Wikis that work: Four IT departments get it right

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

When you're one of just two technology managers tasked with supporting a geographically dispersed user base, any kind of self-help technology that takes the burden off IT is welcomed with open arms. That's why Ernest Kayinamura of Enel North America and his lone counterpart have actively embraced wikis as a way to make IT materials more accessible to the end users they support.

And they're not alone. More and more tech departments are turning to wikis as an easily managed, low-overhead, Web 2.0 way to facilitate communication within work groups or across the enterprise.

According to the world's most famous wiki -- Wikipedia -- a wiki is a collection of hyperlinked, collaborative Web pages that can be easily edited by multiple people using a simple markup language. Ward Cunningham, who in 1994 developed what's considered to be the first wiki, WikiWikiWeb , envisioned it as "the simplest online database that could possibly work."

Nearly 15 years later, that concept is gaining ground in a growing number of IT organizations, including four that we profile below -- Enel North America, NYK Group, ShoreBank and SAP.

Enterprise wikis tend to have more structure than public wikis, which can become something of a free-for-all, observers say. Corporate wikis are typically built to support specific organizational or departmental tasks and employ stricter rights-management policies to ensure control over access to corporate intellectual property.

Compared with e-mail on the low end and more complex knowledge management systems on the high end, enterprise wikis offer a simpler, more natural way of sharing information and fostering collaboration on group tasks, proponents say.

Self-help wikis ease IT's burden

Take Enel North America's wiki experiment. What started out in 2005 as a pilot -- specifically, using a wiki as a hub to manage database application development -- has blossomed over the years into a full-blown content management platform that lets Enel's 260 end users help themselves to IT information that was previously delivered by Kayinamura's team either through e-mail or over an intranet.

Using Traction Software's TeamPage enterprise wiki program, the Enel IT group now makes everything from training materials, computer and cell phone usage policies to background articles and software documentation available to end users via its wiki.

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