posted 16 May 2008 in Volume 11 Issue 8
A knowledge sharing and collaboration platform
Shell Wiki was set up to provide a platform for employees to collaborate and share knowledge. It uses the same technology as the highly successful Wikipedia online encyclopedia, with employees contributing to the site.
By Dr. Donna Hendrix and Griet Johannsen
The wiki concept was developed by Ward Cunningham who originally created this evolutionary tool to help programmers share knowledge. The development of the wiki, which means ‘fast’ in Hawaiian, began in 1994 and by March 1995, the WikiWikiWeb was installed on the internet. Since this time, the concept of wiki has been adopted by many organisations in an effort to enhance knowledge sharing across business and across the globe. Wiki has become increasingly popular in contemporary organisations; it is often used as the main collaborative software and, in some cases, as a replacement for static intranets.
Wiki software enables users to add content or edit existing material that someone else has provided, and can also be used for linking web pages. It is fast becoming the answer to many of the knowledge management challenges faced by organisations today. This collaborative tool enables communities to be set up around different subject areas and is also used to strengthen existing communities.
MediaWiki is the software used by many companies to produce and maintain encyclopaedias of corporate information and knowledge. It enables users to easily create and edit information directly in a browser. According to
How companies use wikis
Many companies are now turning to wikis as a knowledge-sharing tool and a number of studies have been carried out on their use. Majchrzak, Wagner and Yates (2006) address some of the major questions about this new technology, including how sustainable wikis are, what benefits they can bring companies, what factors influence whether or not users create a wiki entry, and what types of people contribute to wikis.
More such questions are expected to be raised as organisations continue to use wikis to build content-based communities. So far, all the questions asked of wikis appear to have been answered positively and there is a general belief they can deliver sustainable and genuine benefits to the organisations that use them. Likewise, if we know the factors that influence employees in using wikis and we attempt to identify those most active users of a wiki, we can continue to encourage the large organisation to use wikis and share in their benefits to individuals and the organisation.
It is important for organisations using wikis to understand what types of activities they are suitable for. According to Majchrzak et al. (2006), the most common activity is software development – unsurprisingly, as this is why the technology was originally created. Wikis are also becoming increasingly popular as a learning tool. At Shell, much of the content for Shell Open University courses is published on Shell Wiki, as this allows a wider audience to access the information. The idea is, why would you limit course content distribution to only those taking the course? Better yet, offer this content to the larger community that is interested in the content.
Some organisations use wikis as a project management tool for publishing lists of deliverables, agendas and minutes of meetings, progress reports, standards, guidelines and so on for easy access by project teams (Majchrzak et al, 2006). At Shell, like many organisations today, the wiki is where information and knowledge is captured in order to be available to the larger group of employees scattered around the globe. Certain groups and communities are using wikis to create, edit and collaborate around common interest areas and shared content.
There are a host of reasons why individuals choose to share knowledge and information using wikis. Today, there is greater emphasis than ever before on working together, because if innovation and new ideas are to grow, it is essential to share ideas from many different sources. In recent years, there has been a paradigm shift in the way individuals collaborate within teams to reach organisational objectives. People use wikis because they recognise and want to tap into their co-workers’ knowledge – and wikis provide one of the fastest and most effective ways of doing this.
Shell Wiki: a platform for learning and collaboration
Shell Wiki was launched just under two years ago, following a discussion within Shell’s knowledge management community in late 2005. It was intended to be a community-managed internal encyclopaedia that made up-to-date knowledge from all Shell’s disciplines easily available to all staff around the world. Shell Wiki now includes 16,500 entries from various Shell businesses, ranging from training materials and technical handbooks to information on a wide variety of subjects, plus production engineering. Technical and non-technical subject specialists from more than 272 Shell companies around the world write, edit and maintain the information. The figures speak for themselves:
About 30,000 registered Shell Wiki users (as of March 2008);1,300 users have contributed content since its launch;
Between 80 and 100 new users register each day;
In the fourth quarter of 2007, there were 17,541 active users, 345 edits a day and 5,177 views per day.
No information included in Shell Wiki is at a higher level of confidentiality than ‘restricted’, and there is no ‘controlled content’ as defined by US Export Administration Regulations.
A paradigm shift in knowledge sharing
Peter Kemper, Shell Wiki programme lead, says the introduction of Shell Wiki represents a paradigm shift, because it is a clean break with what he calls the “constrained format”. He adds: “The goal is to make Shell Wiki an entity with a life of its own, which captures large parts of Shell’s knowledge and is continually kept up to date by Shell staff. The ease of interaction makes it an effective tool for learning and sharing knowledge.
“We have definitely met the needs of many users in the company, who were looking for efficient and flexible ways of sharing their knowledge, and who wanted to co-write and co-publish information.
“However, these needs are changing quickly. For example, these days, more and more users are familiar with Web 2.0 sites such as Facebook or SecondLife, and so we are also exploring the use of virtual worlds to add a new dimension to learning at Shell – for example, with interactive 3D simulations and training modules. Shell Wiki has shown us that our users are ready to share their knowledge in new ways.”
Why users like Shell Wiki:
It’s accessible – all employees can access and publish in it, from anywhere and at any time. No login is required;
It’s easy to update – wiki entries are live documents, and they can be amended when required, enabling teams and communities to update content jointly;
It’s content-based – direct links enable users to find explanations of unfamiliar terminology, which makes it easier to understand the entry. This promotes understanding, learning and knowledge sharing across different disciplines;
It’s a shared platform – and one that helps Shell to continuously develop its knowledge base.
Promoting Shell Wiki
The launch of Shell Wiki was not strongly publicised within the company, and the site went live without a big fuss. In the first year, Shell’s Global Knowledge Management team decided to focus on engaging directly with content owners, supporting employees who wanted to test this new platform within their communities. The objective at this stage was to achieve critical mass in terms of content, which would then help to generate interest among a broader audience. This approach proved to be successful – by the time the team started to promote the tool across Shell last summer, Shell Wiki already included many high-profile entries and had some 6,000 users.
Shell Wiki sends e-mail alerts to employees about the monthly news update, with a link to the news section. This update includes information on content highlights, new functions such as Wiki Mindmaps and interviews with users. As one of the objectives is to increase the number of active users (users who are editors, not just readers), each issue includes a short training module on topics such as ‘How to Create Your First Wiki’ or ‘Basic Wiki Skills’. As this update is only sent to existing Shell Wiki users, articles on specific topics are also regularly published in the news sections of the Shell intranet.
In addition to these global communications activities, the knowledge management team also supports regional initiatives, by providing local managers with articles, standard text modules and presentations to help promote Shell Wiki within their companies. Shell Wiki is also promoted at internal learning fairs or conferences. Personal communications remain a very important way of helping Shell Wiki progress and often result in big steps forward. For example, a nine-volume Shell Exploration and Production handbook was recently converted from printed document into a wiki entry that can be updated by a community of experts. High-volume content can be wikified with the help of external resources.
Individual disciplines within Shell are also promoting Shell Wiki among their communities and competitions have become a popular way to encourage users to share their information and expertise. Prizes are awarded for articles with the best content, the most effective use of wiki functionality, the highest level of interactivity (such as the most links to other articles), the most innovative layout, or the greatest number of page impressions.
The Global Knowledge Management team is also offering online Shell Wiki awareness and training sessions, which are open to all employees and are held throughout the year. However, most Wiki contributors seem able to train themselves perfectly easily – either by copying the format of existing articles, using the online help pages or starting off by writing very simple entries. Some users have managed to create highly complex sections, tables and structures themselves, without any assistance. But for all those who do require some help, the Shell Wiki editorial team provides hands-on support.
Corporate Wiki users: Results of a survey. Proceedings of the 2006 international symposium on Wikis, 99-104. Wiki. (28 February 2008).
In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 29 February 2008, from http://en.Wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wiki&oldid=194721748.
Dr. Donna Hendrix is a senior analyst in Shell International’s Global Knowledge Management team and an expert in global online communities of practice. Her responsibilities include global consultancy for Shell International Global Networks. She is also working with the Shell Learning design-team to implement workplace learning throughout the organisation.
Griet Johannsen, a business analyst in Shell International’s global Knowledge Management team, is responsible for KM communication and is involved in implementing the Wiki communications strategy. She is currently working on the introduction of an enterprise bookmarking tool.