Reality Check: Wikis? Sorry. Never heard of them.

Summary:Now that I have my Thinkpad T42 back (the display went dead on me....as it has done on so many Thinkpads I've had before), I've been digging through the backlog of content that was stuck on my hard drive and that didn't get posted yet and I found a gem from Gartner's recent Symposium/ITxpo in San Francisco.

Now that I have my Thinkpad T42 back (the display went dead on me....as it has done on so many Thinkpads I've had before), I've been digging through the backlog of content that was stuck on my hard drive and that didn't get posted yet and I found a gem from Gartner's recent Symposium/ITxpo in San Francisco. Just after the opening ceremonies during which the speakers (Gartner analysts) extolled the virtues of some of the newer social technologies (ok, new by Gartner's measure) as a means to better collaboration, I did an exit interview of a group of attendees that were standing in a circle outside the auditorium. They all turned out to be IT decision makers for the State of California and I capture the interview on audio.  You can download it manually or, if you're subscribed to ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts, they'll be downloaded to your system or MP3 player automatically (see ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in).

The exit interview covered a variety of topics.  But the two most interesting were (1) how the technologies being used by kids today are affecting their decision making and (2) their familiarity with wikis (a technology that holds a huge amount of promise to simultaneously flatten enterprise-wide collaboration, knowledge management, and document storage.  On the kid front, here's what "Don" had to say:

Those are the things we're talking about exploring because you mentioned or someone mentioned the teenagers out there, this is the way they do business.  This is the way that they do their homework and collaborate.  When we go to hire people, it's a succession planning kind of issue.  We need to be ready to hire those people and have them step in and do things the way they're use to doing them.... I gave a presentation several months ago and I used my daughters as as examples of the way they do things. I came home one day and my youngest stepdaughter .. it looked like she was playing on the computer.  But she really was doing was collaborating on getting her homework done. She had three windows up where she was chatting with some of her friends. She had a document where she was entering answers on to her homework. and then she had the school Web site up for homework help.  And, that's the way they do stuff.

Don said that both he and the school condoned that sort of collaboration.  In other words, it was not surreptitious cheating.  That's pretty encouraging (from an educational reform point of view)  to see kids using the power of collaborative technology to get work done. 

But, after the people I interviewed themselves made a convincing argument for why they're embracing newer collaborative technologies, I asked the which of the more socially oriented technologies they had in place.  Blogs? No.  Wikis? No.  In fact, what really struck me as odd was how none of the people standing in the interview had even heard of wikis.  Here were the reactions when I asked if they knew what a wiki was:

  • I've heard of wikipedia, but I'm not sure how that applies to what we're doing.
  • I sure don't.
  • No, I do not.
  • A wiki? I don't know.
  • Uh, no.
The interview is only 10 minutes long.  In some ways, the interviewees are some of the most forward looking technologists I've ever spoken to.  On one hand, they're extremely clear on why they need to embrace the newer technologies.  On the other, they're not sure what those technologies are.  The net net is that if you're one of the few people out there that get it, you could easily generate competitive advantage for your organization by adopting these technologies well ahead of your competitors.

Topics: Software

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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