The Lessons of Wiki – Why businesses need an absolute truth

Mark Atkins, Intraversed


The Lessons of Wiki – Why businesses need an absolute truth

The Decline of Knowledge (or the rise of confusion)

For several years it’s been recognised that Wikipedia’s army of contributors is shrinking [see here].

The decline is partly due to the increased difficulty in managing the attacks by those intent on pointless or humorous information vandalism.

Wiki isn’t the only place this is happening. Those intent on furnishing us with fake news, opinion-as-fact and bald-faced manipulation, are becoming increasingly enmeshed within previously reliable, fact-based information sources.

And to add further complexity to our search for reliable information, in the sheer speed of information creation and public dissemination online, and in the rush to be the first to win our attention, we are unavoidably subjected to short snippets of news for which facts must largely be assumed from dramatic or sensational headlines. [Read blog "The Cost of Convenience Part 2: Digital Disruption" here].

The same pattern can exist in businesses information

In large organisations where divisional siloing is easy and common, our understanding of enterprise-wide information is becoming infected with division-based assumptions and opinions on the meaning of key business terms.

For example, when we asked a major Australian bank’s twenty-plus retail sector business representatives how many customers they believe they have, we received almost as many different answers as we had answerers, with estimates varying from a few million to over twenty million.

This should make any CEO very worried about business assurance.

The reason for this lack of clarity? Each business function unit had a different definition of “customer”, relevant to its own area of work.

Rather than getting to the crux of the matter and resolving these differences (one of the things in which Intraversed specialise), we find businesses more commonly have business glossaries filled with conflicting definitions, driven by function-specific usage (opinion) rather than enterprise-wide agreed definition (fact). [Read blog "The Cost of Flawed Intelligence" here].

Our work with another recent client identified over ninety conflicting definitions covering a collection of twenty key financial metrics. Not only does this have the potential to seriously undermine business assurance but it was directly causing confusion and costly delays in reporting and analysis functions, not to mention creating some intense frustration for the staff tasked with resolving these discrepancies.

The solution to “alternative facts” within business language

The key to effective communication of accurate information across a business and to external stakeholders begins with successfully managing business term definition.

The typical IT solution is to centralise the chaos in data dictionaries, glossaries, and warehouses that try to give every definition to everyone, adding complexity to search capabilities but without adding clarity.

It’s business term definition as a Google search.

Consequently, we find no one using these “solutions” because they are not actually solving anything and often make the situation worse.

But it’s not IT’s fault. Their role in a business is to manage technology, not business language definition. [Read blog "Why IT staff should care about how the business defines its terms" here].

While Wiki is responding to the assault on fact and truth by improving their software and process to minimise the impact to collaborators, their platform is based on retaining the open source approach to information, meaning they have little control over the community and the information their site provides.

Clearly this should not be the approach within businesses.

We believe the solution is to address the root cause of differing opinion, identify the true intent and meaning of each business term and then apply business rigor and methodology around the corporate glossary. This establishes an enterprise-wide, single version of the truth, for definitions for all key business terms.

No opinion. No alternative facts. No fake news.

One single answer to questions like “How many customers do you have?”

And that means better business assurance.

Mark Atkins, Intraversed

Mark Atkins

Mark is a co-founder & Chief Development Officer at Intraversed, helping organisations establish the Intralign Ecosystem, an award winning information management & governance methodology, to achieve reliable information, stable tech spend & greater IT project success.

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