Shortcomings of Enterprise Wiki Deployments

A recent article in ComputerWorld discusses observations made by a Denmark-based analyst regarding wikis in the enterprise.  The analyst points out that wiki technology alone won't deliver if the organization cannot overcome obstacles in its own culture as well as the lack of true content management in a wiki.

One issue is the hype surrounding wikis or the blind faith with which they are approached, said Jespersen. "People often look to Wikipedia as a free form where everyone is contributing, and why could we not do the same with our organization?," she said, having observed wikis entering the scene to compensate for an intranet that has fallen to the wayside. But, she said, technology alone won't resolve that issue.

Jespersen lists three myths surrounding wiki implementation that might make some organizations rethink the expectations they've built around their platform.

The three myths given about wikis in the enterprise are:

  1. Myth One: Wikis will motivate employees to contribute content.
  2. Myth Two: Employees know how to contribute.
  3. Myth Three: Wikis will always provide the information employees need.

Myth three is of special interest to me. The analyst points out that although search is a selling point for wikis...the search capability found in wikis are often not as good as those found in content management systems.  She goes on to explain that given there is little structure built into wikis, "it is difficult to
structure this information to make it findable the next day even."

Make no mistake, Wikis provide an organization with a fantastic tool for employee's in an organization to learn how to collaborate.  I believe organizations often underestimate the paradigm shift needed in their own culture for their employees to properly contribute to a centralized knowledge base.  Wikis and other social publishing tools have proven to be a valuable tool for the collaboration component needed in information systems.  However, eventually wikis fall short of what a more well rounded content management system can provide an organization.

If wikis fall short in the goals for an organization's information system, why don't organizations skip the wiki and instead implement a content management system?  I think the issue often is because the structure needed in content management systems often requires more resources and expertise to build than a wiki requires.  Building a great content management system is not an easy process as Deane Barker of Gadgetopia/Blend Interactive discusses in his post on the subject of structure in a CMS.

Large organizations are often used to huge enterprise solutions with turn key implementations.  However, if organizations historically do not have a history in good content management as well as collaboration, I have personal doubts software alone can meet requirements.  I'd rather see a company not take a large leap into content management systems and instead take the baby steps needed to learn more about what is needed to support content management. That's why even with the shortcomings of the wiki I often tout it not as a perfect solution for companies but the right solution.

Plus, for managers that are wavering in their commitment to 21st century information systems...utilizing the wiki is a cheap first step.  If the wiki fails, the organization can recover quickly.  I'm not so sure the same can be true for content management and document management.  However, if the wiki succeeds I believe most organizations can take the learning experience of implementing the wiki to better understand what they really need from a content management and document management system.