By Stewart Mader, special to The Content Wrangler

Can a wiki help ships’ crews and freight truck drivers keep in touch with what’s happening in the home office? That’s one of the questions I discussed with Alek Lotoczko of NYK Europe, part of the Japan- based NYK Group, one of the largest container transportation and shipping companies in the world.ᅠ

imageNYK Group has 35,000 employees worldwide, 9,000 of whom work in Europe. Of those, approximately 3,000 are desk-bound and laptop users, and these are the workers one would typically expect to use the wiki. But NYK’s employee ranks also include freight truck drivers and the marine crews that staff its 806 ships. Those marine crews often spend a very short time in port while ships are offloaded and reloaded with freight, and since they often don’t have time to leave port, Internet access is their best option for keeping in touch. Alek’s personal opinion is that fostering inclusion for these traveling employees is another potential use of the wiki for NYK. He beeves that blue collar workers could get news, participate in discussions about topics relevant to them, and update some areas of the wiki.ᅠ

Building the Business Case

“We wanted something that was quick, lightweight, social, fun to use and easy to deploy, something that could function as an intranet out-of-the box and that could also be used for news dissemination (via RSS).”

ᅠWhen Alek began to champion the idea of using a wiki, the primary knowledge management tool available to employees was a traditional intranet, but the usual problems were hindering widespread use. Employees found it difficult to find information quickly. Over reliance on structure was keeping information siloed and generally inaccessible. The intranet was only available to a fraction of the workforce, and there was a relatively small group of highly active intranet users, but the tool lacked widespread participation.

ᅠIn May 2007, NYK Europe started using DominoWiki, an open source wiki engine designed to work with Lotus Domino. Since the company already used Domino, and the wiki was freely available, Alek described this first experiment in wiki use as “zero investment, zero budget, and no risk” which made it an easy sell to IT leadership, and even easer to demonstrate the wiki’s value to users.

ᅠAfter demonstrating a proof-of-concept with DominoWiki, Alek was able to link-up with Ian Aitchison, head of the Group Communications Office in Northern Europe (NE GCO) who was launching his own enterprise social computing project. NE GCO secured budget for a formal wiki project, and chose the turnkey, shared hosted version of Atlassian Confluence, a commercial enterprise wiki used widely in the business world. The company has since upgraded to a more robust Enterprise Hosted version of Confluence, which costs NYK approximately $16,000/year and provides a dedicated hosted instance of the software, integration with other enterprise tools via LDAP and API access, and greater bandwidth.ᅠ

“Wiki is Multipurpose”

“We are hoping people come up with the best wiki uses based on their knowledge of their daily work.”

ᅠAlek says that the wiki comes with enthusiasm. People like the simplicity of editing pages, flexibility of the wiki to adapt to multiple uses rather than force highly complex and rigid processes on users, and ability to build their own area and structure it in a way that’s most efficient for their work style. As a result, people have a vested interest to make it work, and, Alek says, “they feel they own and are responsible for the area” because it’s not a complex tool that requires intervention from the most tech savvy users or IT staff.

ᅠIt is a different approach to working and not everyone has embraced the wiki approach immediately. The look and feel of the wiki is considered too basic by some staff and this prevents them being drawn in. Alek and the team are implementing some changes to the wiki’s appearance and homepage areas.

ᅠFor example, Alek said he used Basecamp, a project management tool developed by 37signals, to manage offshore application development teams, but switched to the wiki because it was “simple and versatile enough” and easier to keep everything relevant to his work in one place.

ᅠEight popular wiki uses at NYK include:

  • Meeting Management – Putting meeting agendas on the wiki, instead of emailing them as attachments, enables everyone on a team to directly contribute to the agenda and shape a highly focused, productive meeting.
  • Project Management – The wiki gives teams the ability to organize their work in one place, streamline workflow and reduce reliance on email and documents, and rapidly incorporate feedback while a project is in flow, instead of after the fact.
  • Tacit Knowledge – Information not particular to any project, but essential to getting things done. Documenting on the wiki gets it out of peoples’ heads and into a medium where everyone can use and improve it.
  • Contact Information – Keeping the employee directory on the wiki allows people to update their own contact information directly, so the directory is less likely to fall out of date.
  • Calendars – People maintain their calendars on the wiki, where others can quickly see their availability, propose meetings, and confirm times, all without sending a single email.
  • Out of office/How to reach – People update their status on the wiki, as opposed to sending an email auto-reply. This is an indication that people use the wiki as frequently as email, if not more so.
  • Blogging/News – Blogging is an efficient way to send messages to the entire internal community, or parts of it, and stimulate conversation and feedback.
  • Emergent Applications – “We are hoping people will come up with the best uses based on their knowledge of their daily work.”

Let People Influence Each Other to Join

“We are running a pilot. At the moment NE GCO have lit “bushfires” – Rupert Shanks (On-Line Content Coordinator) visited a bunch of departments and suggested to one individual in each, ways in which they might use it. They are free to invite anyone they like. Anyone who hears about the wiki and makes an enquiry is invited to join.”

Alek says that the approach to growing wiki participation is a decidedly grassroots one. Rupert visits people in various departments and gives an overview of the wiki, several examples of how it can help them, and encourages them to invite their colleagues to use the wiki.

In the first six months, wiki enrollment grew to 500 users. Alek’s goal is to have 1,000 users by year’s end, with 25% outside Europe.

ᅠThe NYK Europe wiki is organized into three spaces:

  • Europe – This was the first space created, and is for internal knowledge sharing and collaboration. It’s accessible by employees only.
  • Extranet – Not long after the internal space was created, people wanted to use the wiki to collaborate with external business partners, so the Extranet space was added. It is accessible by both employees and external business partners.
  • Guide – When the Extranet space was created, help and how-to guides for using the wiki were moved from the internal-only Europe space to a new space accessible by both employees and external business partners. This gives everyone access for productive wiki use.

6 Ways the Wiki has Improved Business Processes at NYK

  1. Increased Willingness to Share Knowledge – Data, like departmental work plans for the coming year, which were once considered secret, are now open to all to view.
  2. More Reliable Information – For example, phone/contact lists are no longer out of date.
  3. Better Meeting Management – It is now easy to get additional items onto a meeting agenda and meeting minutes tend to be published quicker.
  4. Improved ‘Onboarding’ for New Employees – New hires are able to get up-to-speed ahead of their attendance at induction days.
  5. Interoffice Collaboration – When staff transfer from Europe to Asia, they want to keep using the wiki. This wasn’t possible due to technical restrictions with the intranet, but is easily possible with the wiki. They just use the same login, even after transferring offices. This also helps spread adoption by raising awareness among staff in Asia, and sets the stage for improved collaboration between offices in Europe and Asia.
  6. Increased Participation and Feedback – Most people would never have contributed to other systems, where now they can provide feedback unlike in days of broadcast emails. Some even post content to the wiki on the weekend! Alek says he never saw that happen on the intranet, even with VPN access.

Each of these improvements is impressive by itself, but taken together, the impact is transformational to the company’s business. And it’s spreading throughout the company in an adoption pattern that’s highly sustainable because it relies on satisfaction with the tool, and existing social relationships. Ian has recently met with his GCO counterparts in North America and Asia to spread use, and GCO in South America now uses the wiki.ᅠ

About the Author

Stewart Mader is a wiki expert, public speaker, and author of Wikipatterns and Using Wiki in Education. He publishes the blog Grow Your Wiki, and teaches people at Fortune 500 companies, universities, non-profits, and small businesses how to improve productivity and collaboration using wikis.

Image Credit and Copyright © 2008. NYK Line.