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Dissertation project submitted to
for the degree of Master of Science in International Business
August 31, 2006
supervisor: Nicolas Rolland
research problem: Show how wikis are a knowledge management tool
keywords: knowledge management, wiki, web 2.0, knowledge management system, project management, product documentation
Web 2.0 refers to a new business model and a new set of technologies and tools. Its characteristics, value and purpose are now being realized, defined and debated. One tool in particular remains enigmatic, the wiki. Stories abound of organizations that have adopted wikis in confusingly diverse ways. It’s not clear exactly what they are for or what benefit they bring. While most knowledge management practitioners know what a wiki is, many are not sure how it can help them. This analysis explores in detail this new set of technologies and in particular, wikis; how they relate to past technologies and how they fit in to the knowledge practitioner’s tool belt.
Knowledge is organized information that is useful to the organization
Both knowledge and knowledge management are difficult to define. The former has baffled philosophers for millennia. Academics in the field of knowledge management typically define knowledge as a derivative of information, which is derived from data. Knowledge is information or data, organized in a way that is useful to the organization.
Knowledge management is managing knowledge like an asset
Academics disagree on what constitutes knowledge management. Several main ideas have been influential. The central idea is that knowledge management efforts work to create, codify and share knowledge that is valuable to the organization. Another idea is that knowledge management shifts the focus from process to practice. It’s using communication and collaboration to improve how people do their practice (their job within an overall process). Overall, knowledge management has meant different things to different academicians. This is because it is a multidisciplinary field that grew out of many different fields of research. Knowledge management is essentially defined by the need to manage knowledge in an organization like an asset. The impetus for managing knowledge in organizations is the realization that the new economy is based on knowledge. Knowledge management practitioner views are less stringent when defining the field. They insist less on the strict definitions and group all related ideas, tools and technologies under the umbrella of knowledge management. Some of the main initiatives pursued by practitioners include: case debriefings, best practice sharing, externalization of tacit knowledge, community of practice, knowledge maps and knowledge process re-engineering.
Knowledge management tool: supports practice rather than process
The definition of a knowledge management tool is equally evasive. There is no standard or even mildly successful “knowledge management system” that provides an all-in-one solution for managing knowledge in an organization. The development of IT for organizations has produced many successful ERP-type systems that manage well-defined processes. But systems to manage ill-defined, knowledge intensive processes have met with less success. Knowledge management practitioners use a wide range of IT tools to create, codify and share knowledge: AI technology, communication and collaboration systems (including groupware), document and content management systems, intranet, search engine, learning systems, knowledge mapping systems. The trend in the development of IT for organizations is toward more communication and collaboration tools.
Web 2.0: web-based, social and freeform
A new group of web-based information management tools has emerged based on freeform social software that enhances individual knowledge work, group communication and collaboration. They differ fundamentally from the old tools in that they are social, web-based and freeform. They’re based on user participation. Services get better the more people there are using them. This is partly because of decentralized authoring, allowing direct input from distributed users. The web, and not desktops are the dominant platform as applications are built to run on the web, not users’ PC’s. Lastly, they are mostly free of structure or form. They are designed with only minimal structure to maximize usability and support all the less structured knowledge intensive processes. Web 2.0 tools include: blogs, wikis, syndication, tags and mash-ups.
The wiki advantage: high ease of use x usefulness = high participation
Wikis are a perfect example of such social, web-based and freeform tools. A wiki is fundamentally a web of interlinked pages where each page typically contains a concept (a name) and a description of that concept (an article). Users are given access to modify the content of articles and create new articles. The most well known example of a wiki is Wikipedia. This encyclopedia has been online since 2001 and grown to over one million articles in English, from user input alone. The quality of information in Wikipedia is similar to that of Encyclopedia Britannica. Ease of use and contribution has led to high participation. The technology acceptance model says: adoption rate = perceived ease of use x user perception of usefulness. Wikipedia is an example of such technology with high perceived ease of use and a high resulting adoption rate.
Wiki = content management system + groupware
Wikis are a knowledge management tool because they combine two tools that are already used for knowledge management. On one hand, they are a content management system. They can be used to manage web pages (articles) as well as other documents as all information in a wiki can be searched and categorized. On the other hand they are a form of groupware, used to enhance communication and collaboration. Wiki pages can be changed by anyone; people can work together to create web documents. The combination of a content management system and a collaboration system into one system is significant and different. This new tool allows for content to be worked on collaboratively and produced at the same time. Put another way, it’s a tool for knowledge creation (collaboration) and a tool for sharing explicit knowledge (content management) rolled up into one.
Corporate use of wikis: varies wildly, spreads like a virus
The ways companies have used wikis reflects this dual being of the wiki. Uses span the gamut from pure content management, to a mix of the two, to pure groupware. Wikis also owe their broad usage to the fact that they are freeform. Wikis tend to enter companies by first being used by one department (like engineering or software development) and then spread virally to other parts of the organization as their value is realized elsewhere. Companies have used wikis for: product documentation, project management, collaborative workspace, group email, a knowledge base, software development support, a corporate yellow pages, idea generation, a corporate intranet and research and development.
Case example: Reynolds and Reynolds’ wiki injection
The Reynolds and Reynolds Company is a $1 billion software company headquartered in Dayton, Ohio. They have customers and employees distributed across the U.S. They currently do not use any wikis to support collaboration among product support groups. Two wiki implementations are proposed for this company: one for creating product installation documentation and the other for project management of software installations.
In thinking through possible implementations of wikis for these processes, it was found that wikis could indeed be used in the ways proposed and fulfill the needs outlined by the company. There were a few problems with the implementations due to limited functionality of the particular wikis chosen. But the functionality lacking either exists already in other wikis or would be only seemingly minor additions to existing versions.
The proposed wiki implementations would not provide a major change in the amount of knowledge shared in the company. But they would nonetheless increase communication and collaboration. It is suggested that wikis be implemented in this way so that they can grow, create more (unforeseen) value and spread to other parts of the organization.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2 FOUNDATIONS OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT
2.1 What is knowledge: philosophy vs. management theory
2.2 Academic view of knowledge management: the main ideas
2.3 Multidisciplinary roots of knowledge management
2.4 Why manage knowledge?
2.5 Practitioner view: it’s all knowledge management
3 WHAT IS A KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT TOOL?
4 THE NEW TOOLS
4.1 Web 2.0
4.1.1 Web 2.0 as a business model
4.1.2 Web 2.0 as a service
4.1.3 Web 2.0 as a technology
4.1.4 Web 2.0 as a tool
4.2 The Wiki in Detail: Culture, Strengths, Weaknesses, Features
18.104.22.168 The Wiki Way
5 THE WIKI AS A KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT TOOL
5.1 Where do wikis fit in?
5.2 Corporate Uses of Wikis
6 CASE EXAMPLE: The Reynolds and Reynolds Company
7 KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT AT REYNOLDS AND REYNOLDS
8 WIKI INJECTION AT REYNOLDS AND REYNOLDS
9 PROPOSAL: wiki for product documentation
9.1 The process for product documentation
9.2 The problem with creating product documentation
9.3 Solution: MediaWiki
10 PROPOSAL: wiki for installation project management
10.1 The process for ERA installation projects
10.2 The problem with ERA installs
10.3 Solution A: Socialtext Enterprise Wiki
10.4 Solution B: Jotspot Wiki Project Manager Application
11 SUMMARY OF THE WIKI PROPOSALS