What’s with all this Enterprise Questions and Answers thing anyway

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Gosh, when did the enterprise software panel get so complicated? Good luck to the mere mortal to keep up with it! Changing classifications, new buzzwords, old fields revamped into shiny new ones (with new names, of course): even those highly competent people from top analysts firms are having a hard time figuring all out! That is to say…

Since some time, a bunch of people – yours truly included – decided to bring their contribution to the mishmash by adding a new piece to the IT landscape: Enterprise Questions and Answers software.

Joke aside, the question is (no pun intended): do we really need Questions and Answers software for the enterprise? Does it bring  significant value to the companies to justify its existence? Isn’t it too much of a niche to be considered an area by itself?

My take is that Enterprise Questions and Answers software is here to stay, and I’ll try to explain why.

1. Q&A does something no other enterprise software is doing right now, and solves a real problem.

The problem being: how to provide employees accurate and timely information related to specific issues within their work tasks?

– One may argue that most companies have a lot of business content in various applications like wikis, Intranets, document management tools, etc. Employees can find their answers there. Well, I don’t think this is a real option. Extracting a little piece of information from ample, topic-oriented content is difficult and time consuming. Besides, employees questions are usually very specific, with twists and unique parameters that makes generic content irrelevant. Obviously, a wiki or the likes cannot (and should not) foresee all the situations that may occur in the real life. The Q&A can, and does: it’s its main reason of being.

Q&A and wiki serve different purposes, and can advantageously work together cross-referencing each other to form a powerful knowledge platform.

– Many organizations are using mailing lists. Unlike wikis, they do provide specific answers. But the email format, as popular as it may be, is very limited in terms of search and user interface – to mention just a few. It cannot achieve the kind of powerfulness a Web application is capable of. Actually, more and more companies are diminishing their email usage through deploying social enabled tools. Plus, mailing lists content is not really organized and reusable.

Discussion forums are specific, and archived for later consultation. But they have serious drawbacks as informative tools due to their very design. Forums are made for debating. The content is organized as chronological threads. In order to identify the relevant information, one have to surf through (often) lengthy posts. Contrarily, a Q&A features a relevancy based presentation, and enforces factual and accurate answers by design and guidelines.

2. Q&A has been very successful during the last years.

Success of products like StackOverflow and Quora shows that the format is appropriate. Q&A exists since pretty much always (the respectable Yahoo! Answers is one proof) but it’s really the modern social collaboration approach that unleashed its power.

Stack Exchange DataLast time I checked, StackOverflow displayed 2.5 millions questions, 5.1 millions answers, and 9.1 millions comments. (And this is without counting the other StackExchange Q&A’s, some of them featuring tens of thousands of questions). Check out for yourself the updated stats here.

(Wondering about the difference between StackOverflow and Quora? Check out what… StackOverflow and Quora users have to say about it. Warning: highly biased answers ;-))

3. It may not be obvious, but Q&A is complex software and its evolution possibilities are huge.

Q&A addresses an essential part of the enterprise collaboration – the workflow integrated access to business critical knowledge. Even with generalist collaboration suites available on the market that provides basic functionality in this field, there’s a need for more. A common approach for companies is to deploy a general platform, and extend it with specialized tools in areas that are very important for the business. And where basic features are not enough.

Tools like Quandora are specialized in Enterprise Questions and Answers. We focus all our time and resources on making it an always more powerful, natural and efficient work tool for the organizations. The possibilities are limitless, from plugging in enterprise search engines that automatically extract named-entities, to speech recognition. (How would you like to have Siri answering your work questions?)

Do you see Questions and Answers software as an useful tool within the enterprise? Do you think there are better alternatives? Let me know your thoughts, leave a comment below.

Looking for a great way to ask questions and build knowledge with your co-workers? Quandora enables simple, efficient knowledge sharing with your team, way more fun than a mailing list or a forum. Try Quandora

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