Breaking Barriers In The Information Age

How is the information age changing business communications?

Cloud computing, data growth, and mobility all make for interesting technology conversations and sometimes a pretty good blog post. But, it’s the other changes that intrigue me the most.

How we handle business communications is evolving at a rapid rate, brought on by the combination of changes in IT in how we think about and handle data and information, and the social enablement made possible by Facebook, Twitter, and other social media technologies. It’s resulted in a breakdown in barriers that once defined how we communicate in business.

Organizations—and individuals—are now both information consumers and providers, and the lines are blurred making it not always easy to determine where one role leaves off and the other begins. But, maybe it doesn’t really matter.

Cloud computing is often defined as providing key benefits of improved efficiencies and agility and this manifests itself in empowered business entities and workers. This blog post focuses on how the maturing of the information industry with some new thinking has intersected with social media to enable new ways of business communication.

Maturing of an Industry

At different times in history, currency could be found in agricultural goods (agrarian) or hard goods (industrial), but now the value is in data and information. For agrarian and industrial cultures, the supply chain was critical in moving the valued denomination from producers to consumers.

At times it was crucial for the supplier to control the entire process from raw goods to production to market. For example, in the early days of the automobile, Henry Ford and his motor company not only manufactured the cars but owned the parts suppliers and franchised the dealerships that sold the horseless carriages to the new middle class that Ford helped create with his 40-hour work week and good wages.

But, as competition became more prevalent, it became important to shed some of the holdings and share suppliers with competitors for better economies of scale. Supply chain management gave way to more loosely defined alliances.

Brick and Mortar Gives Way to Cloud

Similarly, with the evolution of IT, owning data creation, storage, and processing is giving way to shared compute, network, and storage resources in new cloud computing models meant to provide more efficient (think, economies of scale) and agile ways to share and use information. Here, like in the past, owning all facets of the production operations (in this case, the data center) becomes less important than cost savings and nimbleness.

Of course, this direction doesn’t come without challenges. Organizations embracing cloud technologies and this evolution are concerned about trust, security, and control because more often than not their competitive differentiation and advantage is in their data and information.

Business Communications becomes More Social

Concurrent with the emergence of cloud computing (defined here as moving business-critical enterprise applications to the Web) has been the rapid growth of social media (e.g. blogs, FaceBook, Twitter, etc.). Organizations now need to be concerned with both how and where their data and information is stored and secured and how the information is communicated.

As with many technologies (including mobile phones such as the Apple iPhone), what started as personal use consumption with social sites like FaceBook and Twitter has moved into the enterprise. So, now not only is key corporate intellectual property residing outside the corporate walls (e.g. sales lead information residing on but communications about product releases, acquisitions, and philanthropic activities is shared between the official corporate communications function and any number of individuals in unsupervised blogs, tweets, and Facebook postings. Though organizations issue official communications, gone are the days when widespread announcements came solely from carefully crafted, closely controlled, and cautiously communicated corporate press and news releases.

Take this blog, Managed View, as a case in point. Since launched a little more than six months, EMC Public Relations has linked four product releases and one acquisition announcement to it. And, while the press releases went through corporate and executive review, the blog posts did not receive any scrutiny. Commentary was left solely to the discretion of this blogger.

Now, these comments are not meant to bolster the importance of Managed View. Rather, I make these points to underscore how much corporate communications has changed with the adoption of social media and how the responsibility to communicate valuable information is now shared with the individual knowledge-worker. And, it’s not just the blog posts, many of my colleagues and Managed View followers on Twitter tweet about the posts and often add their own comments. Some might even argue that the social media activities have a greater audience than the official releases, but I can’t point to any hard numbers, just a shared sense of what might be part of the phenomenon.

Power Comes with Responsibilities

While this modern age freedom of speech is empowering, it does come with additional responsibilities for the individual. Corporations can leverage security technologies across domains and geographies when implementing cloud computing models, but social communication has yet to engage an automated fact checker to sift out inaccuracies from blog posts, tweets, and FaceBook postings. There’s an implied individual responsibility as an information provider to be concise and precise in communications, including business communications on behalf of one’s employer.

Not surprisingly, some of this social media behavior is about to get integrated and more formalized with mainstream tools within the enterprise. Microsoft just bought social media startup company Yammer for $1.2 billion ($US).  This acquisition fills the perceived weakness in Microsoft SharePoint and Dynamics CRM social features. With more than 5 million verified corporate enterprise users in 85% of the Fortune 500, Microsoft will continue to develop Yammer as a standalone service and add the Yammer social networking capabilities to their complimentary portfolio of cloud services.

Time will tell if organizations demand tighter constraints over the external individual information providers prevalent in the blogging corps and Twitter. Regardless, any policing will probably be limited. Seemingly, organizations are finding more value and agility in getting external communications as well as internal dialogues flowing using social media technologies—moving data and information quickly and at not much expense. Blog and tweet responsibly folks!

About the Author: Mark Prahl