In Part 1 of this series on ‘Social’ IT Management, my esteemed colleague, Roy Youngman and I discussed the inherent complexity of the IT management function, and how a more ‘social’ and emergent approach can represent a better way to manage IT.  In Part 2, we will briefly discuss the types of things that could be in a ‘Social’ IT Management Platform and the advantages of a Wiki platform for enabling this social approach.  Please watch for the 3rd and final post in the series, where we will discuss some Principles we have found helpful in moving to a Social approach to IT management.

So, What Have We Learned from the Experiments?

We’ve learned that we can use tools like SharePoint, Confluence, and MediaWiki to organize the institutional knowledge of an IT environment, which not only improves organizational clarity, but also empowers IT resources to become greater masters of their fates.  Figure 1 below illustrates an example around process knowledge using an extension of the basic SIPOC technique.

Figure 1

The tool can capture information about IT processes, the roles people play in the performance of a process, the competencies these people need to be successful in those roles, a description of the deliverables a process produces, and much more.  The approach handles best-practices across the IT industry so any one IT department doesn’t have to reinvent-the-wheel.  And the whole thing serves as a collaboration hub that encourages community ownership and continuous improvement of practices, processes and so on.

A Wiki Core

At the core of the collaboration hub is Wiki technology.  We’ve also learned from our recent work that Wikis are rare in IT organizations, in large part because corporate organizations are heavily invested in “documents” as the means for developing, codifying, and sharing knowledge.  Paradoxically, we’ve discovered that this “document-centric” approach is both the main reason why Wikis are rare in the corporate IT world and why Wikis are great for the corporate IT world, so it is worth examining the differences.

From Document-Centric…

Figure 2

Figure 2 above shows how the document-centric approach works. Using MS Office products like Word, a team of people work on a subject (like documenting a process).  Everyone tends to work independently both in the authoring of their assignments or the review of material others have written.  Many versions of the document are created, stored in many places, and passed around in the process.  It is usually a difficult task to consolidate everyone’s input and more often than not, one person has to step forward and take on the bulk of the writing and editing.  When complete, there is little desire or motivation to change it for the better because creating it in the first place was so painful.  So it stagnates.  Eventually, other documents are written that contradict portions of the old document, confusing the few people who do know how to find them and take the time to read them.

…To Wiki-Centric


Figure 3

The Wiki approach shown in Figure 3 above is distinctively different.  Unlike a document, which is designed to be self-contained and read from beginning to end, a Wiki is nonlinear.  Using a design such as that described in Figure 1, the content can be well-factored, thereby minimizing redundancies and preventing contradictions that confuse people.  The nonlinear approach also allows people to focus and contribute to whatever area of expertise each person happens to have.  When multiple people have similar subject knowledge or interests, they find each other naturally in the process and synergy happens.

As a hub, the Wiki enhances the discovery of knowledge and exposes the subject matter in the greatest need of improvement.  The Wiki approach supports “divergent-thinking” (which is essential to allow anything to improve) through focused conversations and social measurement techniques. It also supports “convergent-thinking” (which is essential to ever arrive at clear conclusions) through the version control and workflow features inherent in Wiki technology.  The clear advantage of the Wiki is its ability to depict the best portrayal of knowledge currently available at any time while constantly encouraging a community to expand and improve it.

The contrast between Figures 2 and 3 is dramatic.  Corporate IT has a lot of investment in the document-centric approach.  But the return on that investment has been dismal and most IT people will testify to that.

So why then are Wiki’s still so rare in the Corporate IT world?  As is often the case when dealing with unfamiliar territory, “better the devil you know” is the typical rationale.  Ah, but this excuse is starting to fail in corporate IT departments.  Why? Because other departments throughout the business are discovering the benefits of Wikis and getting ahead of IT – the cat is out of the bag!  Many progressive CIOs have seen this trend and want to create an IT organization that enables Social Business rather than just reacts to it.  They want to better manage and leverage the knowledge trapped in their organizations and in tens of thousands of documents lost in personal and shared drives.

In spite of the inherent difficulties, we applaud such vision and have developed a set of principles we have found helpful in moving to a Social approach to IT management.  We will present next in the third and final post of this series.

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