Enterprise Communication Paths

The communication options and paths within the enterprise has changed dramatically over the last 15-20 years.  More recently though there are some new options on the scene including Micro Blogging tools like Twitter and Yammer.  I think it is a good time to evaluate how your organization communicates in order to better enable them to meet business objectives and enhance collaboration.

Email

Email used to be great, but now it tends to frustrate me.  My guess is probably 80% of the messages I receive have no long term value.  I am a bit of a packrat and have a hard time determining what to keep and what to delete.  The time spent organizing, deleting, or archiving those messages is not a value added activity.  On top of that many organizations strictly limit mailbox size and many of those sizes are decreasing despite the Google Mail’s of the world offering increased storage space.  Storage and backup times are one reason, but with others there are Records Management implications involving compliance and legal discovery.

    Pros

  • Everyone is comfortable with and understands email
  • You do not need to know or care if the person is currently online, in the office, or on vacation
  • Easy to save and flag for further action if needed
  • Many software applications can send notifications and alerts via email

    Cons

  • High percentage of the emails have no long term value and have a short shelf life
  • Require effort for quota management and organization
  • Overhead to store, maintain, and backup messages centrally

Instant Messaging

Shortly after email use started Instant Messaging came along to distract people.  In the early days people mostly did this for personal conversations so it was looked at negatively by many organizations.  Slowly but surely it is getting a second look within the enterprise as major enterprise vendors have started to push their Enterprise Messaging wares.  I believe strongly that it does have a place within the Enterprise, but it is not the only tool or solution.

    Pros

  • Most people are comfortable with and understand IM
  • You know before sending the message if the person is online, and most provide some additional status indicators
  • Some IM tools support discussions between multiple people at once for ad-hoc group chats
  • Lowers the load on the email system and storage
  • Requires little to no message maintenance

    Cons

  • Company policy may be against it’s use
  • Adoption is not widespread in most organizations
  • It is another client based application the organization would have to support
  • Not all IM programs can interact, so program selection is important
  • Some of the internally hosted Enterprise tools do not work so well for distributed users or field users

Micro-Blogging

Micro-Blogging is a form of communication involving brief text based messages.  What started as a personal, consumer based, social activity, now has implications to the organization.  Tools like Twitter or Yammer fall into this category.  Most organizations are still struggling to understand what it is and how it can fit into the communication paths, but I think it offers a real opportunity to revolutionize Enterprise communication.

    Pros

  • Dynamic and able to adapt to the social fabric of an organization
  • Messages are brief
  • Reduce the clutter and storage needs of the email system
  • Messages have a short shelf life
  • People can tune in or tune out, supporting a Pull model instead of a traditional Push messaging model
  • Can lead to better collaboration and interaction within teams
  • Can lead to new connections and collaborations between teams with commonalities

    Cons

  • Not well understood by most organizations
  • Not well understood by many users
  • Most applications and networks are currently external, which may not be able to handle secure internal communication

Communication Soup

Technology leaders need to work with their business units to help figure out which tools to use, and for which purpose.  Without business buy-in and high enough adoption rates to reach critical mass people will slip back into the traditional way of doing things.

A good place to start is to do some analysis to figure out why types of communications are being currently taking place.

General Activity Info, location info to group
One on One Conversation when Online
One on One Conversations when offline
System Status Notifications
Exchange with external contacts
Exchange with attachments or RM needs
Group conversation when Online
Workflow notifications
Task Notifications

Then Take a look at what might be the best tool or communication path for that specific type of communication.

For example, system alerts and task notifications are currently sent via email.  I think it would be more convenient to have those sent to the MB message stream. 

Sending most messages to your team could also benefit from the MB path.  If you are seeking real-time collaboration between multiple people then email is inefficient and IM isn’t as flexible.

Fifteen years ago I never would have predicted that online communication and transactions would have replaced the postal system so quickly.  I feel confident in saying that in ten years from now email will not be the primary written communication path for either personal or business communications.  The sooner your organization starts the transition, the better prepared they will be to capitalize on it and use it as a competitive advantage.

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