Enterprise Wiki: An Emerging Technology to be Considered by the AEC Industry

In this Viewpoint article, Ondrej Kalny, Editor of BridgeArt.net and UseWiki.net, describes the emerging technology of Enterprise Wiki, its analogy with BIM, and its potential for addressing the communication problems in the AEC industry.

URL: http://www.aecbytes.com/viewpoint/2007/issue_31.html

6 thoughts on “Enterprise Wiki: An Emerging Technology to be Considered by the AEC Industry

  1. Ondrej

    We have been using a limited web interface to allow for the same thing as the wiki way. The main issue we have been having is user habits, interface, and user training. The Ownership groups have been the hardest to get change. With Apple’s next release of their Server software with the wiki technology built-in we will be moving to the wiki way. The hope is to overcome the above issues with a simplified structured data set. Our hope is this will be more advantageous than even the BIM tools can afford, as the pace of adoption is very slow and present use very limited. This issue alone is starting to create problems between early adopters of BIM and the NON-bim crowd in working methods and in dialog, as can be seen on discussion boards. We believe the wiki way once utilized will reveal the benefits of shared information amongst design team members. Thanks for your article on this emerging technology.

  2. Stanley,

    from my consulting experience, I would strongly agree that changing user habits is one of the most difficult things to overcome when implementing wikis. However, We have been successful with bottom-up approach when the wiki is first introduced to a smaller group of technically savvy users who will gradually engage others in the company. It should be gradual process; top-bottom approach usually does not work well.

    In response to the user training you mentioned – wikis excel because of their simplicity and should be very intuitive to use. If not, I would suggest looking for another wiki engine. Ideally, the “training” should not take more than a couple of hours.

  3. Ondrej,

    your ‘hub and spokes’ diagram will be familiar to anyone who has considered using a ‘project extranet’ platform over the past few years, and you suggest Wiki “can readily address most of the communication problems faced by AEC professionals”. Unfortunately, I have a different view – at least in respect of the conventional multi-company, multi-location AEC project team.

    Despite being a long-time Wiki enthusiast, I do not see Wiki replacing the web-based construction collaboration (aka ‘extranet’) technologies (eg: in the US: Buzzsaw, e-Builder, etc; in the UK: BIW, 4Projects, etc) that have become a mainstream technology within many construction teams – particularly when it comes to sharing written, numerical and graphical information among multiple companies delivering construction projects. I think these already deliver most of the benefits you outline in your article.

    However, I do see a place for Wiki as a support to existing approaches. Perhaps we need to identify where Wiki could be integrated into the web-based collaboration platforms, first in the short-term and maybe then over the life-cycle of a facility and/or the life of an AEC business (for example, as I’ve written in my blog, O&M manuals are an easy example of how large bodies of information could reorganised and indexed as a wiki for immediate use by a facilities O&M / FM team).

    Over time, and as experience and familiarity with Wiki grows, we might then look at how both areas of technology could be developed to deliver a richer collaborative environment both within enterprises and across the extended project team.

  4. Paul, all good points above, but the real question facing most of these technologies is cost$$$ and interface ease of use as I mentioned previously. Most of the AEC industry, as it exists in the US, is mostly small groups of 10 or less with the next level of end users in the 10-50 range. Most of these organizations do not have the project fees to utilize the present externally supplied resources already available as extranets. Nor do they have the expertise to setup and create their own project collaboration places on the web, as even wiki which is relatively easy to create may be beyond most. I agree with Ondrej, it is that next generation of grass root users who will create this new environment to exchange information on the web for projects. The big companies with there elaborate technologies have only satisfied the big AEC companies only.

  5. Considerations in Deploying an Enterprise vs. an Internet Wiki

    There is a difference between an enterprise or internally facing wiki (inside a firewall) and that of an Internet based or external wiki (outside a firewall). While the platform can remain the same and the basic purpose of collaboration is the same, it is their application purpose and the types of data collected and maintained on these systems which is different. Enterprise wikis contain team and project type information. This information usually consists of information such as team member, colanders, project statuses, inventories, and processes. Enterprise wiki contain large portions of information for a limited or closed set of people. An Internet based wiki is a wiki which provides information about an organizations good or services to a much larger user base. Internet wikis serve much more in an information sharing, education, and marketing capacity and less in a project management and process documentation capacity than that of an Internet wiki.

    Because there are some differences in these two types of wikis, there are also a number of other items that must be considered when building an Internet wiki versus that of an enterprise wiki. The main factors you will want to address in an Internet based wiki will be:

    • Ease of use
    • Speed (User Response)
    • Scalability
    • Security
    • Content Moderation
    • Skins (Look and Feel)
    • Navigation
    • Metadata

    It is not that these items are not important in an enterprise wiki, they are extremely important but there are a number of items which take priority in an enterprise system such as:

    • Flexibility
    • Plug-ins/Extensions/Adaptors
    • Integration (mashups)
    • Email integration
    • RSS feeds
    • Content change notification
    • Training
    • Job function application
    • APIs

    Again the reason for the differences here is because most people will use the Internet based wiki as a repository for viewing and collecting information on products, technologies/systems and services. The user base will most likely have about a 1-2% user contribution rate, where as in an enterprise wiki it would not be unreasonable to have an 80-90% contribution rate meaning that 80-90% of the users have contributed at least once. So with an Internet wiki the more users you have the higher qualify information you will have. This isn’t necessarily the case with an enterprise wiki where the quality of information will largely be a result of a concept understanding peer review, benefits of adoption, and mainly education.

    With an Internet based wiki you will want to focus on the skins to make sure they adhere to your organizations branding standards. Internet wikis also have the potential for explosive growth as well as vandalism items which are much less of a concern in an enterprise wiki. If an enterprise wiki has scalability or navigation issues you can tell the user base to hold-on changes are on their way. On an Internet based wiki system your users simply don’t come back if they find the site aesthetically unappealing, unreliable, or no responsive enough. Therefore with an Internet wiki system you will want your site to have a very professional and appealing look and feel so that no matter what is contributed it is well presented. This will make visitors less hesitant to contribute to your company’s public collaboration space. You will also want to have a process for moderating content. Removing liable and unseemly content will be important in maintaining an environment that appeals to the greatest number of contributors and promotes participation.

    Enterprise wikis are slightly different in that factors that contribute to the greatest adoptions and collaboration are benefit to a person’s role, education, and a clear contribution strategy. What is meant by this is that people are often willing to contribute but they will say they don’t know where to put something. Having clear information architecture, a method for easily navigating it and educating the users on the basics of the information architecture will greatly drive adoption.

    An enterprise wiki will also need to be much more flexible because it will be used in a much wider capacity than that of an Internet based wiki. For any one organization the wiki might be used to keep track of customers, part number, manufactures, suppliers, shipping, operations, training, and other function required by and organization. So one will want to look at watch features a particular wiki has and in addition how that wiki can be expanded in capabilities this is usually done through plug-ins. Different wikis call them different things such extensions, modules or adaptors. Whatever they are call their purpose is to expand the capabilities of the wiki.

    Since on an Internet wiki some of the main concerns are speed, reliability, and security you will not want to just start adding plug-ins without carefully considering each and everyone. Each plug-in generally expands the command options or feature set therefore that code much be processed before a page can be displayed. The more plug-ins you add the more code that must be processed per-page therefore adding vast amounts of unnecessary will not only slow down the response to the user with each line of new code you must consider the security implications.

    I have deployed several internal wikis at Cisco and have most recently been responsible for the deployment of Cisco’s external wiki.

    http://supportwiki.cisco.com

    Craig Tobias
    Senior Solutions Architect
    Cisco Systems

  6. Great article!

    The BIM Experts LinkedIn group has recently deployed a wiki for the BIM community that some of you might be interested in. The intent is to provide a free, enterprise quality and user friendly platform for anything related to BIM.

    It is designed and for any size of organization, from individual to small firms to large standards bodies to be able to use for collaboration. As a matter of fact, the NBIMS Testing Team is currently using the site to analyze the 2008 AIA TAP BIM Award Winners.

    Check it out!
    http://www.bimwiki.com

    Regards,
    The BIM Wiki Team

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