The company I recently joined with a charter to improve communication looks to invest wisely.  Many IT investments are evaluated extensively before a commitment is made toward a specific technology or direction.  In several cases, the company has developed home-grown products in order to maintain deep integration with legacy systems, or to simply to utilize the long-tenured staff’s (“grey beards”) programming skills and languages.

Newer or more commoditized products exist on the market that could be used to manage business communications, and younger talent acquainted with more versatile and scalable programming tools abound, but the tried-and-true in-house flagship systems were built to closely mirror the company’s business processes, and they favor heavy specialization to support specific customer needs.  The approach then, taken for every new idea or technology considered, is cautious and conservative.

The landscape

Technology vendors promote means and modes for employee communication by tossing around the same words but often describing varying solutions targeted at different problems.  Here are a few of the most common buzz words you’ll see in books, training seminars, blogs, articles, webcasts, analyst recommendations, magic quadrants, etc. etc. : “communication,” “collaboration,” “unified communication,” “messaging,” “workflow,” “document management,” “personalization,” “mobile,” “remote,” “repositories,” “search,” “social”;  you can add your own here.

The business world is awash with an overlapping set of answers from competing vendors to a variety of communication challenges.  It isn’t always easy to parse through the noise in this space if you’ve not lived in this industry for a while and watched it mature and evolve (and even then, it’s work to sort through it all without bias in order to articulate a clear strategy).  Introducing specific communication improvement plans to my company requires that I educate my co-workers and leaders about the appropriateness of each type of communication solution they might hear about, and the value of the ability to integrate them together for a seamless user experience.

The timing

“What have you done for me lately?”  That’s the maxim of every business environment populated by humans that I know of.   We are past-forgetful and recent-inclined in our outlook about those around us, and what gets done by whom.

Despite the fact that there is a cautious and conservative approach to determining new technology directions in my company, and the fact that it’s important and ethically appropriate to evaluate the morass of technology ‘answers’ in this space before diving in, delivering some meaningful communication tools in the near term to the groups I work with is also critical to the success of the overall improvements I plan to introduce.

Knowing that doing something now is the only way to build momentum and credibility, opening the door for a longer term unifying vision to materialize, I’ve taken a step-wise approach to getting some new technologies in-house.

First deliverables

As a starting point, we’ve decided to build a proof of concept around a single business scenario that addresses the need for several teams to share information and collaborate on keeping that information up to date.  We are creating a SharePoint site collection that highlights document and list management, workflow for content updating and approval before publishing, and key term tagging and indexing, so that the teams can quickly and easily search find the appropriate document information with a nice tag cloud display and the built-in search features of SharePoint.

This solution will initially serve a few teams totaling about 300 or so people, but it should allow us to demonstrate value and progress toward the value proposition: use of appropriate communication technologies in key areas of the business that will make work easier, faster and more accurate and valuable for employees and customers.

How I’m getting this going

As mentioned earlier, the conservative bent of my company means that it took more than a few attempts to get co-workers and leaders to listen to the potential value that introducing modern tools like SharePoint could bring. This is not a geeky group – even in IT.  And SharePoint is a ‘swiss army knife’ of a platform/solution set/product line.  (It’s very hard to classify its functionality as any single thing, making it even harder to explain to others who’ve not seen or experienced its potential).  As also mentioned earlier, the landscape in our industry means that there are several inexpensive point solutions advertised by many vendors that can meet single specific needs.

For a non-technical business leader who does a “technology drive-by,” catching an article in an industry magazine, these might seem like quick fixes to a problem they want to solve, without them understanding the larger context for how communication tools can (and should) integrate together for even more value and less cost to the entire business.  This desire for quick, seemingly inexpensive fixes can diffuse the momentum created above by distracting from a larger but nascent “unified communication” vision.

So, I have created a story book-like portfolio that demonstrates and shows concrete examples of integrated technologies delivering solutions to the business (if only in slideware for now). I’ve enlisted some help from product experts at Microsoft, Avaya,, and certified 3rd party partners who can also help tell that story and provide me with example content to build small showcases in order to make the story come alive.  Every step of the way, I will need to continue doing this proof of concept build out cycle with each new component solution we put in place in the company as part of the unified plan.

Essentially, the vision will need to materialize in front of the business’ eyes, like a Polaroid photograph, in order for it to take hold.  Internal selling of potential value in specific targeted scenarios, one team at a time, is the key to organizing the business and getting people’s mindshare to align.  This will help our employees and leadership to seize a company communication vision they can trust and rely upon, where none has existed before.