Wikis that work: Four IT departments get it right

IT orgs harness wiki power to handle everything from tech training to project management.

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"The wiki has added tremendously to IT's ability to provide service," says Alek Lotoczko, intranet project manager. "People have a tendency to junk e-mail without reading it. Now, information is getting to people who need to know, and it's cut down on full e-mail in-boxes and waiting for e-mail alerts each day."

Separately, NYK uses a wiki to keep multiple peer IT groups in the loop on the status of various projects. "Now there's one place where people can get searchable access to information, whereas before it was filed away in people's [individual] e-mail in-boxes," Lotoczko explains. The tagging and structure capabilities of the enterprise wiki tool (in this case, Atlassian's Confluence) also help the team easily build up an IT knowledge base of bug reports and troubleshooting guides.

Lotoczko's IT group has gone a step further and swapped its project management tool for another Confluence wiki that enables employees to collaborate with outsourced Web site development partners, taking advantage of the tool's permission and security controls to limit access to intellectual property and other company materials to specific subsets of users.

"It's allowing us to do what could have been done via e-mail and face-to-face visits, but it's cheaper and more efficient [with the wiki]," he explains. "With this archive, there's a permanent schedule record that's searchable and that we can learn from, which couldn't have been done before."

Wikis streamline project management

With a wiki, important project milestones, schedule changes or problem resolutions can be easily gathered and accessed from one place rather than becoming lost or overlooked in a crowded e-mail in-box, consultant Stewart Mader says. In addition, wikis encourage participation from colleagues who may or may not have been included as part of an e-mail chain.

And wikis can be better than discussion forums or software version management systems in compressing communication into more useful, actionable information, says Christian Wagner, author of "The Wiki in Your Company: Lessons for Collaborative Knowledge Management," a report conducted by the Society for Information Management's Advanced Practices Council. "There's less noise and more signal in wiki conversations," says Wagner, who is also a professor at the City University of Hong Kong.

That's a statement ShoreBank's 30-person IT group would agree with. With between 40 to 100 projects live at any given moment, the team regularly put its juggling skills to the test as it struggled to stay on top of details.

Finding big-league project management tools overkill for a team of its size, the group relied mostly on e-mail and spreadsheets -- and sometimes stand-alone project management software -- to share project progress and information.

But the patchwork system didn't always work: The IT group sometimes missed deadlines, inadvertently had people working on the same initiatives and had difficulty getting an enterprise view of its resource allocation, according to John Evans, senior vice president and director of IT for the $2 billion Chicago-based bank.

It was time for change. A year or so ago, Evans' group began transitioning project management tasks to an enterprise wiki using Traction Software's TeamPage. Today, the wiki is the management hub for all IT projects, everything from software migrations to implementation of a mobile banking initiative.

"The power of the wiki is that the IT department can go to one place to see the entire discussion thread on a project," Evans explains. "Teams are much more informed and much better managed because knowledge sharing is easier and more efficient."

Project status is much easier to capture at a glance with a wiki. Using the software's tagging and reporting capabilities, each piece of communication -- a status report, a feature change, a list of user requirements -- is entered into the wiki and associated with a particular project. In this way, Evans' team can easily view and report on project status. "With just one click, you can see all the activity that's gone on from the beginning until a project closes out," he says.

While that level of detail might be too much for a larger group to absorb, it's perfect for his small team, Evans says. "This kind of tool might be too busy for a larger IT organization, but for a small to midsize IT shop, it's certainly worth taking a look," Evans recommends.

Wikis engage peers

Even the best designed wikis don't work if people won't use them. The best way to get people engaged is to make sure you've clearly articulated the benefits of participating in the wiki environment.

Mindful of that adage, SAP's Software Developer Network (SDN) wiki, a reference and collaboration tool for more than 1 million independent SAP software developers, employs a point system to encourage participation and recognize its most active and valued members.

Under the SAP Contributor Recognition program, members are awarded points for every technical article, code sample, blog post and wiki contribution they make. SDN employees rank wiki posts based on their content and value to the community.

SAP's SDN wiki

SAP's SDN wiki is designed to engage and reward third-party developers.

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Top contributors get recognition among their peers on the SDN Web site, and the points they accumulate can also be traded in for a variety of giveaways, including the top prizes such as free admission to SAP's TechEd developers conference. In addition, SAP makes a donation to the United Nations' World Food Programme's Food for Education initiative.

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