VistaPrint is an online supplier of graphic design services and customized printed products to small businesses and consumers. I spoke with Dan Barrett, who led the implementation of their enterprise wiki for knowledge sharing, VistaWiki. Dan is a software developer but has always been interested in the intersection of technology and people. He recently published the O’Reilly book, MediaWiki.
Three years ago VistaPrint was concerned about their intranet and its inability to handle their growing knowledge sharing needs. They had plans to hire a number of recent college graduates and many of their process and practices were not documented. Dan, recognizing that knowledge management is a “people” problem more than a software problem, began the process of designing the new system independent of technology. The software development organization was chosen as the first place to implement the new system. Dan led focus groups to define the information needs and develop a taxonomy to address these requirements. Only then did they look at technology.
MediaWiki, the software that runs Wikipedia, was selected. They started by creating over 1,000 blank wiki pages covering the complete taxonomy and related processes. This was counter to the Wikipedia advice to never provide blank pages but Dan wanted to offer a structure for employees to document knowledge. Employees now simply needed to fill in the blanks and they did not have to address structural issues. This simplified the effort and content was quickly generated.
Dan’s team monitored the content to refine it and add links. They also monitored group emails. Whenever anyone supplied content that would best fit in the wiki, this team could offer a specific home for this content within the pre-established structure of the wiki. People got the message and more content went directly into the wiki, reducing the load on email. It became very popular within software development. In the first six months they had more content than the prior intranet had managed to gather in three years.
Based on this initial popularity ten other departments lined up to have a wiki for their use. At this point, Dan advocated for an enterprise wiki rather than ten separate efforts. This enterprise effort was approved and taxonomies were developed for the rest of the organization. Dan’s team continued to monitor and refine content but the scope has called for them to recruit people in the other departments to help with this effort to keep the quality level high. When they went beyond the software developers, Dan tested business users to see it they could learn wiki mark-up language. It was not a problem.
They also created wiki extensions to further the capabilities of VistaWiki. Now you can see live data, such as sales figures, feed directly from other enterprise systems. It has become a central clearing house for all company data. Over 80% of central office employees are registered wiki users. They have created over 20,000 articles. The average number of articles per employee is 40 but there is wide variance here. There have been 175,000 page edits with over 15,000 per month.
VistaPrint employees found using the wiki format valuable for many reasons including: ease of use (based on open-source code), ability to track “live” documents and the simplicity of the design layout. I think it is great example of how to successfully implement a comprehensive enterprise wiki and a demonstration of its value.