in the form of comments from other users (who can be anybody or a selected bunch of guests). The main advantages of this form of publishing are that the original contribution stays visible while the comments are ranked by date, hence making the identification of contributors and their writings easy. It fits perfectly the needs of an editor or specialist who wants to express his / her opinion on a given topic and see what other's reactions will be. You know who is thinking what at a glance.

The matter, as anyone who wandered along the path of teens (or politicians) blogs will be aware of, is that the contributions are quite ... unstructured. Two discussions may cross another on a given page, the contributions may not be all viewable on the same page, many comments are roughly related to the topic (if not irrelevant) ... To summarize, when it comes to organizing information, a blog matches very closely the perfect definition of a mess.

What Wikis bring to You

Facing a situation where you want to tap into the knowledge of a group of people, you just realized that your idea of creating a blog was ... compromised, to say the least. What are your alternatives ? You could send a global mail and hope that the respondents will answer in a coordinated manner and that their answers will complement each other. You could.

Or you may try to use a wiki. The basic difference between a wiki and a blog is that anyone you chose can edit the pages of your wiki. This means that if you show it to the right persons (and there can be plenty of them, for one would always be surprised by the unexpected resources of knowledge of even a basic crowd) and give them some time, they will come up with their point of view and aggregate it in a coherent manner to those of others. This happens in real time : one can always see what has been written prior to his / her addition, correct what he / she thinks is inexact, organize the page in order to keep it clear and readable and left it for others to participate. Some kind of an automatic correction phenomenon takes place here : as long as the writers are relatively reliable and not merely undesired spammers the very best of available information get extracted and viewable. And the process goes on. Sounds like magic ? Check any Wikipedia article and you will see information most of the time sound, structured and accessible. And the people who wrote it do not even know each other.

Uses and Misuses of Wikis

Although what has just been said about wikis gives a pretty good image of them, there is clearly situations where their use is all but recommended. The LA Times learnt it some time ago, when the paper tried to run an editorial freely editable by anyone on their website. Soon, the page was full of obscenities and even strong admin work did not manage to prevent that. It looks like wikis are weaker than expected, doesn't it ?

The correct answer to such a remark is that you do not use a duster to dry yourself, but a towel. What the journal asked was an opinion, and those can be quite fuzzy -- and disparate to say the least. Add a dose of malevolence and the result all but fails to meet expectations. There is tasks at which wikis are better than others. For example, they are more efficient when it comes to facts than to personal views. Still, their flexibility remains. Look at it this way : with people showing even a slight inclination towards ethical behaviour, it would have worked. You would have ended with a piece of material showing different opinions in a consistent way. The point is, if anyone in your company tries to destroy the work others did on a wiki, they will (almost, for every version of the page is saved for ulterior comparisons) manage to do so. But they will not think about it in the first place, for you would know that they did it. And everyone else would.

Validation by the community

This is the last feature I would like to put an emphasis on. Wiki pages are place virtually everyone can read and contribute to (if allowed). In a group such as a company, everyone has a reputation to build and protect. Writing and contributing to a corporate wiki becomes part of that, for the quality of what you write will be appreciated by everybody. So, in the context of a company, you get all the advantages : reservoir of common knowledge (the fact that Peter who knew everything about the procedure X goes on retirement matters less since he wrote extensively about it), opportunity to assess the competencies of your staff...

What should you remember ?

Fundamentally, wikis and blogs are tools that complement each other, even though you could see blogs as a mere variation on wikis. Their combined possibilities are impressive (e.g., you can work on intern with a wiki and communicate externally with your blog, which is what WikiBC is currently doing). As long as you do not use one for the other, you are sure a winner.

Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

Are You Wiki ?

What is that supposed to be ?

Some new Internet Extravaganza ? The next nightmare you will live when your children will ask you whether they are allowed to start one ?

Internet is innovative. As you know well if you felt even a tiny amount of dejà-vu when you were reading the previous sentences, this can sometimes lead to misunderstandings, or a feeling that everything goes too fast. This is quite true. New products appear on a regular basis and keeping up to date can sometimes look like a constant struggle. And that is why the aim of this blog will be to present a new way of communicating by using IT means off expression that is more than likely to take-off widely in the years to come.

In fact, in some ways its spread has already started. Wikis are appearing in many companies and there is no surprise here, for one of the main advantages they provide is about cutting off a frenzy of unnecessary e-mails and transforming it into an useful and readily exploitable source of information.

Think about this : instead of, say, 10 of 15 mailboxes closed to each others where the same mail is present in various states of advancement, updated (- or not, for who knows whether the accountancy department did not send a mail to the management team about those marketing expenses...), put a single web page. A web page that any involved person could edit and keep relevant. Where three linked discussions are at last put in the same place. Where information flows and get available. Where you can instantly tap into the knowledge of colleagues not overloaded with emails. Where ...

Now stop thinking. This web page exists, and it is called a wiki (for the record, the name comes from an Hawaiian word meaning "quick"). You may certainly have heard of Wikipedia, the online Encyclopedia that anyone can contribute to and that covers an unbelievable range of topics with an accuracy that has not yet been proved significantly faulty? You can do the same thing within the boundaries of your company. Get everyone to contribute to the common knowledge, assess the relevance of ideas, and maybe even see your reborn Intranet while you are still alive (even if it is difficult to believe, this has already happened in many societies around the world).

Do you feel interested ? The best is still to come. Wikis are the most efficient ever tools when it comes to team-working. They are hosted on an external server and necessitate nothing else that any web-browser to be accessed, which means that you can work on them from everywhere, at any time. You will not have to wonder any longer about coordinating with your team during your next week-long business trip to Sydney. Real-time means that whatever modification you make appears instantly and can be taken into account by other people.

And, last but not least, think about building consensus with your 15 mailboxes (and as much contradictory opinions) ? Here everyone can argue his position in open ground, and only those who resist the careful examination of everyone subsists (no more "sorry, I did not get your last mail" when a disastrous launch strategy is planned). Dialogue has replaced arbitrary behaviour.
And the final written piece you get is almost ready for exploitation (no new quarrels arising during the formatting process).

These are some of the most prominent features that you can expect from wikis. It might be time to start trying them, shouldn't you ?

Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC