Article Review: Wiki deployment in corporate settings

Arazy, O.; Gellatly, I.; Soobaek Jang; Patterson, R.. “Wiki deployment in corporate settings.” Technology and Society Magazine, IEEE, 28.2 (Summer 2009): 57-64. (requires login)


[The] research question concerns the usefulness of wikis in corporate settings. The answer to this question is not clear. On one hand, business firms are aware of the impact wikis have had on the Internet, and perceive wikis as an up-and-coming technology for supporting collaborative work. On the other hand, the fundamental principles underlying wikis – openness, non-attribution, egalitarianism, and decentralized control – run in contrast to traditional command-and-control management. To date, little information is available regarding wikis’ usage in corporate settings. This paper examines the actual use of wikis in a business setting, to identify factors driving user participation, and to assess the extent to which wikis provide value to both individuals and the organization.

Research question

Are wikis useful in corporate settings?

Research methods

The study researched actual wiki use, using their own research of a single organization (in the form of surveys and interviews) and the research from the results of a study conducted in 2006. One, large corporation was selected to study instead of gathering data from many, smaller entities. Below is an unordered list of the primary data research methods:

  • Corporation selected: IBM
    • Over 350,000 employees in data pool
    • Recently enabled the employees to create their own wiki applications
  • Administered a web survey for 8 weeks to the early adopters of the wiki
    • 919 users completed the survey
    • There were 486 distinct wikis
  • Conducted interviews with IBM’s central management for collaborative information technology (IT)
  • Secondary source data: Survey at a wiki-related conference
    • 186 respondents from ‘corporations’ (of any type) ranging in size between 100 and 10,000 employees


1. Wiki is a flexible technology that can be adapted to various tasks.

The most prevalent of these tasks is team collaboration for content authoring. The wiki features that allow for the ease of use are versioning control, document sharing, and it being a web-based interface without the need to install, manage, and operate “another” application.

To date, the only other “large” wiki project to compare with this research study is Wikipedia. However, whereas Wikipedia (and what can be termed “traditional wikis”) relies on an incredibly large and diverse user population, a corporate wiki supports much smaller, more similar groups.

Of all the “various tasks” that wikis are capable of supporting, the survey results indicate that they are most beneficial as part of a collaborative work process (i.e., not only document usage, but also document creation). From the results of IBM’s IT interviews, the primary collaborative tasks include:

  • Content generation; e.g., a product manual or FAQ
  • Creating knowledge based products
  • Allowing multiple users to contribute from all departments with no functional or geographic boundaries

2. A successful wiki is one with a high adoption rate.

The research study compared Wikipedia’s wiki use with IBM’s (from each one’s initial launch timeframe, 2002 and 2006 respectively). To illustrate that the two wikis are more similar than one would believe, within the relative timeframe, Wikipedia had 94,000 wiki pages whereas IBM had 142,000. The explosive growth of IBM’s wiki is a result of IBM being a highly technical employer—an organizational factor—and employing highly “IT-proficient” employees.

3. Wikis empower employees.

Both of the collected surveys for this study found that wiki users’ motivations “are primarily driven by making work easier and helping the organization achieve its goals…” whereas social reputation (as compared to traditional wikis, was not as important a factor. Clearly, “enjoyment” is the primary motivational driver for wiki participation from the results of this research study.

This level of enjoyment is quantifiable based on a user’s proficiency (or perceived proficiency) with technology and wikis. Therefore, in order for employees to see a personal benefit from wiki use, they must consider themselves proficient in its use. As employees “become more proficient in using wikis, the motivation for wiki adoption—and consequently usage levels—will increase” (p 61).

The impact of empowering employees correlates to the employees’ view that wikis provide value to themselves as well as to the corporation. The level of satisfaction corresponds to the previous proficiency levels, with the more proficient users indicating a higher business value perception.

Key takeaways

To juxtapose a corporation such as IBM with Wikipedia is appropriate, but are the results analogous to other corporate entities. As the results demonstrate, the more proficient a user is with the wiki technology, the higher the adoption rate and perceived satisfaction, impact on job (to the employee), and organizational impact (adding business value).  This speaks to the importance of Learning & Development (L&D) to work with the less proficient users while allowing the early adopters the freedom to grow without organization impediments. The result will be a large, proficient user base and as the study shows, the more proficient the user, the more motivated they are to contribute to the wiki’s success.

The motivation for the wiki’s success being driven by personal enjoyment mirrors the results demonstrated in my previous research article documenting the emotional rewards that motivate bloggers.

The survey and interview results indicated that the most popular wiki uses are as a document repository (operations/administration) and collaborative tool (services). This is important to note for any future corporate wiki initiative. Furthermore, the evidence presented in the study illustrates that an organization of any size that empowers its employee’s wiki use can return quantifiable success rates for the individual employees as well as the organization.

One glaring limitation of the study is the failure to validate the impact that a successfully adopted wiki, along with highly satisfied employees has on the quality of the collaboratively created content.

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Filed under Article Reviews, Collaboration, Social Media, Wiki

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