My wife and I have a running joke about asking certain types of questions. She will ask me something like “Do you know when Easter is this year?” In an ironic tone, I’ll reply, “if only there was a global electronic network of information that you could access from your phone that would answer that question.” She’ll roll her eyes at me, lightly punch me in the arm, and then pull out her phone and ask Google her question. Wikipedia usually has the answer, and our conversation moves on. Rest assured though that my wife takes great pleasure answering the same way when I ask similar questions that the Internet easily answers.
Even though that question is sarcastic for general questions, it holds real meaning for questions in a small business. “Where do I find the form to request time off?” “Where is our procedure for creating an invoice through EDI?” “What are Walmart’s shipping requirements?” To all these, I reply, “If only there was a company-wide, easily accessible, and searchable resource that would answer that question.” From that idea came our company’s wiki.
Background on Wikis
A wiki is collection of information that can be edited by most or all users of the program. Wikipedia is the best-known example, an encyclopedia that anyone can edit or add information to. Creating a similar, living encyclopedia of information for our business has been incredibly helpful. Being able to add procedures, forms, and other information to a location where any employee can quickly access them allows us to share knowledge and train others better.
A wiki is a powerful tool in sharing knowledge across the company. Rather than needing to explain every procedure, employees trying something new can first search the wiki to see if a documented process can show them what to do. This is especially useful if someone is out of the office for vacation. The wiki empowers others to cover for others whose processes are documented on the wiki – and employees can enjoy their vacation time without phone calls asking for help from work.
How a Wiki can Help Business
The reason a wiki is different from just a bunch of text documents somewhere on a hard drive is accessibility and editability. A wiki indexes information so that you can search and easily find what you need. Finding the “Time Off Request” form is so much easier to find through a search bar than digging through folders in Windows Explorer or asking HR for the form’s location.
Second, a wiki’s true power comes in the ability to edit and update information. When Walmart changes a shipping requirement, I can go to the Walmart page, press the edit button, type the new requirement, and then hit save. The pages are so easy to edit that despite their busy schedules, my team is able to find time to document common procedures. Wikis allow for the ease of sharing information, so that knowledge of processes is not locked away in the minds of individual employees. Without such sharing, we are essentially throwing away all acquired knowledge each time someone is away from the office (temporarily or permanently).
Wikis are also great to help accomplish work that is not performed regularly. For example, every six months or so, our ERP system needs to be reinstalled on a certain machine because of a problem on that machine. The first time, it took several days for me to figure out how to do the install because of the machine’s unique setup. After figuring it out, I jotted some quick notes on the procedure and posted them on a wiki page under the IT section. Six months later, after I had long forgotten what I had done to fix the issue, the machine started erroring again – the signal to reinstall. This time, I jumped on the wiki and searched for the document. My notes popped up as the first result and the machine was as good as new 15 minutes later.
Wiki Options for Small Business to Consider
Company intranets and wikis are nothing new– but many businesses have yet to implement one. Fortunately, adding a company wiki is easy and affordable (there are many great, free options). Here are a few options to consider.
Confluence by Atlassian – $10+
This is the system my company uses. It’s not free, but for 10 users, it’s only $10. I like it because it’s very easy to use, has extensive documentation and tutorials on how to use it, and you can edit the theme to make it look more attractive. The last point isn’t important to me, but it helped get executive sign off to work on it (looks and appealing design are important at my company).
MediaWiki – Free
If you use Wikipedia frequently, then you’ll feel right at home with MediaWiki. MediaWiki is what Wikipedia is based on. It’s free and very popular, which means there’s a strong community and many tutorials to help you easily install and run it.
MediaWiki Sysadmin Hub (Installation Instructions)
Tiki Wiki – Free
If MediaWiki doesn’t have quite enough features that you’re looking for, then check out Tiki Wiki. For me, I didn’t want to be overwhelmed and miss my goal of company documentation, but you may want to take your wiki to the next level. Tiki Wiki boasts a very long list of features including the following:
- Themes, newsletters, banners, and blogs
- Shopping carts, payment, membership, and accounting tools
- Friends, surveys, polls, chats, and other social networking
- Issue tracking and other IT Help Desk tools
- Spreadsheet, slideshow, drawing, and other office applications
- Quizzes, webinar integration, and other e-learning tools
- Many other additional features
Tiki Wiki Installation Guide
WikkaWiki – Free
If you’d rather go the other direction and want something more lightweight and simple, then check out WikkaWiki. It is designed to be much easier and straight-forward.
WikkaWiki Installation Guide
Dokuwiki – Free
Finally, Dokuwiki is a great option for company documentation because that’s what it’s built for. It requires no back-end database and can efficiently fulfill the documentation needs of a small company.
DokuWiki Installation Guide
If you have an IT person that wants to do in-depth comparisons and look at even more options, then check out WikiMatrix. There, you can compare dozens of Wiki options and find one to fit your expertise and needs.
A Couple Factors to Consider
With all company tools, it’s important to consider the side-effects and consequences of using it. Here are some things you’ll want to consider before rolling the wiki out to the whole company.
Internal or external – do you want your wiki accessible from any internet connection or only while on your company’s local network? If you want it accessible from anywhere, then you’ll need to put some security login procedures in place to keep the world out of your company’s procedures.
Users and permissions – should everyone in the company access everything? If not, then you’ll need to edit user permissions and groups.
Moderation – will anyone be responsible to moderate and monitor the wiki’s usage? If you have a larger organization, then you may need someone to keep everything somewhat neat and organized.
File storage – we often upload Word and Excel documents to our wiki so everyone can access the latest version of a file. However, since our wiki stores the file within its programming, the program can become quite large as many files are added. Will you upload files to your wiki or just add links to the file’s location on your network?
Use more than text – as explained in my article [article about visual explanations], visuals are often much more helpful than just text. Be sure to include screenshots, pictures, or even video tutorials to make your procedures easier to learn.
Although your wiki may be sparse at first, be diligent in your implementation and building a company resource. We installed ours just 18 months ago, and my teammates and I now rely on it multiple times each day. It’s allowed us to do more and maintain corporate learning as some employees have moved on. Best of all, it empowers everyone in the organization to learn and effectively do more each day.
What does your company use to share its knowledge? Could a Wiki help you stop throwing knowledge away?