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Wiktionary: A win-win situation for KM and BI

1 June 2008

Dr. Moria Levy

The world of Web2.0 fascinates most of us. The interest is real and is more than a short-termed passing trend. There is a great commotion around this new field: we report daily about more Wikis being set-up, about more new bloggers writing their first posts. For the sake of illustration, in the end of 2006 76 million blogs were charted on the internet.

What does all of this have to do with BI? It is obvious to us why the Knowledge Management personnel are excited: the organizations wish to introduce the Web2.0 tools into the organizations. These tools are popular among users since they are user friendly and it is simple to share knowledge using them. Yet why are BI personnel excited?

A famous phenomenon in the world is the "key" phenomenon, also known as "I got a hammer". The problem is simple: when people have a key in their hands, they believe every object to be a keyhole (or a nail to hammer, to refer to the hammer metaphor). In the context of Web2.0, organizations and Wiki- we encounter this phenomenon in an elegant yet strikingly similar matter. Organizations wish to introduce Web2.0 to the organization, see Wikipedia and immediately attempt to implement it in the organization: let's set up our own Wikipedia, say the organizations, which will contain our organizational dictionary. What could possibly go wrong? Any worker debating over the meaning of a certain term can review the organizational terms. We will create a uniform language and provide new workers an easy introduction, etc. They hurry to the implementation stage, usually unjustifiably.

It is unjustifiable since it is unclear how many terms the workers are actually unfamiliar with. Also, it is unclear how much the users who indeed use the terms incorrectly, unevenly or imprecisely are aware of the situation and it is unclear therefore if an organizational Wikipedia would even be used. It is furthermore unjustifiable since it is unclear, assuming the tools will be used by both veterans and newcomers, how much added value would be provided to the organization and business performances will be improved.

This is where BI comes into the picture. The world of Business Intelligence views the need for a dictionary as a business need. A single truth in an organization is one of the most substantial challenges in the world of BI. One of the greatest fears in introducing a BI project to an organization is creating reports that are precise yet misleading. The use of wrong titles, invalid calculations and other problems usually stem from innocent mistakes which lead, since we are dealing with people and pride, to incompatibility and arguments that sometimes lead to the elaborate BI project to collapse for the wrong reasons.

Setting up a Wikipedia for organizational business terms can provide a suitable solution for the problem: a Wiki which includes pages of uniform structure, easy to use and insert data into and multiple connections between the various objects, is exactly the suitable infrastructure for this need. Each Wikipedia page of this sort will include:

  • A definition segment;

  • A segment which describes how this term's calculation is performed

  • A segment describing on which other terms this term is based on (links to other locations in the Wikipedia) and on which operative data is it based;

  • A segment for tips and/or pointers for safe usage;

  • In some cases, a segment on contacts or organizational experts (obviously including a link to their details).

This is an example for an oriented Wikipedia. This type of BI can serve as a guide for report writing, be the basis for using BI- an organization can state that each report which uses a title that isn't a name of an operational field (1:1) must only use titles which are included in the Wikipedia and be defined according to the contents of the dictionary entry. This way, we get closer to the one and only truth. We use the same terms. We define the terms uniformly, or at least provide all the means to do so. We know where to be careful and learn from each other's insights regarding safe use of data and thus succeed to focus on the main activity- promoting the organization and making decisions based on the BI instead of quarrelling about the data's validity and the current version of the truth.

BI benefits from this situation thanks to returning to the main lane. Knowledge management benefits as well since KM is supposed to provide services and tools for other worlds and not place itself in the centre of things- a purpose which is actualized by definition in this case. The organization and business certainly benefit from this. Thanks to the single truth which enables promoting business performances and decision making based on data and information.

Bottom line: a win-win-win situation!

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