Wikis in the enterprise face security, compliance challenges

As more CIOs consider enterprise adoption of wikis, security, management control and compliance remain their top concerns.

While wikis are popping up everywhere in the consumer space, they're struggling to win acceptance in the enterprise due to concerns over management, security and compliance. A mere 37% of enterprises are using wikis, according to a recent study by The Nemertes Research Group Inc. in Mokena, Ill.

Still, CIOs who are adopting wikis into their organizations are seeing numerous benefits, including improved productivity, less email, fewer meetings and better knowledge-sharing.

"Our wiki has proved invaluable," said Ted Turner, CIO at Ives Group Inc., a Sutton, Mass.-based provider of market intelligence, due diligence and risk assessment information. "We are a small but growing shop, and half of us work remotely. Intelligent collaboration is a must."

Turner said the wiki -- based on the open source DokuWiki -- is used by all employees for various tasks such as to-do lists and scheduling, as well as for projects and nonfinancial reporting.

The wiki took a day to install, cost nothing and is very powerful, Turner said.

"Anything that takes longer than an hour to figure out goes into the wiki, where it is automatically indexed and made available to the rest of us," he said.

While Turner noted that security is always an issue, he said the company would not be hurt if the wiki was penetrated.

"There are certain things that do not go into it, such as passwords and sensitive information," he said. "Anyway, I don't think our wiki can be sniffed because of the way we designed it."

Security and compliance obstacles

The biggest challenge wikis pose for CIOs is how to make them secure enough so they meet regulatory compliance standards while giving the enterprise and its employees better ways to work, said Irwin Lazar, principal analyst at Nemertes.

"Wikis can become a big management headache for CIOs, which is why a lot of them are not in favor of rolling them out," Lazar said.

Security is probably the major concern for CIOs, Lazar added. He explained that many enterprises are worried about not only security penetrations and losing proprietary information, but also about getting sued over false information maliciously placed in a wiki.

Who controls the wiki?

CIOs are also concerned with the way wikis are often brought into the organization -- outside the control of IT. The wiki phenomenon tends to be a bottom-up phenomenon, in which the CIO may not see the value of a wiki, but people in a particular department do because they're the ones doing the work.

Another stumbling block to wiki adoption in the enterprise is the fear factor, said Ed Dodds, a strategist and systems architect at Conmergence.com in Nashville.

CIOs are afraid of how wikis will be used, he said. "Minus activism on the part of institutional stockholders, wikis are really the only true method of transparency open to lower-rung employees."

Wikis can become a big management headache for CIOs, which is why a lot of them are not in favor of rolling them out.

Irwin Lazar, principal analyst, The Nemertes Research Group Inc.

Peter Yim, CEO at CIM Engineering Inc., a San Mateo, Calif.-based provider of hosted collaboration infrastructure that includes wikis, added, "CIOs need to realize that wiki technology is neutral, and should be viewed as something to augment certain human endeavors."

To explain wikis to people, Yim said he often uses the analogy that providing an organization with a wiki is like offering people blank sheets of paper on which they can doodle, sketch and so on.

"Even if some people don't think their work can benefit by having a few extra sheets of blank paper, there is almost no need to reject the general notion of using blank sheets of paper," he said.

In most enterprises, wiki usage is within small workgroups rather than the enterprise as a whole, Lazar said.

Lazar said that absent wikis, he sees enterprises adopting or planning to adopt shared collaboration applications such as Microsoft's SharePoint or IBM's Lotus Team Workplace. He said the rationale is that enterprises, especially large global ones, base their collaboration strategies upon partnering with a key supplier. They prefer to deploy tools from known organizations that can be easily integrated into other office productivity applications, rather than deploy unknown applications on open source platforms that lack an enterprise support vehicle.

Herman Mehling is a freelance writer based out of San Anselmo, Calif. He can be reached at hermanmehling@sbcglobal.net.

This was first published in August 2007

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