posted 3 Aug 2005 in Volume 8 Issue 10
Trend tracker: Communicate
By Chris Harris-Jones, research director, information management, Ovum
A core element of knowledge management is communication. You need to communicate to pass on knowledge. But in a world that is increasingly dominated by IT, people increasingly confuse communication with messaging.
Sending an e-mail or instant message to someone does not qualify as communication, it is simply the transmission of information or knowledge. To communicate effectively the receiver needs to fully understand the message and confirm it with the sender so both parties can be sure the message has been understood. Then you can say information or knowledge has been successfully transferred. So of the plethora of electronic communication methods now available, are there differences between their effectiveness? The simple answer is yes, and you need to choose the right one to communicate effectively.
E-mail is potentially the worst communication method since it is very easy to send someone an e-mail and then forget about it. If you donít get a response, you donít even know if it has been received (although receipt notifications may be available). You certainly donít know if it has been read, understood or acted upon. Many people use e-mail in Ďshoot and forgetí mode, assuming that the message has been understood and acted upon appropriately.
Instant messaging changes this since both parties are online simultaneously and can enter into a conversation. The receiver can confirm the content and check that it has been understood correctly. The sender can confirm any actions that are necessary. The exchange is two-way and its a fast and efficient method of communication and very good at resolving immediate issues. However, IM conversations can be impenetrable if you save them and return to them weeks later. It is not a good method for long-term retention of exchanges.
E-mail is often a better method for conversations that need to be retained. Removing the conversational aspect of IM tends to make e-mail users more precise in their statements, which makes them easier to understand in the future. It isnít as fast but it can be used across multiple time zones and when the participants are not logged on at the same time.
E-mail and IM can be effective if there are only two parties in conversation. As soon as the numbers expand then following the conversation becomes increasingly difficult. Enter the discussion group. This operates at e-mail speed so is not a substitute for IM, but it is much easier to track conversations and come back to them in the future. Some discussion group software also allows you to e-mail contributions so you donít even need direct access to the discussion group.
And then of course there is the latest fashion Ė blogs and wikis (Iíll return to these in a later column.)
Communicating knowledge is not something that Ďjust happensí. It needs careful thought to ensure that you are using the most appropriate method and a mechanism that, where appropriate, will ensure your thoughts are available in the future.