The UBM Wiki and our company

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Two and a half years ago, United Business Media's top management from around the world gathered in San Jose, Calif. It was the third in a series of meetings designed to support the building of our business. The first meeting was in Bangalore, India; the next was in Oxford, England.

We were in California to see how the tech world was changing and to understand how our business world would also change. We visited some of our biggest customers. We were lucky enough to have John Donahoe of eBay and John Chambers of Cisco spend time with us.

We experimented at the meeting by adopting the principles and technology of social media. This effort was led by our UBM TechWeb unit, the team that produces our Interop and Web 2.0 events.

Our experience at that meeting has led to a massive change in how things work and how we interact at our company. This change incorporates social media and the Web into daily work practices. It also allows the development of community and flat lines of communication across a business.

Today UBM has embraced this new, digitally focused world with, among other things, an online platform we call the UBM Wiki. The wiki is more than a single tool: It's a multipurpose tool kit that combines a standard intranet, an in-company social networking system, a project management tool and a knowledge repository.

As of today, 5,158 of my colleagues are active in this dedicated UBM environment. We've had almost 6 million page views on this content that's entirely employee-created. In all, our employees have created 38,000 documents, posted 6,000 blog entries, made 20,000 comments and posted 25,000 messages in 7,000 separate discussions. UBM people in various departments and across the globe use the wiki to deal directly with one another, supplementing more traditional channels. Of course, it has also become our water cooler, where people chat and interact about everything from gardening advice to engaging in the discussion "iPad—executive toy or business tool?"

It's just one more sign that management and traditional publisher lines of communication that run up and down the corporate structure have been overwhelmed by a new type of interaction that is peer-to-peer. This new communication is faster. It is more intuitive. And it will change our business profoundly.

Here's an example. A recent post on the UBM Wiki asked "for information about UBM activities in Ryad/KSA" (Riyadh/Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). It was posted by a colleague in the medical publishing part of UBM at 9:49 a.m. on Aug. 26. Four days later, there were five replies with tips, contacts in the region, links to local UBM businesses and suggestions of how to go about the work. Not one so-called "manager" was involved: The teams found their way to interact and help one another.

A virtual events group has also organized itself using the UBM Wiki. It's one of dozens of such groups that have included how to green the company and discussing paid content. The virtual events group now has 227 people across the company who have chosen to join together and share ideas, experiences and best practices as we develop these programs across UBM. Within the group, documents are posted, results shared and analyzed, hypotheses voiced and debated. A recent day's postings included the report on our first virtual event in the travel sector, the registrant report from our psychiatric recruiting event and the marketing response to the e-mail campaigns to attract attendees to a virtual event for diagnostic imaging. This kind of information gives those planning the next events—in any geography, in any market—a wealth of information, expertise and experience to draw on.

When we complete the formalities of our recently announced acquisition of Canon Communications, we will welcome some 350 new colleagues into the UBM Wiki. I'm excited at the new possibilities that these new voices in the UBM Wiki will bring us and how sharing their experiences and expertise will enrich our business in the future.

One of my favorite posts comes from a colleague who wrote:

"In a big business … it's easy to lose the will to take risks. It's easier to avoid putting heads above parapets, and there are plenty of places to hide. Big businesses often refer to having an ‘entrepreneurial culture,' but in my experience it's too often empty rhetoric. Budgets, and shareholders and middle management are mighty obstacles to the more-daredevil employee. And lets face it, why would a true entrepreneur choose to work in a large corporate? - surely that way large yachts rarely lie...But what UBM can and will do is support a well-thought-out idea and, if you're lucky, as I was, will back a hunch if the timing and the people behind the idea are right. ... I've been involved in some huge events before—with budgets several times the size (of this one) and [with similar] perilous hazards along the way—yet these awards have begun to take up a huge chunk of my energy—even of my life—and I can't help wondering why this one seems to matter so much.

"As the (new) event [we're producing] approaches and the stakes reach ever higher with interest from government, the national press and TV, the answer to [our colleague's] question is now becoming clearer to me, and whilst the senior folk at UBM might like to think the reason we are spending every waking hour (I do not exaggerate) on this event is to drive new profit, increase revenue and create a new ‘clonable asset' those things—whilst laudable—aren't what is really driving us.

"What is is the sheer exhilaration of invention. Everything that happens [when this event occurs] on Oct. 26 will be because we have created it. We have decided the color, and the shape and the taste of what will happen. The lighting, and the timing, and the flavors and the sounds will all come alive because we have designed them that way. How many times in a lifetime can anyone say that they created something brand new? Perhaps it has come to us late in awards —and those of you in publishing and exhibitions and conferences might already know the thrill; but to create something from scratch—with no umbrella brand, no franchise, no existing community—and bring it to life, now that is exciting and is why we are in awe of the 26 October.

"Floating above any cynicism or skepticism, we are out to prove to ourselves and each other, that working without compromise can be done. Whether we succeed or fail (gosh, we must not fail), we have set out to create an event that has not for one moment even contemplated mediocracy.

"We have demanded of our ourselves, each other, our partners and our suppliers the very best and nothing less. Understandably we all in our careers (and our lives) have to be prepared [to] compromise but not, my friends, this time …"

I could not express it better myself. We are really looking to allow people to express themselves fully and realize their dreams—while we operate a big corporation.

The nature of management is changing, like the nature of journalism. This new world really is flat—and we all have a lot to learn on how to make the most of it.

David Levin is CEO of United Business Media. He can be reached at [email protected]

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