Gartner Blog Network

How do you know that you need a wiki?

by Mark P. McDonald  |  November 1, 2010  |  9 Comments

There’s a lot of talk and experimentation regarding social media tools in enterprises.  The other day was talking to an IT leader who shared the following story.

He was in a meeting and the discussion made him keenly aware of the need for a wiki.

“We were coordinating an event that included a large number of side meetings.  The discussion turned to the need for us to get a single list of all of these side meetings their location description etc.  This led to a discussion of the process of how we would solicit the meetings from people and the put the information together into a single list that would be emailed out to everyone.

The result was a simple process, send everything to Betty and she will put together the list, send it to Barney who will review it then send it out in and email.  To make all of these information flows happen required the sub meeting organizers to get their information in over a weekend so it could be assembled, reviewed and processed.

As he listened to the call. He wanted to break in and say, the process is too complex for such a simple thing and we were taking a path based on what people wanted to do rather than what others needed to know.

He wanted to say, this is a great problem for a wiki, so why don’t we just create one.  Why don’t we make the process as simple as asking the meeting organizers to post their meeting description on the wiki so everyone can see it.  Also people can update it as things change rather than requiring people to go through a central control point.

But he did not, because he knew that others would say that it was too complicated.  You see, he explained, a wiki or any other collaboration tool for that matter are not integrated into the mainstream of our workflow.  They require a separate sign-on that takes you to a list of wiki’s rather than the one wiki you want, the one with the information you need.  You see at this company, a wiki is viewed as just another knowledge management tool.

It seemed to him that issues related to aggregating information from multiple people to publish to multiple people are ideal for a wiki.  The wiki simplifies the process, have the people with the knowledge put it in a place where everyone can get at it.  Different views into the wiki would allow people to see the list without requiring someone to compile the information and reformat it.  It can be updated so there was history as well as the most recent version available at all times.

It seems to him that much of the work we do that involves one person assembling information from multiple people to publish to other people.  Project status, issue resolutions, meeting logistics, plans, problems all seem that they can be shared via a wiki.”

Now you can say, about time, as wiki’s have been around for a long time.  That is true, but many wiki implementations are more often standalone solutions, things you have to log into outside of your normal workflow.

Too many people think of a wiki as another knowledge management tool.  Knowledge management tools are something separate from your day to day workflow.  That attitude will need to change along with the technology that integrates wiki technology into the workflow in order to have people say ‘put it up on the wiki’ rather than inventing an ad hoc process that takes time, resources and puts bottlenecks in the flow of information.

Additional Resources

View Free, Relevant Gartner Research

Gartner's research helps you cut through the complexity and deliver the knowledge you need to make the right decisions quickly, and with confidence.

Read Free Gartner Research

Category: personal-observation  technology  web-20  

Tags: personal-observation  social-computing  tools  web-20  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.

Thoughts on How do you know that you need a wiki?

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark P. McDonald, David Whelan. David Whelan said: Wikis need to be part of the workflow, or groups will resort to traditional bottlenecks rather than many-to-many collab […]

  2. ChrisCro says:

    I attempted to implement one at my company (at least for my department). Had about 3 active users out of 10… and I think that number would have grown until the VP IS discovered it via someone commenting that it worked much better than sharepoint. Boom – one dead wiki was the result. I took all my data and converted it to a private wiki.

    I would highly recommend PBwiki (now pbworks) as a good, reliable wiki tool.

    Frankly, until some of the dinosaurs die, we’ll never be rid of that old skool mentality that prevents us from using new tools to accomplish simple tasks.

  3. S Sahoo says:

    SAP’s Streamwork (htps:// can be a great tool – alternative to a general purpose Wiki ( why it is perceived as a KM tool) It can be integrated to a workflow of any organization process as well as provide business tools necessary for day to day biz ops.

    In a side thought – I am wondering how it ties up with Contextual Computing Approach.

  4. Bill Love says:

    It’s unfortunate, Chris, that some IS/IT folks still struggle when it comes to managing enterprise operations and information with tools other than wikis. I’ve created or co-authored two wikis in our company in the past several years that now contain several thousand pages and have hundreds of users. And, by the way, one is copied from the MediaWiki model, and the other is a SharePoint wiki. But if handled correctly, the concept works with any good wiki tool.

    I contend that you can consolidate, simplify and share ‘data to information to knowledge’ through one source. However, users need to understand the concept, have the ability to navigate (which is extremely simple), and have the cooperation of all personnel.

    The efficiencies gained are enormous: single point of access to any and all information in your entire company, central/virtual repository, high availability, speed of navigation, elimination of search time waste, confusion, and frustrations, interactive file linking within and to outside sources, and the list goes on.

    Here is a small cross-section example of what can be done: acronyms and terms defined, with single point-and-click links to any related subject matter; key words linked to existing command media in other repositories; one or two-level consolidation of any discipline’s operating procedures, including finance and accounting to program management, for example, or business development to marketing, engineering to manufacturing or drafting, or any to any, for that matter, all in the same pot, without several levels of hierarchical navigation and duplication. And you can include tables, illustrations, photos.

    The sky is the limit here. It just takes a little creative capacity. With the skyrocketing geometric rate of increase in data and information, sometimes simpler is better. Why not connect web sites, share folders, hidden repositories and who knows what else into one central place that can be accessed with one word? We still have a long way to go, but we’re finally getting more and more people on the bandwagon.

  5. […] McDonald asks How do you know that you need a wiki?.  But then he talks about a lot more than that.  It’s not just the tool you might need.  […]

  6. James McDonald says:

    Nice article. A VP came to me recently and said, “Look at this Wiki! What can we use it for? Collecting tribal knowledge?” That’s what got me digging and discovering the field of Knowledge Management, because I realized he thought process was putting the cart before the horse. We needed to discover the needs first and then worry about the tools second. A Wiki might just be what we’re looking for, if we can make it simple and integrated into the work flow as Mark McDonald describes. I just need to further define the need first.

    (BTW, nice last name, Mark, but no relation as far as I know.)

  7. sue says:

    Hi Mark. Great article but… even with the Wiki, in your scenario, someone needs to collate results, yes? That would be your KM function 🙂

  8. […] Gartner’s Mark McDonald: Too many people think of a wiki as another knowledge management tool. Knowledge management tools […]

  9. I did bookkeeping going through college at a supermarket for an
    hourly rate I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole now, but what do people charge outside of hourly retail? A personal trainer wants me to help streamline her bookkeeping, unsure yet if it’s a one time or continuous thing.
    Any ideas would be appreciated..

Comments are closed

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.