As a consultant within a major software vendor and a seasoned user of consumer facing web 2.0 tools, I am constantly asked by companies as to why they should implement blogging, tagging or wiki platforms. Given the loud buzz around these technologies it is common to overhear IT managers and executives at various technology conferences inquiring with each other as to what their “enterprise 2.0 projects / play / strategies” are in an effort to grasp this nebulous space, where hard ROI is very elusive. Due to this it is easy to loose sight of why these technologies might make sense in the portfolio of solutions that IT can provide to the businesses that they support. In the midst of all of this commotion it is essential to remember to step back and see if these technologies even make sense for the business initiatives that we are supporting.
It is time to revisit business analysis basics and be careful to make sure we have not started focusing entirely too much about the perceived need for these tools, opposed to a specific need. These tools are powerful and attractive, but we really need to understand if and how these technologies should be leveraged – pinpointing where they can alleviate business pains. In the work that I have done with a range of enterprise software deployments there is a consistent trend demonstrating successful implementations result when done to address a specific need, tools that were put into place because the technology was in vogue failed. Web 2.0 technologies in the enterprise fit the same bill. Do not look to implement them because eWeek magazine or another publication has labeled it as the thing that other IT executives will implement this year.
I hope to clear the air in this post by outlining the virtues of each tool (specifically tagging, blogging and wikiing) and through a series of questions add clarity to where they would make business sense and allow the virtues to be realized.
Social tagging technology excels at handling large amounts of unstructured data that is not served by traditional knowledge management systems (i.e. folders upon folders buried in a large, somewhat static hierarchy). Given this power it needs to be considered as part of an overall knowledge management strategy for information workers, but it also needs to specifically address some pain or a specific need of the business.
As information volumes continue to rapidly expand in the enterprise it is very difficult to organize and catalog assets, even with the support of full-time librarians. Additionally, in a world of M&A and constantly shifting organizational structures, it can be all the more important in helping people to reign in and make sense of this data. It is not uncommon for users to spend an extra fifteen minutes searching for an article within traditional search engines when they could not explicitly state their query to return satisfactory results. By contrast, tagging technologies have allowed them to see what other, related categories materials might fall into, speeding their searches drastically. Here are some questions that may help your organization determine if tagging would support the business by meeting specific business needs.
- Is your company currently experiencing quantifiable issues finding documents or other digital assets within your network? Is it a big enough of an issue to act on?
- Is a technology like social tagging something that your organization’s culture would embrace? Is the user base directly asking for it? It is important to keep in mind that tagging will only benefit end users if they are willing to contribute to the tagging of document. As enterprise tagging matures it is likely that it will gain acceptance in much the same way instant messaging has within the enterprise.
- Is there any research or knowledge intensive work at your organization that tagging may accelerate through more effective discovery of information?
- Are there opportunities to use this technology to help external customers more easily do business with your company?
- Would it be possible to designate someone to own and manage the platform from a business standpoint at a department or enterprise level?
Blogs are great tools to rapidly publish and share expertise within an organization. Unlike email, a blog posting persists and is generally visible to a large audience which is able to engage the author in a dialog with comments or questions for everyone to see. Unlike a discussion forum, a blog posting provides detailed information around a particular topic, rather than a brief comment or question. A blog is also generally associated with a single person, allowing them to gain recognition in their organization or respective field. In your organization it might be a software developer, operations specialist or researcher that is able to provide a significant amount of value with this tool.
It may sound strange, the key to enterprise blogging is not about creating blog entries to be consumed by the entire enterprise, but about providing a single, unified platform that specific business participants can use to write posts for discrete audiences. Blogging within departments or to specific niches where the information is most relevant is the most valuable use of the technology. One of my prior postings (Niche Cooking for Portal Success) details a philosophy aligned with this approach which will work equally well for blogging. The following questions will help you to identify if it makes for your organization to deploy this technology.
- Do you have experts in your organization that have pointers that others would benefit from in a measurable way?
- How often would there be something that someone would blog about that people across the enterprise could really benefit from? Our foremost needs revolve around what it takes to get our work done, so any blogging that takes place in an organization has to help meet this need. With rare exception anything else is not providing value that can justify putting a platform into place and taking the time to manage it.
- Would connecting with customers, partners or external constituents add value for your business? Would it be worthwhile enough for the investment?
- Would people be allowed to have time to contribute to their blogs during work hours?
- Would your organizational culture be tolerant of people posting with limited supervision?
Due to the allure of ubiquitous knowledge capture and propagation, a wiki deployment requires an extra amount of careful thought as to why and how it will be deployed to the enterprise. Given the potential, as demonstrated publicly by Wikipedia, many companies entertain having a wiki tool whose content expands into all sections of their business. This risk is that this generic, organization wide deployment, would most likely bring little business value to the enterprise and leave people wondering why they ever made an investment into the technology.
Similar to blogging technology, Wikis are going to be most effective when deployed for a very specific reason. A deployment could occur within a department, across departments or even with areas outside of or around the company, but should always tie back to a specific need that the tool is supporting. Wikis do an excellent job of helping knowledge workers collaborate on projects or support a function or process, by capturing tacit knowledge, sharing “facts”, presenting methods and or publishing best practices. Instead of being done by a single user, a Wiki allows a team to work together – enhancing and updating areas to evolve with the business. There is no better “living document” than a Wiki. Take a moment to think about the following questions to see if a Wiki might make sense for your business.
- Does your business have undocumented processes or knowledge that could help a specific department or function perform more effectively if captured in a Wiki format?
- Is there a simple place where new employees could go to learn during an on-boarding process? As policies, procedures or reporting structures and processes change within an organization a Wiki does an excellent job of making sure people can get up to speed.
- Does an identifiable bottleneck exist with some members of your organization that could be alleviated if they were able to share their knowledge collectively with other employees?
- Given the categorization that a Wiki imposes would it make existing knowledge more accessible if placed into the a unified format that a group could manage and edit? Since a Wiki can be an authoritative place for a collection of related materials it requires far less maintenance than a series of disparate files to maintain, enhance and manage.
- Would people be allowed to have time to contribute to the Wiki during work hours?
- Would your organizational culture be tolerant of people posting with limited supervision?
There is not doubt that a range of social computing technologies in the enterprise can assist businesses to run more effectively. However, we want to make sure that we do not implement technology in search of a problem. The challenge is connecting them with the business in the right way. Do not find a use for tagging, blogging, wikiing. Find the business need or pain point – then examine what technologies best support meeting that need or eliminating the pain point. Hopefully some of the above questions can help your organization to focus, clarify and be successful with where and how these emerging technologies can benefit your company.