5 reasons why Wiki fails for PLM collaboration

In the last few posts, I wrote about how you can use Enterprise 2.0 tools to improve various processes related to product development. I think that Wiki is an easy collaborative platform. I also think that Wikis have a great potential to be transformed into something that bigger from which smaller enterprises can benefit. At the same time, over the past few weeks, I tried to experiment with Wiki platforms.

 My initial proposition was to use Wiki as content space to keep information for collaborative usage. I don’t think this is a very new and fresh idea, but I wanted to see how it would be possible to use existing tools without significant modifications.

 Below is my conclusion regarding the weak sides of the Wiki story for product collaboration:

1.       Information Access. The biggest advantage of Wiki is simplicity. But this means that Wiki is completely flat. You don’t have any way of organizing access to information rather than creating of pages / sub-pages and links between them. When you deal with short flat pages it works well. When you start to add more complex content, it becomes unusable. I found that the simplest way ,to search for information was a browser embedded search (even though theChrome search is quite good, it wasn’t very simple to find what I needed. If you have multiple Wikis, you have the problem of information being separated and not accessible across Wikis.

2.       Content Maintenance. It’s very simple to insert information and update a Wiki. Butm at the same time, you have to take care of all the information there. This means that you can’t maintain your content with rules and logic. This is not a good way to organize it. You need to take care of the content or else it turns into garbage very quickly.

3.       Updates. I didn’t find any way to maintain automatic and dependency in updates of content. This is creates cumbersome situation when I need to update information I already put in wiki, but keep history of my updates. Quite straightforward requirements in our space, but hardly can be achievable out of the box.

4.       Integration. This disappointed me very much. The only way to integrate Wikis is to put hyperlinks on the relevant information. But what if this information is located in other systems / storages and formats?. I didn’t find any way to mashup information inside a Wiki page. Although Web Parts or similar functionality is available, it breaks the  page into segments and is not as good as what I want.

5.       Structural Information. This is a higher degree of content maintenance, but a very important one, in my opinion. Product information is highly structured by nature. Maintaining this information only by URL/links mechanisms is not trivial. So, the structure of information is probably a very desired feature.

Therefore, what is my conclusion? The Wiki collaborative mechanism is very nice and simple. It provides a very affordable way of collaborating and co-editing information. It seems hard to balance between the benefits and burdens of Wiki on the user.. I’d like to hear your opinions and experience of applying Wiki technologies.

24 Responses to 5 reasons why Wiki fails for PLM collaboration

  1. François says:

    very good comments, I have not so much to add. Point 3 is very valid for products having a large amount of reuse. When we tried using wiki for product documentation, we never though replacing a PLM application, simply use the wiki for its advantages which are collaboration on documentation. In my opinion, this kind of tool is too open to be used by a large community of users, in a PLM context. Especially, because one user can decide to describe his product using one monolithic page only, reducing the benefit of a breakdown structure, which is the base for collaboration.
    So I am very glad to see point 5, as many people start thinking they can manage their product data without specifying any kind of special structure (or let the users create their own structure) and then dream about a solution that could help them find the right data. I do think that having structured management rules in PLM applications help finding the right data, but is as well a guide creating/updating the product information for users who don’t know perfectly the whole structure of a complex products (product configuration). That’s is a key feature of PLM applications (and not only PLM), it’s great to recall it.

    In your next entry, will your try WordPress?-)


  2. François, thanks for your comments! My point was to look for right balance. Especially with #5. I still challenge everybody to see how to get simple, but powerful solution. Wiki was on my list because of their simplicity. So, I still keep wiki on this list and see if there is sort of technology and product combination I can find. -Oleg.

  3. Jordi says:

    Very interesting post. I don’t know which wiki tool you used in your tests, but I encourage you to test Mindtouch (www.mindtouch.com, it’s open source!!, VM ready for easy testing). It’s a very advanced wiki engine and collaboration tool that can overcome some of the issues that you found. And …ah! I know PLM software, specially Teamcenter.
    1)What about Tags !!!?, Advanced Search engine (Lucene) is a must
    2)Advanced wikis support scripting (some rules can be added to the page as properties)
    3) Advanced subscription rules are available
    4)Oh!! mashups are strong key points of advanced wikis
    5) The Big question. Some balance is needed between structure and flexibility, but the usage of tags and rules can manage some structure in your wiki.
    Hope this helps.

  4. Jordi, thank you for your insight and recommendation for mindtouch. Did you make any trials to combine TeamCenter with wiki engine for collaboration capabilities. Something that will allow people to co-exist in the same wiki page, but keep rules and information constraints defined by TC? I know this is might be sort of dream, but this is what I was looking in my experiments. Again, I’m not trying to disarm wiki completely(you can see lots of previous posts where I see it quite beneficial).

    More specifically:
    Re #2. How I can address parts of page when scripting? Can I use specific annotation mechanism may be in mindtouch?
    Re #4 what tools did you use to mashup information with mindtouch?
    And yes, my key question I’m looking answer for, is how to balance between complexity of structure and simplicity of plain wiki page?
    – Regards, Oleg

  5. Jordi says:

    Oleg, I’m very interested in your research (Enterprise 2.0 & PLM). I generally agree with your ideas and I can see your point regarding wiki tools. We can “visualize” the “dream” application, but some practical issues and challenges must be solved. As always not easy answer for the correct balance. For me, it depends on company size, industry and user role. Wiki can be an “agile web 2.0 client” for accessing PDM server data (TC, Windchill or SmarTeam) allowing the combination/mashup of these data with KM,CRM,Marketing,Supply Chain data; specially for users outside engineering dept. Or also wiki can become “the PLM” support tool (SMB companies in CPG or Apparel for example).
    Wiki weaknesses:
    * Workflow (NPD/ECO)
    * Structure (BOM)
    * Integration with PLM tool
    * “Extending” wiki functionality
    Advanced wiki (mindtouch) strengths:
    * LDAP/AD synchro, “easy” SSO development, advanced permissions conf.
    * Scripting: even a UI for inserting advanced functions anywhere in the page
    * Mashups: easy development of extensions (called from UI) XML + any programming language. >100 already developed to connect to Google, Yahoo, MSSQLServer, MSAcees, SalesForce,…
    * RESTful API (REST!!!)
    * Templates! (scripts embedded in the template calling external data)
    Regards, Jordi.

  6. François says:


    most of the strength you point out for wiki are related to providing different views of the same data. It is a supposed strength of pdm applications, assuming there is a defined structure in the background.
    On the other hand, I do not understand a wiki extracting data from other systems, a wiki for me is an authoring tool, if it has to extract data elsewhere for display only, I am not sure a wiki is the right tool.
    Regarding insertion of advanced functions, it is for me a weakness of pdm applications. Not that it is not possible, but it is often possible as “related Data” only. This decrease a lot the ergonomics for the user, which would like simply sometimes insert a picture into a Part details page, by copy and paste or drag and drop. That’s where the balance is not in favor of PDM applications.

  7. Jordi, François, I’m trying to find balance between your comments :). Actually I’ve seen Wiki as collaboration tool that can generate content (in collaborative way). In my view wiki have sort of duality – on one side this is pure content, on the other side this is can be “projected content” and this is, already, view you, François, mentioned. I don’t see need to extend Wiki on the level of PDM/PLM, because of the fact, that in this case it will become PLM and will loose their simple/collaboration power. – Thanks for your contribution. Oleg.

  8. H. says:

    Oleg, fellow readers,
    I am not an expert about wiki, but I thought that wikis were not flat because of categories. This made we question the first point about information access. Although I agree that making information accessible through different wikis may not always be trivial.

  9. H,
    Thanks! categories, sub-categories and sometimes lists are available, but this is simple taxonomy and not mechanism that allows, for example, to show dependencies. -Regards,Oleg.

  10. chris says:

    Oleg you are right on target. A wiki is a great idea but fails in implementation or application as a Product Development solution. Prior to my CEO role at Seemage I spent 18 months working on a Product Development wiki. The research behind this work is now being used in Vuuch. Structure and/or what you called flat is the problem of generic wiki engines. If you compare a wiki to excel, excel give you a better solution, simply because colmns define some level of structure or organization. In Vuuch we will provide Page derived view of certain information and allow certain wiki like edits on segmented information. The Page is not totally wiki like, since Vuuch determines the Page type and the Page relationships.

  11. Chris, good points, thanks! From research you did, how do you see potential of generic wiki engine expanding vs. customization/proprietary development? – Thanks.Oleg.

  12. Lex Slaghuis says:

    You missed out mature enterprise products like Confluence and Dekiwiki.

    I am fairly confident that they will meet your demands for PLM.

  13. […] I learned this week … came from a post on PLM Think Tank (aka PLM Twine) titled 5 reasons why Wiki fails for PLM collaboration which I think points to an interesting set of […]

  14. Jim Brown says:

    I applaud your taking this issue “one level down” to discuss the technical details. I also applaud those that commented, what a great conversation!
    I have two key takeaways from Oleg and the comments:
    – Don’t count wikis short, there is work being done to make them enterprise class
    – Don’t try to replace your PLM system with a wiki, they are not meant to replicate what PLM has evolved into over the last decade or so =
    The question I explore in addition to this is “who will make social computing in PLM happen?” Will it be natural the evolution of social networking platforms? Will it be custom development by manufacturers that use both technologies? Will PLM integrate social computing platforms? Or will PLM vendors build their own social computing capabilities? The answer lies in the “next level down” thinking.
    A bit more on my blog if you are interested, http://tech-clarity.com/clarityonplm/?p=33, and thanks to Oleg for sparking this great discussion.

  15. Lex
    Thanks for pointing on these two products. I will take more deep look on them. Regards, Oleg

  16. Jim, thank you for your comment. With regards to your question about “who will make social computing in PLM happen”, I think it will never happen. PLM will need to keep business value and I agree with you on this. Social computing or social software be integrated with PLM capabilities. Social software capabilities will become available as services (more in more..) and in the end it will be kind of IM tools we are using today with our PLM products. – Regards,Oleg

  17. […] I learned this week … came from a post on PLM Think Tank (aka PLM Twine) titled 5 reasons why Wiki fails for PLM collaboration which I think points to an interesting set of […]

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