Social Networking Comes to the Enterprise

The concept of knowledge management has been an elusive chimera to corporate
America since the mid-1990s.


Ever since employees came to be seen as
knowledge workers, companies have been searching for ways to capture and
disseminate the stuff inside their heads.

Companies have attempted to accomplish this through a variety of
applications, from simple e-mail to document management solutions with
complex taxonomies, but to little or no avail.

CustomerVision, a Des Moines, Iowa-based company, is offering BizWiki,
a solution that is leveraging the techniques of Internet-enabled social
networking as a business tool.

BizWiki, which is provided as an on-demand service, allows users to create
and edit content without having to adhere to a rigid content management
format.

It also allows users to get authoritative information using an “Ask the
Expert” function. Responses from designated experts can be automatically
posted as a piece of content.

“It helps corporations retain intellectual capital and dynamically build
their content bank,” said Brian Keairns, CustomerVision founder and vice
president of product management.

And the business world seems to be biting. Without the benefit of a
marketing push, CustomerVision has won over about 100 customers. The
company also said that revenue has been growing by more than 300 percent per
year.

Many of its customers are Fortune 1000 companies shelling out anywhere from
$100 to $5,000 per user per month, depending on the size of the
implementation.

One such customer is MWABank, a regional bank based in Illinois. Steven
Ollenburg, president and CEO of MWABank, told internetnews.com that
his organization is using BizWiki to respond to e-mail questions more
efficiently.

“Financial services entities need quick, clear and concise responsiveness to
electronic customer inquiries; these cannot take days to be responded to,
nor can they build up into a project,” he said in an e-mail.

He said that MWABank has generated “extremely noticeable” cost savings from
the use of BizWiki, but would not disclose exact figures.

While the idea of a grass-roots social networking tool appealing to the
button-downed world of Fortune 1000 companies might seem contradictory,
Keairns explained that the company’s sales pitch focused on the business
aspects of the solution, not the approach epitomized by sites like the
collaborative Web encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

“There’s a difference between what drives a wiki in the consumer world
versus the enterprise,” he told internetnews.com.

“The consumer world is driven by interest, specialists and hobbyists. The
business world operates under a different set of rules.”

In the business world, he said, wikis can drive knowledge sharing and
collaboration by providing users with a tool that they can easily integrate
into their usual workflow. And companies will be interested if it helps them
solve a fundamental problem.

“We don’t talk about wiki technology,” said Cindy Rockwell, CustomerVision’s
CEO and a former Wells Fargo executive. “We talk about providing the tools they need to collaborate.”

Those tools include an import function so that users can use word processing
software if they prefer, although no HTML is required to enter content into
the BizWiki interface.

Another difference between BizWiki and pure a wiki environment is that
organizations can control which employees can edit or add content.

According to Jim Murphy, an analyst with AMR Research, large pharmaceutical
companies, aeronautic, oil and gas exploration, and consulting firms are
prime candidates for a knowledge management program.

“They are most susceptible to the retirement of the baby boomer generation,”
he told internetnews.com.

“High-value workers are about to leave all these organizations in the next
five years, and they carry in their heads the intellectual property of the
companies for which they work,” he said.

But traditional knowledge management solutions have suffered from both
psychological and technological barriers to adoption.

“People don’t want to give up their knowledge–they can see what it’s for.
It makes them expendable,” noted Murphy.

Moreover, said Murphy, document management solutions are often too rigid and
difficult to use.

“E-mail helps channel knowledge. Document management systems tend to be
heavy. They are hard to contribute to and too hard to use,” he said.

Murphy said that wikis combine the ease of use characterized by e-mail with
the knowledge-sharing functions of a document management system.

“A wiki evolves with the company. It captures knowledge without having to be
overly forceful about it,” he said.

However, Murphy cautioned that wikis will only succeed where true
communities of interest exist, such as the R&D department of a
pharmaceutical company, or a particular practice within a consulting firm.


In that context, users will find the information they need and willingly
share what they know.

“You can’t do knowledge management across an entire organization,” he said.

But the rewards can be great for those who do implement an effective
knowledge management solution.

“They can capture intellectual capital that is being lost by most
organizations,” said Keairns.

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