Real Employee Empowerment: Organizational Change Through Wikis

Wiki people doing wiki things. Together. Kumbaya.

When wikis emerged as a force for the acquisition and representation of unstructured and less structured information in the early 2000's, the enterprise was slow to recognize the use case. This isn't unusual, for the average enterprise, decentralized knowledge management is a cultural disruption.

It's 2015 now, and the Buzzword Brigade has ensured that the notion of an enterprise wiki is no longer categorized as profitless hipster-ism. This doesn't mean that it's common for enterprises to use wikis; it just means that the notion of using a wiki for decentralized knowledge management no longer gets you fired.

But the world of open source knowledge management does not wait for the enterprise. Wikis today are not like Wikis in 2001. The key characteristic of Wikis, that the knowledge is unstructured, is no longer obligatory.

And this opens up a world of possibility which has yet to be discovered.

The 800 pound gorilla of the Wiki space is of course MediaWiki, the software underpinning Wikipedia. MediaWiki has sprouted - initially through judicious use of EU FP6 funding - an extension called Semantic MediaWiki, and this extension changes everything. What Semantic MediaWiki does is simple; it permits the fluent mixing of structured and unstructured knowledge. What Semantic MediaWiki results in however, is profound.

Today, there is no enterprise without IT systems. To be deconstructionist, an enterprise IT system is nothing more than entities and processes which mirror what the organization sees as its core definition. There are exceptions of course, but that is the key definition of core enterprise systems: they model the organization's expectations of itself. These models are famously difficult to produce; they are produced by highly specialized and trained professionals (programmers, IT project managers, etc.) who structure their work according to semantics which are alien for the vast majority of non-IT professionals (agile, waterfall, PRINCE2, etc.)

In a Semantic MediaWiki deployment, users can create their own models of the processes and entities which make up the organization. This is the deepest essence of the enterprise; the system which defines the organization is defined by the organization itself. There are less to no intermediaries between the person responsible for a task or an entity, and the computerized representation of and knowledge about same.

Employee empowerment is not achieved through spamming company surveys and Casual Friday. Employee empowerment is exemplified by the courage to use top down management structures to permit the people who do the actual work to participate in formally designing the organization.

This is possible with Semantic MediaWiki, and that is the real revolution which few enterprises have yet discovered.

Header image source has been adapted from a Creative Commons licensed image released by the US Navy