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Brown, Keill & Trumper Wikis and Knowledge Management


Wiki Technology and its Role in Knowledge Management

Ext 507 Assignment 3

November 19, 2010

Pamela Brown

Catherine Keill

Carolyn Trumper

University of Alberta (MACT)


Brown, Keill & Trumper Wikis and Knowledge Management


Wikis are a Web 2.0 technology that
can be accessed on the web asyncronously at
a time convenient to individual team members without the boundaries of geography,

or time (
Luoma & Okkonen, 2009; Meenan, King, Toland, Daly, & Nagy, 2010;
Yates, Wagner, & Majchrzak, 2010).

Wikis had a hu
mble beginning i
n 1995


Cunningham, a computer programmer, decided to create the most basic database that he
could for sharing
data among programmers that would allow them quick access to shared
information when they needed it. He created a collab
oration software and named it wiki
(“quick”) after airport shuttles in Honolulu called Wiki Wiki buses (Dalkir,

According to Dalkir (2005), there are two types of wikis that exist today: public
wikis and corporate wikis. The most

known public w
iki would likely be Wikipedia
which was created to share encyclopedic
type knowledge with Internet users, and is
managed, updated and policed by thousands of users around the world in an effort to
maintain integrity.

Corporate use of wikis is on the rise

awareness grows about

the use of wiki
technology for internal communication and knowledge gathering systems. This
technology allows organization members to use wikis to “share, reuse, adapt, mobilize,
and aggregate their knowledge
” (Yates, et. al., 201
0, p. 543).

Rego (2005)

states that
organizations that can effectively transfer and manage knowledge are well poised to
thrive in a complex world
(p. 15). Organizations themselves exist as collective groupings
of people as together they achieve more than t
hey could individually (p. 15).

This concept
translates directly into the idea of managing both tacit and explicit knowledge

in other
words, documents, data, meaning and information in isolation are less powerful than the
carefully managed sum of their p

The ability of an organization to capture both
explicit and tacit knowledge is the ability to tap into its true intellectual capital and the
opportunity to grow operationally. Wikis are seen as a unique tool for such an objective
as there is the pote
ntial for this tool to become a rese
voir of explicit and tacit knowledge,
as it enables and encourages continuous collaboration amongst users.

Defining K

Knowledge management is the effort to systematically organize and share (
2007, p. 300
) data, which are “discrete and objective facts
” (Davenport & Prusak, 2008),
information, such as documentation and emails, and knowledge, the interpreted element
influenced by human and social factors. It is any process, project or practice un
by an organization to attempt to acquire, capture, codify, share and utilize knowledge
(Kosonen & Kianto, 2009, p. 24).

There are two predominant forms of knowledge

explicit and tacit knowledge.
Luoma & Okkonen (2009) define explicit knowledge
as “objective and impersonal” (p.
330). It is codified, written or formal knowledge that can be passed among the
organization members through such means as documentation (Daft, 2007, p. 301). In

other words, it is the hard copy of interpreted data and info
rmation that can be captured
and translated formally and without the need to involve people to transfer it. On the other
hand, tacit knowledge is personal and expressive and “people are strongly involved in
Brown, Keill & Trumper Wikis and Knowledge Management


transferring it”
(Luoma & Okkonen, 2009, p. 329).

Tacit knowledge contains “cognitive
elements, life beliefs and perspective, but also technical elements, like know
how and
expertise” (p. 330
), and is not easily captured by a traditional database or in written form.

Organizational knowledge management i
s not simply a technical process, but
rather an outcome of business objective and strategy, as well as values, mandate and
available technology
(Coakes, 2003, n.p). “The purpose of knowledge management is to
create, capture, organize, access and use the in
tellectual assets of the organization”
(Coakes, 2003, n.p.). Allee (1997) states that it is a fact that knowledge is carving itself
out as the “essential business asset” (p. 1) that is the new power force for workers and
management alike. Yet knowledge is
also “perishable” (p. 1) which requires a new
perspective on methods to manage it

such as collaboration over hoarding, sharing over
storing. Both explicit and tacit knowledge must be shared constantly (Allee, 1997, p. 1

Wikis and

Organizations can create and capture knowledge through the use of a wiki. Wikis
are a many
many communication channel that is conversational and collaborative in
nature and allows groups to create knowledge together (Luoma & Okkonen, 2009;
Wagner, 2004
). Yates, et. al. (2010) states that wikis “are tools for open knowledge
collaboration...within organizations, wikis are increasingly being used by virtual
communities of practice” (p. 543). Payne (2008) states that wikis as a social media
collaborative to
ol were not initially recognized in the business world as a valuable
business tool. However, organizations are slowly beginning to see the value of these tools
for knowledge management and are beginning to employ the power of the technology in
new ways. Wi
kis are now used in corporate settings for a variety of purposes (Arazy,
Gellatly, Jang, & Patterson, 2009, p. 58 ). It provides a means for shared knowledge
creation. For example, IBM first adopted the use of wiki technology as a means of
allowing its emp
loyees to collaboratively write and edit blogging policies (IBM, 2010,

Fitch (2007) states that, in reference to explicit organizational knowledge, wikis
are “an ideal location” (p. 82) to house such things as policies, procedures, history and

While providing for a central repository, wikis also permit the organization to
fluidly alter and update such documents on an ongoing basis. From the perspective of
tacit knowledge management, wikis offer a flexible, adaptable alternative to capture
izational memory gained from the minds and experience of its employees. Explicit
knowledge and the ability and understanding of how to navigate the business’ terrain
“can be instantly captured, and now contextualized within the experience base of those

have gone on before” (Fitch, 2007, p. 82).

Wikis act as a central repository for historical data, documents, and other explicit
knowledge. It offers the capacity to manage projects across geographic and functional
boundaries (Arazy, et. al., 2009, p. 58)
, file sharing,

and supporting communities of

defined as “a collective of voluntary knowledge contributors”
(Yates, et. al.,
2009, p. 543). Wikis are open to the use by all organizational members,

providing a
Brown, Keill & Trumper Wikis and Knowledge Management


means for multiple voices to be hear
d in a democratic
manner (Arazy et al, 2009, p. 60).
According to Rego (2005) as a simple, easy to use technology, wikis are in fact
knowledge enablers, as “at its core, (they are) designed to enhance internal connectivity”,
reduce time, increase efficienc
ies and leverage expertise (p. 15).

According to Payne (2008), the aim of effective knowledge management is not only for
the organization to gain from the collective knowledge its employees represent, but to
also enable everyone to gain from everyone else
(p. 5). To do so, however, requires
collaboration, and a tool that easily encourages such. The implication for organizational
leadership is to not only supply a technology that actively engages people in collaborative
work, but to build a culture in which
a willingness to “share and create knowledge” (p. 5)
is valued. “Organizations, therefore, need to invest in creating conditions that will
encourage collaboration” (Payne, 2008, p. 6).

Wikis are conversational and collaborative in nature
(Luoma & Okkonen,

2009, p.
329), a tool that “enables and even necessitates” (p. 334) genuine collaboration, and is in
that sense an excellent tool for the transfer of tacit knowledge in the workplace. The
deployment of a wiki within an organization is dependent on a colla
borative culture and
leadership philosophy, and on a basic structure that is not too binding so as not to leave
employees facing an empty well. “The final structure does not have to be decided
beforehand” (p. 333) as the users will change it to ada
pt to wo
rk flow, process, and
outcomes. This is an important point for incorporation of wikis into traditionally designed
organizations that may need to adjust and adopt newer corporate policies to open the
culture up to accommodate the new technology successfully

An excellent example of the successful use of wikis in an corporate organizational
environment, thought by many to be more traditional and hierarchical in its corporate
design, is outlined by Meenan, et. al., (2010). They discuss how a wiki is being
orporated as a knowledge management system in a healthcare environment. The wiki
was created as a collaborative tool to collect tacit and explicit knowledge from team
members. It provide asynchronous access 24/7 to team members as a centralized
knowledge r
epository and project management system for up
date information
technology knowledge and system support.

As well, Payne (2008) revie
ws wikis in use at Improvement
Org and Consult
Org successfully used a Wiki to develop a 12 chapter on

book in
real time, using the wiki as a “collaborative authoring tool” (
Payne, 2008. P. 8). Consult
Co uses wikis as a project management tool for staff and clients. Wikis are used daily as a
project space and saves the company time. Clients are able

to collaborate throughout the
project and the wiki version control allows for an “audit trail of decision
making and
client sign off” (Payne, 2008. p. 9). The wiki’s rules or standards are “owned and applied
by the users” (Payne, 2008. p. 9) working colla
boratively on the wiki. Version control
and editing is always available and authorship of edits and new work is visible to all. This
transparency of who is contributing what may contribute to the quality of the products
and creativity in the wiki spaces. B
oth Payne (2008) and Mennan, et. al. (2010
acknowledge the strategic advantage for organizations that use wikis in capturing tacit
and explicit knowledge. As companies become increasingly reliant on knowledge
Brown, Keill & Trumper Wikis and Knowledge Management


workers for innovation and creativity wikis ca
n retain and capture this knowledge even as
teams and individual members in an organization change or leave the company.

Advantages of

There are several clear advantages to wiki use outlined so far; however, in addition to
those noted
there are a few other key elements that are advantage
ous to corporations
using wikis.

First, v
ersion control is built in to wikis so that any changes are not lost and
original content is not deleted (
Luoma & Okkonen, 2009). This aspect of the technology
s seen as a key advantage of the technology. Secondly, wikis are not an anonymous tool.
Review provides a history of prior changes with author, date and related information that
would preclude anonymity in an organization. All users can modify and edit any

user’s web page (Kosonen & Kianto, 2009; Payne, 2008; Wagner, 2004). Lack of
anonymity can contribute to personal and group accountability in the wiki and in the
organization. The directory function contributes to teamwork as all users can look at
irectory as a contributor and connect the knowledge and create additional context
(Wagner, 2004, p. 274).

As an additional advantage
, Dalkir (2005
identifies the ability for managers to be
able to see progress being made or challenges being faced by team
s without interjecting
but at a minimum being aware (p. 232). Moreover, Dalkir (2005) highlights some
technical points of advantage for private wiki software being set up behind a corporate
firewall as being the ability to delegate security levels, rollbac
ks to older versions should
corruption to data happen, and ability to notify users when new information is
incorporated allowing, perhaps, for speedier response times within the team (p. 232).

In addition, wikis are a familiar technology to most. Going b
ack to the earlier
mentioned Wikipedia, the rise of the popularity of the site, as an example, is a
demonstration that Internet users “are using these tools outside work, in their own time,
because they want to”
(Payne, 2008, p. 6).

Disadvantages of

It is clear that not one technology can solve all knowledge management issues in
an organization and neither will one technology be flawless in its use, regardless of the
success. The literature noted a number of issues for organizations to be
aware of when
using wikis

as a knowledge management tool.

First, p
eople in organizations may still be uncomfortable with information
technology tools. The wiki system needs to be easy to use and require minimal technical
expertise for team members to use.

(Payne, 2008; Wagner, 2004
. Secondly is the issue of
relevance, or k
eeping the information

enclosed in the wiki

date. Content needs to
be current and relevant or the wiki does not get used.

Third, s
ocial software is only
successful in organizations

whose culture supports collaboration and flatter structures.
Brown, Keill & Trumper Wikis and Knowledge Management


For example,
Payne (2008
) describes the use of a wiki at Improvement
Org, which
not contributed to by the senior professionals. Hierarchy in an organization may prevent
senior professionals
from contributing to a wiki. Use of Wikis as the transmission
channel needs the right kind of organizational culture of openness and tolerance.

Fourth, i
n today’s organizations of large geographical distances and challenges of
time and space the contribut
or of information frequently doesn’t know the receivers
(Luoma & Okkonen, 2009 ). As Watson & Harper (2008)


“Conversational technologies such as wikis need people to share their knowledge,
invite critique, present multiple points of view and seek t
o change other’s ideas.
Organizations that do not value such open
minded and non
hierarchal exchange of
ideas may not find conversational technologies useful”

This may be a tricky balance for relationship management within corporations beginning
o adopt wiki technology across distances with unfamiliar team members.

Finally, f
or corporate wikis that exist in online environments, there may be a
sense of security. However, there is always the element of breach.
Dalkir (2005)

that wikis sometim
es suffer vandalization and misinformation can spread. Though the
issue of “flaming” is more prevalent in public wiki spaces, it is also possible on corporate
sites and should be kept in mind when the corporate community is

its own

tions for I
mprovements to the

Anecdotal stories encountered while researching and discussing the technology
indicate that there is some frustration with the technology as it relates to maintaining
formatting integrity in a document as it moves on and off the wiki

for example, in
ting this paper, the authors used “Wikispaces” and realized throughout the process
that editing and formatting in Word and then moving the document to a wiki page
disabled the formatting. This resulted in re
editing and formatting on more then one
n. If an improvement can be made on that element of the technology, it would be
helpful for document authors collaborating on a submission.


In summary, corporate wikis are web
based, asynchronous, co
information forums, which are

available anytime, anywhere as long as there is an Internet
connection. Wikis are, for the average user, technologically undemanding and can create
conversational knowledge very quickly, allowing for rapid organizational change, aiding
in creating widespr
ead corporate memory supported by open organizational culture.

Knowledge is not finite, nor isolated, nor without influence. It is messy and self
organizing; it seeks to be and to be a part of a community
(Allee, 1997, p. 1). It thrives
within loose and
flexible structures that are adaptable to changing needs. It is inherently
social and in that sense belongs to no one person or thing in particular (p. 2).

There is no
Brown, Keill & Trumper Wikis and Knowledge Management


one simple, clear, defined solution to managing knowledge, yet it is a priority for
nizations to be able to thrive and grow. Wikis offer one flexible, fluid alternative for
organizational knowledge management.

Recognizing the limitations of the technology as a single
source solution, creating
a proper environment for sharing and critical

discussion, and ensuring that a well
rounded knowledge management system is in place for an organization will help with the
incorporation of wiki technology and it can be a powerful tool with the proper support
elements in place.

Brown, Keill & Trumper Wikis and Knowledge Management



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