February 2005 Archives

In technology companies you have an interesting group of people. You have many people that can take care of their own technical needs without assistance (or interference as they might call it) from a central IT organization. When you work in a non-technical company, say a bank, there are only a few technical folks and everyone goes and bows down before the technology gods with their requests. In those environments a few technical folks can create a monolithic organization to take care of all the IT needs of a company and there can be much peace and harmony.

At technology companies such as where I work (America Online (at least old school AOL)), Google, Yahoo, and others you can never seem to achieve that monolithic organization of technology. It just cannot happen because you have people spread out in all organizations that are perfectly capable of taking care of their own technology needs. Not only can they, they will. They will build their own websites for their products and specialty knowledge. They will socialize those websites to the peers that they perceive have a direct need of that knowledge. They will place good information that many people, other than their peers, could use to create business advantage.

They will create a walled garden of their information for only a few to pick the fruit of. The walled garden is created not for security measures; it is walled off simply because the knowledge is hidden to only a small group of peers. Once a technology company grows beyond a size where everyone can interact with everyone else on a daily basis, the knowledge management of that company becomes (or at least should become) someone�s job. Information residing just within a group of peers could be limited in the business value that it has. That information once free however, could enable another part of the business in new and potentially profitable ways.

If Google has taught us anything it is that information wants to be free. Just because a person thinks there is a small interest group for their information or knowledge, they can't fathom how many other folks would love to get their hands on that information, hopefully for lawful and good purposes and not the purposes of evil. The nefarious uses of information can often be a focus and prevent some freeing of information; but I don�t want to discuss that today. Hopefully organizations can address the evil factor with their own internal security policies and procedures, even if they don�t have control of the information distribution points.

So what can a central IT organization in a technology company do to help free information? First they can give up trying to achieve monolithic IT org status that works so well at banks, K-12 schools, pharmaceutical and other non-technology businesses. Secondly they can instead try and work with all the disparate technical folks in a non-intrusive way. If nothing else perhaps the IT org can centralize links to the various information sites while leaving the actual hosting de-centralized for the individuals to keep up to date.

But how can IT do such a thing? Well, an interesting combination is an Enterprise Google Search Appliance and the very simple Wiki Webs. With a Google Appliance an organization can often take the first step of at least indexing the information available to anyone on the internal networks. Depending on the size of an organization the amount of information can be surprising. The content can sometimes be even more surprising and should probably be monitored as the organization learns the capabilities of the tool.

The second ingredient to this recipe of freeing information can be in the form of a Wiki Web. Perhaps safer from the standpoint of it only having information that should be exposed to a large internal audience, it does require work. It also requires a bit of planning that many overlook. A framework should be established and then the most important step must occur: communication to all employees (not just IT) outlining the goals of the Wiki and encouragement to help the new Wiki grow. Increasing submissions to the Wiki can be done through contests and other incentives. Allowing employees to edit the Wiki and be empowered is vital to the success of unlocking the walled gardens for all to visit. Allowing employees to edit the Wiki even if simply linking to their existing sources of information is just as important as having employees write full new Wiki articiles.

Hopefully if both steps are successful then some of the walls around some of the gardens in an organization can be torn down. If there is someone in charge of Knowledge Management at your technology organization I encourage you to tell them:

�Mr. Knowledge Management Director, if you seek real knowledge management, real business value from information, then come to this Wiki Web. Mr. KM Director, open the gates of information! Mr. KM Director, tear down this wall!�