Conference Notes

Notes on "Utilizing Wikis and Blogs to Reshape Internal Communications and Collaboration", Aug 23

Benn Crawford and Anthony Townsend from Infinity Solutions spoke to the topic “Utilizing Wikis and Blogs to Reshape Internal Communications and Collaboration”. Benn went first …

Blogs and wikis provide part of the solution. Wikis can be used for … documentation, document library, project management tool and issue tracking, concept development, team site, email substitute, multi-team / discipline knowledge sharing (giving people access to what others know). Benn positioned much of the benefit as “wiki as cheaper”.

Blogging is a very helpful “outlet” for Benn as a person. The business fit … senior management communication to wider organization and feedback mechanism, harnessing RSS, clipping service replacement (started to post clips in a blog; clients would know ASAP), email replacement of “cc: All Staff”, and opinion and idea sharing with transparency. If you want to blog, you should be able to write well.

When building an intranet, need a number of modules and components. Key concepts are customizability, flexibility, suitability (put in the items that you want and leave those that you don’t want; benefit of modular vs. monolithic), lightweight coding, no artificial timelines (companies today are evolving these technologies very quickly; unlike Microsoft’s approach), and plug-ins and add-ins.

The monolithic approach gives a proven approach, it’s more robust and there’s good vendor support. On the downside, it resource intensive, gives locked-in support and restricted flexibility, and will have to pay licensing fees.

Benn talked about “the revolution of participation”, which means that it’s a read-write web, everyone can create content, and amateurs provide the content rather than the geeks.

Anthony came up, and spoke about the cultural issues related to blogs and wikis. Organizations that are tightly regulated, risk averse, have internal politics between departments and are financially focused may resist wikis, blogs and forums. On the other hand, those that are drawn to wikis, blogs and forums are often in a rapidly changing / dynamic environment, innovative, team-based culture and want to drive corporate social responsibility.

Anthony gave a good example of how not to do forums:

A library faced the decision of whether to provide access to Google Scholar or not. Librarians started discussing it in the forum, and agreed that it was a good thing. All discussion ended, however, when a senior librarian posted that “you people should not use this forum for such dumb discussions”.

With respect to organizational structure, those with bureaucracy, precisely defined processes and control may resist wikis, blogs and forums. Those with autonomous units, flexible guidelines and creativity are drawn to wikis, blogs and forums.

If your organization embraces the values of creativity, the wisdom of crowds, openness, social responsibility and learning, then the culture is well aligned with blogs and wikis. Management and staff have to live these values, rather than just have them written down.

Staff that come to work to increase learning and growth, are competent and confident, and have buy-in to the concept, then blogs, wikis and forums may work. However, if people are primarily there for the money, are satisfied with current knowledge, are low skilled and are skeptical about the concept, they’ll resist it.

Benn closed with “it sounds great, but is it for everyone?” Need people inside the enterprise to drive adoption beyond early adopters. These tools are in continual evolution and are always being developed; have to be willing to live with that as a group of people and an organization.

What’s the future of these tools? Blogs and wikis may replace current applications, such as desktop tools that are over-engineering and aren’t used. The next generation of workers are using various tools that they will want access to when they join the enterprise. What’s the intellectual property issues? Will employees be more interested in working at organizations that use these tools vs. those that don’t?

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