One of the questions I get a lot is "What do you use a wiki for?" It's a fundamental question, but I've been frustrated for a while at how long-winded and imprecise the answers are that people give to it. So my Socialtext colleagues and I spent some serious time around the whiteboard talking about patterns we're seeing--not sociological or usability patterns, but patterns of business value being generated using wikis and other forms of social software. We distilled them into 4 core solution areas. I posted a page on them in Socialtext Customer Exchange, but I think it's worth re-posting here. If you'd like to read more, Ross Mayfield talks about the 4 solution areas in a recent interview with CIO Magazine.
Based on our experience with hundreds of customers, we have identified four core solution patterns that we see across customers. They're not the only ways to use a wiki, but they pop up in almost every enterprise deployment we do, regardless of industry. They are excellent examples of ways that wikis can help companies solve urgent, high-impact business needs. They provide a good starting point for any manager thinking about the business value of better collaboration. They're also a good way for internal champions of wikis and Enterprise 2.0 to engage colleagues in business benefits and potential opportunities.
Collaboration across a distributed sales force is extremely important. Sales reps needs current versions of critical materials (e.g., marketing materials, the latest product specs) from Marketing and Product Development. Out in the field, reps are constantly gathering critical information about customers, competitors, and channel partners which needs to be bubble up to the center to inform product design and messaging. Moreover, sales reps are always reaching out to each other to ask questions, post observations, and pick up on the latest "buzz" from around the network.
Traditional collaboration across sales networks is rife with inefficiency and missed business opportunity. Most reps do not have a single place to go where they can reliably find the most recent product and marketing materials. Valuable competitive data gathered in the field is either not captured or bottled up in highly structured call reports. Conversations across reps are lost in the river of email.
A Collaborative Intelligence wiki can solve these problems. By creating a "one-stop shop" for the sales network, managers can greatly improve both the dissemination of critical information to the field, and the organized capture of critical information from the front lines. Collaborative Intelligence wikis typically include the latest marketing and product information updated frequently by Marketing and Product Groups, and robust discussion threads for reps to post questions and report observations from the field.
Timely access to the relevant up-to-date knowledge is critical in many areas, but especially to call centers, where success is literally measured in seconds. Call center agents need to quickly put their hands on the precise knowledge required to solve a customer's problem. This is especially challenging when the calls in question deal with exceptions, and agents can't simply rely on the standard "script". Precious minutes drain away as agents try to figure out who has experience with these exceptional questions or try to solve them for the first time.
Call center managers are finding their traditional knowledge management systems increasingly poorly equipped to handle exceptions. Rigid information taxonomies, complex templates, and elaborate approval processes delay by as long as 6 weeks the process of getting knowledge from an agent's head to the system. And in many cases, agents are so frustrated by their systems that they do not contribute at all.
A wiki-based Participatory Knowledgebase can solve this problem. By making it really quick and easy (and fun!) for agents to post questions, comments, tips, and tricks, the wiki dramatically accelerates the rate at which new knowledge is posted and disseminated. In such customers as Dell and Symantec, for example, we have seen knowledgebases grow to thousands of pages in relatively short periods of time. The result is not just a valuable knowledge asset, but a noticeable reduction in average call time.
Flexible Client Collaboration
In many industries, and especially professional services, seamless collaboration with clients is critical. Attorneys, consultants, accountants, bankers, and other advisers need to be in constant contact with their clients. They iterate frequently on documentation with multiple versions which need to be managed and vetted. They are constantly answering questions, discussing approach, giving and receiving feedback. All of this needs to be done on tight time-frames with busy professionals who spend a lot of time on the road and in airports.
Most client collaboration today happens through email. Documents are emailed back and forth with titles like "Draft of 2/1", "Draft_Jane_Edits". Comments are posted in reply to all emails which become harder to follow with each new reply. In the middle of it all is the busy partner, drowning in hundreds of emails a day from multiple projects.
Wiki-based client collaboration is different. By setting up private wiki workspaces, shared directly with their clients, professional services teams have a single, easy-to-manage place where they can put all the materials related to a project or client: letters of proposal, powerpoint documents, legal filings, product designs, to-do lists, meeting notes, etc. Because clients have access to the shared collaboration wiki, they can easily access the latest version of materials, and offer comments, questions, and feedback right in the wiki. The result is a satisfied client who can always find the latest materials and feels truly integrated with project team.
Business Social Networks
In today's dynamic business environment, few companies can "go it alone." Leading companies recognize the importance of surrounding themselves with an ecosystem of customers, suppliers, distributors, resellers, and other types of business partners. These relationships are invaluable, both for the direct value they provide and for the insights and feedback that a thoughtful partner can provide to a company.
The value of these business networks is limited by the fact that most interactions with customers and partners happens 1-1: A manager talks with his channel partners, or exchanges emails with a customer. Far more valuable, however, is a forum where channel partners, customers, and other stakeholders can talk with each other. Wiki-based business social networks can create conversations where all a company's strategic stakeholders--internal and external--can talk directly to each other to share experiences, answer questions, offer feedback to the company, and ideate on product and service improvements. The result is a rich source of insights for the company, as well as a highly energized and committed group of stakeholders.