It all started when Lianne Deeming wanted a document library for the Process Development Group. It would contain copies of and references to reports and documents of interests to her department. A group of relevant people was convened to try and establish what format this type of library should take.
To my horror the consensus gradually converged on a Lotus Notes Team Room. I say to my horror because anyone in the know should realise that Lotus Notes at this stage (we’re talking 2009-2010) was old technology which did not lend itself very well to integration with modern browsers. Despite my protestations the library took the form of a Team Room and as I suspected it disappeared without a trace without ever coming anywhere near realising the purpose for which it was created.
I still had the idea that a library of some sort might be a useful thing to have, and continued to search for alternative vehicles to try. That’s when I found out that IJmuiden were investigating the use of MediaWiki (the software use in Wikipedia). I managed to have a personal space created for myself, and started to place a couple of articles in it. Finding that this was a fairly simple process, I started to read up on how best to use wikis for consolidating knowledge and fighting what I saw described as “corporate amnesia”. The latter is a reference to the fact that companies often have to re-invent the wheel because knowledge is mostly held in people’s heads, which disappears when they leave the company.
I also looked at how the IJmuiden people were trying to use the wiki and saw that they totally missed the raison d’être of a wiki, which is to act as a collaboration tool (hence the motto “if it’s wrong, change it – if it’s missing, add it”). What they were looking for was something like SharePoint or Lotus Notes databases, which allow you attach existing documents, rather than the wiki which forces you to spell out in words how things fit together.
Not surprisingly, given this misunderstanding, IJmuiden decided to pull the plug on MediaWiki just when I, together with a small number of enthusiasts, were starting to get the hang of how to extend the wiki. Fortunately Andrew Griffiths, then with Process Control and in charge of their servers, knew of a stopgap solution which was the SharePoint wiki. The latter comes free with Microsoft servers, so that’s what we settled for, even though it lacked a number of features that make MediaWiki so user-friendly.
That’s probably one of the reasons why the number of active contributors remained rather small, but for this small group it contained a treasure trove of information from what acronyms meant to explanation of mainframe tables and field names. In the end I also used it to create user guides for systems I had developed, which helped substantially in transferring the data systems I had created for the Occupational Health and Internal Audit teams to the care of Tata Consulting Services (TCS).
In the end, however, I failed in my main objective to see the wiki become a mainstream instrument of information useful to the business. Was it the cultural discordance between how Strip Products UK does things and the approach required for a successful wiki ? Or maybe only a small percentage of people feel comfortable using and contributing to a wiki, and in an organisation of 4000 people that limits the pool to a small number of active contributors.
Whatever the case, the Strip UK wiki (it’s unlikely you’ll be able to access this, unless you manage to overcome the firewall) was useful for myself during the time it was up and running – I can’t say what happened to it since then, and how it will fare in the upheaval of future developments. I can only hope that it will remain useful to some extent to the people who remain in the South Wales part of Tata Steel.