Technology and Concept for an IT Information Pool

Making the right decisions fast! Reviewing documented processes, systems and the organisation as a whole, recognising weaknesses on the spot, mediating inefficiencies directly and initiating transformation for strategic IT quickly, based on sound information. That’s the theory, but unfortunately in most cases not the reality. There is an ubiquitous lack of reliable information regarding the status quo of IT, even though – or possibly because – large companies deal with hundreds of thousands of individual documents and the topic documents and document management is hugely expensive and time consuming.

Why is that and how can it be remedied? In addition to an insufficient methodical approach, many companies lack the will and the courage to consistently pursue a new strategy. In the following, we will have a closer look at Wikipedia, analyse its success story and look at what can be learned from it in terms of business IT.

The German language version of Wikipedia today features around 2 million articles at a very high level in terms of content – a true success. Virtually any search for specific information, including scientific research, now utilises Wikipedia. How did Wikipedia manage to organise such a high number of contributions, avoid conflicts for the most part and integrate the many authors into a standardised concept to achieve such a high information content?

When attempting to answer these questions, we should always distinguish between 2 perspectives: The information user and the information provider.

Information User Perspective

The most impressive aspects of Wikipedia for the information user are:

  • Despite the fact that there are over 2 million articles to choose from, any information sought is available instantly
  • The information content in each publication is generally very high and questions only very rarely remain unanswered
  • All information is kept up to date at all times
  • The articles have a standardised structure, which aides comprehension and they contain image material and forwarding links to related topics
  • Information sources are clearly stated

The advantages for the information user stem for the most part from Wiki technology (see also “Wiki technology” later on) and less so from a methodical approach.

Information Provider Perspective

Within a company, the IT organisation is the main information provider. IT, however, is facing an entirely unmanageable amount of unmaintainable documents for individual purposes. The traditional method of amassing increasing numbers of documents over years results in inefficient mountains of documentation that is virtually inaccessible. Despite enormous efforts by IT, results remain meagre. Overall information content is at best low and from the perspective of the information user (practically) impossible to find.

The question, therefore, is this: How did Wikipedia manage to organise this incredible amount of information at such a high level of transparency using a completely heterogeneous team and keep Wiki up to date at all times? Here, we have to distinguish between the actual technology and the methodology approach of Wikipedia. While the success story for the information user is based more on the technology, that same success from the perspective of the information provider is mainly due to the methodology approach.

The proliferation of Wiki technologies is mainly due to the success of Wikipedia. The choice of tool no longer seems pertinent, as their basic approach is similar. In terms of methodology, however, there is still plenty to be learned from Wikipedia. That is why we will be having a closer look at the methodology approach of Wikipedia only, so we can make deductions in terms of how best to provide and ensure the quality of an IT information pool in a company. The Wikipedia approach offers a highly structured process with help and support on all levels. Here are the key characteristics at a glance:

  • As a general rule, anyone can publish information but the content should have relevance for the information user
  • Information is stored on the basis of a hierarchically structured model
  • Redundancies are avoided and there are naming conventions, as well as a kind of central glossary
  • Content is interlinked

Learning From Wikipedia’s Methodology Approach

We have found that the methodology approach is Wikipedia’s secret for success. This approach has allowed them to engage a large number of very different authors over a long period of time for a common goal: The creation of relevant and interesting content for various interest groups – easy to find and at a high level of quality. 

Wikipedia recommends a methodology approach of 8 steps for the creation of new articles (information):

  1. Check the article name
  2. Check content relevance
  3. Gather references
  4. Select a pertinent title for the article (lemma) and a creation location (name space)
  5. Write the article
  6. Preview and summary
  7. Classification
  8. Monitor the article

For more details on how to create an article please read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Your_first_article, which we will look at in the following. Our main point of interest here is what deductions we can make in terms of business IT.

Check the Article Name

Before any article appears on Wikipedia, it must be ensured that no other publication exists under the same name or that maybe another user is currently working on an article with the same topic. Full text searches help avoid redundancies.

An important lesson for the business IT Information Pool:

Redundancies must be avoided – that doesn’t apply just for Wikipedia, but also for business IT. It is important to check, whether the same information already exists before an article is created, as the scope of Wikipedia is virtually limitless. In a company, the approach is reversed because the scope is prescribed by the stakeholders. That means that when building an information pool, the aim is to identify and fill information gaps. A clear structure and dedicated editors will specify what exactly is needed where. Then a decision has to be made on a case by case basis of whether the information should be newly generated or if existing information is usable. Important for long term success are structure and naming convention.

Check Content Relevance

Wikipedia is not asking anyone for articles, all authors contribute voluntarily. That is why the following principle applies with regards to relevance: Articles are suggested and quality criteria are applied to decide their approval or refusal. That may even include article deletion in retrospect.

An important lesson for the business IT Information Pool: 

As we all know, business IT operates quite differently: There is hardly any voluntary writing and documents are generally created in response to requirements. But still – there is something to be learned from the “check relevance” approach of Wikipedia: Superordinate quality and requirement criteria are indeed needed. Relevance must be completely detached from individual documents for a single purpose and overarching objectives and approaches for the benefit of the stakeholder (ITSM, governance, audit/revision) must be formulated.

Gather References

Wikipedia requires references and sources. That means that any non-trivial statements in an article must be documented by reputable sources.

An important lesson for the business IT Information Pool:

The following should in any case apply for the IT Information Pool: Information should be stored centrally and not in parallel at two or more locations. Where the same information is relevant for multiple locations, its source is to be referenced instead of stating it multiple times. These references must be clear and verifiable for every information user.

Select a Pertinent Title for the Article (lemma) and a Creation Location (Name Space)

Wikipedia states the importance of choosing the right lemma (title) under which an article is to be saved before it is actually written. That is why Wikipedia provides unambiguous naming conventions that are mandatory for the entire platform.

An important lesson for the business IT Information Pool:

Much underestimated success factors for information management are overarching, unambiguous and binding naming conventions for information.

Write the Article

When comparing Wikipedia articles with documents from business IT, the former often feel much more standardised, more structured and clearer. They all follow the same structure and principle. How does Wikipedia achieve that? Wikipedia offers its authors plenty of help and support for the creation of new articles, including explanatory videos. An important component here are the sample templates provided for specific topic areas and a kind of styleguide for writing.

An important lesson for the business IT Information Pool:

For business IT purposes, we can extrapolate the following two points: Topic-specific sample templates and a styleguide are the first key point – that includes meta data (introduction of stakeholders, purpose and release notes), responsible, accountable, version and feedback blog.

Really important here are direct help and support for creation and for methodical procedure, i.e. content support to prevent redundancies and to ensure optimised information density. In our experience that also includes close communication between editor and SME, consistent use of methodologies, templates and format templates, standardised formatting and regular review.

Preview and Summary

Wikipedia has very strict versioning rules. Each new saved instance is a version, for which the author is stated as responsible. Wikipedia also insists on an abstract or summary of each article.

An important lesson for the business IT Information Pool:

The basis for any publication of information within business IT should be a so-called “golden source” versioned according to strict rules. Each version should have exactly one accountable and defined release rules must be applied. We recommend implementing a release procedure with at least three steps: Content release by a second SME (4-eyes principle), followed by an editorial review (structure, language, format, …) and finally approval for release by the accountable.

Classification

Wikipedia articles are sorted according to a hierarchically structured category system, in which article content is linked with existing articles. Finished articles can furthermore be checked automatically for common mistakes using an auto-reviewer (external tool).

An important lesson for the business IT Information Pool:

The classification of articles in a central, hierarchical category system is one of the key differentiators of Wikipedia in comparison with business IT documentation. While Wikipedia uses a hierarchical, multi-level system, traditional business IT largely foregoes any overarching structure for information, even if some areas within the company use hierarchically structured file systems. Once the information is appropriately structured, business IT should always employ an editor (information manager), who understands the entire concept and can assist in the use of tags and aliases.

Monitor the Article

Wikipedia articles have relevance and are monitored and read critically on an ongoing basis, whereby any feedback goes directly to the author, who will then work changes immediately. In extreme cases, articles can also be deleted by administrators. Wikipedia offers so-called “mentoring” for new authors.

An important lesson for the business IT Information Pool:

Without periodic feedback from the information user to the information provider, reliable statements regarding the quality of the IT Information Pool would be impossible. In a worst case scenario, the information provider would continue making available information at high cost, which the information user would not be able to find or the information content of which would in his view be insufficient. Important tools here could be blogs and dashboards with ratings for accountables and responsibles.

SMEs are for the most part no poets – it should therefore not be the task of the SME to prepare the information in such a way as to adhere to required standards. A “mentoring” in the sense of editors offering support is therefore advisable to bridge the gap between IT knowledge and editorial processing. These editors are available for offering advice to authors and carry out the editorial review of publications.

Proper Use of Wikipedia Technologies

The success of Wikipedia since 2005 has significantly contributed to the breakthrough on the market of Wiki technologies. There are various efforts underway to further improve the Wiki concept. Some of the traditional editorial workflows, for example, are being supplemented on tool level and Wiki functionalities are being implemented as add-ins for traditional web portals. Individual tools feature improvements in the form of video and audio plugins. Computer-generated databases have been created on Wiki basis, which can be modified and improved by web users. These Wikis are for the most part highly structured and rely heavily on templates. The basis of all tools, however, continues to be a so-called “hypertext system” for web pages. One thing that all Wikis have in common is the community-based working on content and text. In contrast to specifically defined workflows of editorial systems, they rely on the philosophy of open access. The fact that the system can be modified by anyone is a consistent implementation of one of the original ideas behind the “worldwide web”: the knowledge of the collective outweighs that of the individual. This apparent strength also holds some danger, which, however, can be limited with the help of methodology and technology. When an article is modified because it is available for open access, the predecessor version can be reinstated at any time.

The success of Wikipedia is in part due to the fact that content is interlinked and never stands alone.

Depending on the Wiki tool used, there are other advantages as well, including the use of centralised content in addition to hierarchically structured information. Ratings and blogs channel feedback directly to the information provider.

The IT Information Pool as a Success Story

Wiki technologies are its basis and offer all the necessary functionalities. Why is it then that information management in business IT is for the most part in no way as good as that of Wikipedia?

The decisive factor here is the methodology approach. Although the Wikipedia approach would have to be expanded and adapted for business IT, it nevertheless poses a model to aspire to in many areas and offers an excellent basis to work with.

There are, of course, differences. An IT Information Pool for a company must be much more target oriented. It will be primarily driven by the requirements of key stakeholders and not arbitrarily by interest-driven, volunteer engagement of many authors. Business IT additionally must deal with the issues of information hiding. 

We can nevertheless conclude that Wiki technology, as well as a more comprehensive methodology approach are key elements for the creation of a company-wide IT Information Pool, which in itself is essential to achieve specific company objectives. Based on an information pool, for example, the effectiveness and efficiency of IT management can be significantly improved, IT transformations achieved and cloud services can be integrated.

What can business IT learn from Wikipedia? (PDF)
Technology and Concept for an IT Information Pool

Do you have any questions or feedback? Please contact marketing@avato.net

Imprint 

Date: April 2017
Author: Jennifer Gitt
Contact: marketingn@avato.net
www.avato-consulting.com
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