Corporate Wiki vs. Knowledge Base: The Best Choice for Your Business
Sharing and organizing files is a necessity for any company, whether large or small. There are often a tremendous number of documents that are related to business operations:
- Human resources information dealing with payroll, benefits, and time off policies
- New employee onboarding documents, including company policies, contacts, and best practices
- Existing or future product and service documentation
- Internal memos or communications
Many businesses have learned that hosting those documents on a shared drive can be messy and inefficient. Many have looked toward a more advanced solution, such as a corporate wiki.
But is a corporate or internal wiki right for your business?
Experts have said that a wiki “works well in the corporate world as it solves two problematic areas, the need for internal collaboration and document management.”
The problem is the experts said that back in 2008.
Just to give you an idea of how long ago that was, here’s a comparison:
As the idiom goes, “That was then, and this is now.” Nostalgia is nice, but not when it comes to technology. For another frame of reference, the iPad 2 was still 3 years away at that time.
Still, even though it is 11 years later, could a corporate wiki still work for your internal business needs? The simplest answer is, “Maybe, but probably not.”
To truly understand the pros and cons of implementing an internal wiki for your business, you have to know what it is, how it is used, and what other options may be available.
What Is A Corporate Wiki?
A corporate wiki is a web page or website that allows a community of internal company users to add, edit, and maintain content related to a given topic or topics. According to Ward Cunningham, father of the wiki, there are a number of different uses that companies have for an internal wiki:
- It can be a composition system where a user can create a document that is meant for broader distribution.
- It can be a collaboration area where multiple employees (often in different departments or different locations) can work simultaneously on an issue.
- It can be a discussion medium, allowing multiple employees to provide their thoughts and opinions on policies, procedures, and documentation.
- It can be a comprehensive document repository where all of the information necessary for the day-to-day operations can live.
- It can be a wide-spread communications tool that allows employees to speak on a one-to-many or many-to-many basis without clogging email inboxes.
The biggest benefit of an internal wiki for business is the ability for users to add or edit information on the fly. Anyone with access to the wiki can update content with no lag time and without the need for administrative intervention. All changes are “live” instantly.
But do you really want your company information stored, shared, and changed on a platform without oversight?
A Wiki’s Major Disadvantage
As Helpjuice's article on corporate wiki and knowledge sharing outlines, one of the main selling points for a business wiki is the idea of “minimal content oversight.” Users are able to change what they want, when they want, and the changes are live until someone else comes along and makes more changes or reverts back to a previous version.
Think about that for a moment. Is that a power that you want people in your organization to have? Who is to say that the person making the change is qualified to make that change? Who is to say that the information is correct? And are there certain documents—such as HR policies or customer service procedures—that should not be edited within a live platform?
Those points make it seem that the “biggest positive” for a corporate wiki is also its biggest problem.
Opening the Door for Conflict
Giving multiple employees the ability to change information within the corporate wiki as they see fit can be useful in some instances (i.e., collaboration), but it can also foster some conflict within the organization.
Even the best and brightest among us will have disagreements from time to time. Conflict among colleagues is almost inevitable. Differences of opinion, different ways of doing things, different successes and failures despite utilizing the same process—who is to say which way is really the correct way?
Think about some of the interactions that take place over social media. When two or more people disagree about an issue, they leave a typically long string of messages back and forth expressing their sides and opinions.
Now imagine that happening for everyone in your company to see in real time. Even if everyone is respectful, you still wind up with an online “paper trail” that shows dissent and discord.
The Issues with Multiple Opinions
Dell likened the use of wikis (for areas other than project management) to playing "whack a mole.” With any user being able to input data unchecked, keeping that data relevant and organized can end up being a full-time job for someone within the IT department. (And, honestly, how much knowledge does someone in IT have regarding which changes or versions should be correct?)
The higher ups at Dell admit this can lead to a mess.
Valuing everyone’s opinion is important in business, but there needs to be some sort of ownership or authority to filter the inputs. Your company may be able to mitigate the unchecked data issue by assigning a team member (or several members, depending on the size of the company and the amount of information within the wiki) to review all changes.
But is that a wise way to allocate your company’s precious time and resources? And who really wants to be the “company wiki police?” That doesn’t seem like a highly sought-after position within any organization.
A Host of Other Issues
Content changes with minimal or no oversight aside, there are plenty of other issues that a company can encounter when using an internal wiki:
Limited to no analytics: A wiki is not a public page, so the typical analytical tools (e.g., Google Analytics) usually are not available. That makes it difficult to track meaningful data related to your wiki:
- Number of times a topic page is accessed
- Number of employees using the wiki
- Most popular time of day for wiki access
- Top users
- Top authors
- The typical user “journey” through the site
- Related pages and topics
- Repeated pages and topics
Also, if your company uses an external wiki provider that offers analytics, you are reliant on your employees to properly “code” the information (more on that later) to ensure that the data analysis is correct.
Content gaps and outdated content: When people turn to a wiki for a topic that isn’t there, it is called a content gap. This can be a common issue for a freeform wiki that does not have a menu, a site map, or a standard method to report missing or incorrect information.
Also, as Dell noted, employees love to add information to a wiki. However, they are not as diligent about deleting information when it is no longer relevant or accurate, or updating the information when something has changed.
Finally, employee turnover can wreak havoc on an internal company wiki regarding content. If a subject matter expert (SME) provides or revises information on the wiki, and he/she then leaves the organization, then that information will remain static until a replacement is found. While the corporate wiki was designed to keep knowledge from leaving with an employee, that is not really feasible.
Poor searching capability: In order to make searching on a wiki easy and user friendly, contributors have to jump through a number of different hoops. Content hierarchy and sectioning, categorization, tagging, crosslinking, and search optimization are all necessary to make the information easy to find.
Additionally, wiki searches are not adept at understanding context of the information. For example, if a wiki page contains a keyword, the wiki search will not necessarily understand how that keyword is used. That means that the search results could be clogged with a high number of irrelevant results.
Poor usability for non-technical users: Wikis were originally built on an HTML platform, which meant that anyone who wanted to contribute had to learn how to code the information properly.
When that failed (miserably), wikis turned to WYSIWYG (“What You See Is What You Get”). This formatting system is supposed to be easier and more user friendly than trying to learn HTML coding just to italicize a few key words.
But for those not familiar with the WYSIWYG system, formatting and indexing could end up being slightly simpler than quantum physics or brain surgery, though without the “end of the world” or “end of human life” consequences.
While many employees are probably capable of learning the wiki formatting system, taking the time to teach the necessary skills is probably not the best way to spend your time and resources.
Limited customization: Structure modifications within a wiki are difficult because the platform often is quite rigid. We are a digital society, and we like the ability to personalize our experience based upon our preferences.
For instance, an employee in a certain division may only want to see documents and pages related to that part of the company. That isn’t possible within the wiki structure.
Also, users typically get little to no flexibility regarding the wiki’s design and interface. Colors, fonts, or shortcuts are not able to be customized by user. These choices are static for all users, which can create some apprehension among your employees.
With all of those potential pitfalls, utilizing a corporate wiki doesn’t seem like a good idea. Luckily, your company has an alternative.
The Need for an Internal Knowledge Base
In a corporate environment, the goal of sharing documentation and information needs to be efficient and effective. As seen above, wikis fall well short of those goals; meanwhile, knowledge base solutions can really shine in those areas.
A knowledge base provides your employees with a self-serve online library of information about your company’s products, services, departments, or any other business-related topics.
Many companies don’t invest the time or resources to develop an internal knowledge base. They simply rely on individuals or departments to collect information organically and hope that the information is shared among team members.
There are a number of problems with that approach:
- When an employee leaves, the knowledge often leaves with him/her
- Information isn’t always shared properly or in a timely fashion
- Onboarding is more difficult and time consuming
- There is no fostering of communication and collaboration
- Subject matter experts are not readily known or available
Another potential problem comes from the data silos that can often form when information is not readily shared between colleagues or departments. These barriers can cause wasted resources, inhibited productivity, and increased risk to business due to errors or knowledge gaps.
Developing a knowledge base for internal company use ensures that crucial information is easy to access, consistent, and accurate.
Implementing an internal knowledge base is important, but using the right knowledge base platform is critical to success.
We believe we have the solution that will help your company get the most out of your knowledge base.
Helpjuice offers a simple platform that is easily navigated, highly customizable, and simple to set up and use without any coding or database management knowledge.
Additionally, the Helpjuice knowledge base overcomes the shortcomings of a corporate wiki by incorporating advanced analytic tools and search functionality.
The platform’s analytics range from learning what topics are searched for the most to determining which authors have contributed the most content.
Meanwhile, topics can be listed in multiple categories and tagged appropriately to make searches more productive.
The Helpjuice knowledge base also improves collaboration among teams and teammates. Multiple authors can work on a given topic simultaneously, with each new version recorded to allow for easy review and revision.
Finally, Helpjuice offers a wealth of knowledge and best practices that can help your company make the right decisions and moves to implement and manage your knowledge base.
Overcoming the Appeal of Wikis
We understand that wikis can be wonderful to a lot of people. But in a corporate setting, wikis are simply outdated, overrated, and just plain complicated to share knowledge among your employees.
Classics can be appealing, but not when it comes to technology.
Instead, having a knowledge base for your employees can benefits your company through increased efficiency and consistency, not to mention greatly improved internal communication and collaboration.
A knowledge bases isn’t just a repository for documents and policies. Providing efficient and effective access to necessary and desired information can have multiple positive long-term effects for your business.
Emil Hajric, 2019