Intersecting Minds: Education, Business and Technology at the North Carolina State Jenkins Graduate School of Management

The Communication Revolution: Time to Get on Board | October 13, 2009

Yesterday morning, I posted about the coming Google Wave and how it will be critical for businesses to keep up with the pace of change. After spending a bit more time thinking about it, I wanted to unpack this idea a little bit, and make an argument about the vitality of having a robust method for employees, managers and executives to communicate with each other.

There is no doubt that the last 20 years have produced incredible advances in our ability to facilitate the spread of information, knowledge and data through technology. It’s become almost mundane to say that the internet has changed the world. We see technology impacting office communication at every turn. In the workplace, e-mail is ubiquitous, instant messaging is common, and Facebook is at least tolerated, if not encouraged.

Right now, “Web 2.0” (blogs, social networking sites, video sharing sites, hosted applications etc) is a huge buzzword. McKinsey has a study out reporting that companies who use Web 2.0 are reporting positive effects that include:

  • More innovative products and services
  • More effective marketing
  • Better access to knowledge
  • Lower cost of doing business
  • Higher revenue

In other words, companies who get on board with Web 2.0 and the social media revolution will do better.

However, most of Web 2.0 is a global forum, and this is a key distinction between social media and social communication. Media is a public outlet (think Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) to express ourselves. Communication is more Web 1.0: e-mail, instant messaging and the like. Web 1.0 is that direct contact we have when we actively seek and talk to one particular person. This is very different from Twitter, blogs, etc. where you simply speak to the world and see if anyone responds. And as of right now, we are still waiting to see Web 1.0 make the leap that Web 2.0 has made in terms of connecting people.

Google Wave seems like it has the potential to be that advance. This could have a profound impact on how businesses communicate internally. Google Wave could have the power to render e-mail obsolete. Instead of hundreds of daily updates which we don’t need or read, we will simply have conversations open on our computer screen that also include the ability to work on documents and projects simultaneously from anywhere in the world. Now, I’m pretty sure I might be wrong on some of these predictions, but I don’t think anyone would dispute the assertion that we can communicate better than we do now.

Implementing improved communication methods will be especially important for large, multinational corporations, where using intellectual capital efficiently is an ongoing challenge. There is simply too much information to manage, evaluate and act upon for something as slow and burdensome as e-mail. Even if Google Wave bombs, some new and better form of internet-based conversation will come along.

There is also a strategic element to this discussion as well. I’m currently taking a Strategic Risk Management course, and we are in the process of studying Enterprise Risk Management (ERM). One of the arguments against ERM is that there is simply so much unknown information and uncertainty in the world that it makes no sense to waste money and time trying to make sense of it all. What will be will be. The counterargument to this says that more information is better. While we might not be able to make sense of everything, we can make sense of a lot of things and better prepare ourselves to deal with those eventualities if they happen. I happen to subscribe to the latter school of thought, and I think most people who run publicly traded Fortune 500 companies do too.

Ineffective communication means less information filters its way to the top. The right people do not get the right information at the right time to make the right decision, and this could be a huge strategic threat to companies that grow inflexible because they rely on e-mail instead of faster, more effective communication methods. And it comes back to those large, multinational, matrix-style organizations that are most at risk to this possibility.

Google Wave and its followers are the future, and the future is now. Firms who recognize this will be in an advantageous position to take advantage of their intellectual capital for strategic and tactical decision-making.


1 Comment »

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    Comment by JoJo John — October 24, 2009 @ 4:40 am

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