Are We Really Communicating All That Better?

In my over twenty years of experience at the large, very successful aerospace company where I labor, I have spent a great deal of time trying desperately to get the IT people to talk to the Engineering people. I haven’t, for the most part, been all that successful. Back in the day IT was truly an empire unto itself and it was pretty blind when it came to listening to the needs of the Engineering community. Furthermore, many of the systems that were used by various programs were dictated by the customers who were paying for our services and our products, basically NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and DOE.

This resulted in some very interesting problems with respect to systems, tools, and their use and subsequent development. What used to happen was Engineering would get an itch for a certain type of functionality but, since it hadn’t been contemplated in the original contract and since it might be some time before it could be renegotiated in order to get some money for developing the code required, Engineering would take it upon themselves to develop what they needed. You can imagine what happened many times. Though not an Engineer myself, I believe all Engineering students study one or more computer languages . .  . I’m fairly certain most of them  do.  Well, they would just get on the problem themselves, either writing code or – even worse – creating a tool in Excel.

So now we find ourselves in the interesting position of having something like a couple hundred tools, many quite useful, many overlapping in functionality. Many of them are unwieldy and kind of out-of-date, yet we don’t quite know how to get rid of them. This does seem to be changing somewhat as the tools of Enterprise 2.0 are gaining traction, i.e. blogs, wikis, user-generated content in general. Regardless, there are still numerous choices for how to deal with each of these as well. What wiki should we use? What about Open Source? (Anathema, btw, in my company – at least for now).

So the beat goes on. We keep adding tools, if at a slightly slower rate than previously (I think), and we seldom shed any. I suspect, as more and more content gets generated through the use of social media, and the ability to organize and make sense of it improves, we will eventually move away from many of the tools we’ve kind of grown up with. Data, too, will probably migrate toward a common format that can be accessed easily by anyone who wishes to and has authority to do so. It would be nice to see everyone on the same page, rather than pockets of people talking about the same thing in slightly different, and frequently incompatible, formats and locations.

About Rick Ladd

I retired nearly 13 years ago, though I've continued to work during most of the time since then. I'm hoping to return to work on the RS-25 rocket engine program (formerly the SSME) which will power our return to the moon. Mostly I'm just cruising, making the most of what time I have remaining. Although my time is nearly up, I still care deeply about the kind of world I'll be leaving to those who follow me and, to that end, I am devoted to seeing the forces of repression and authoritarianism are at least held at bay, if not crushed out of existence. I write about things that interest me and, as an eclectic soul, my interests run the gamut from science to spirituality, governance to economics, art and engineering. I'm hopeful one day my children will read what I've left behind. View all posts by Rick Ladd

2 responses to “Are We Really Communicating All That Better?

  • Brett

    The situation you describe highlights what I think is a key challenge for organizations: how do allow individuals to find and use the tools that best support their individual needs while at the same time meeting the overall needs of the organization (in terms of efficiency, consistency, etc). Some will argue that the individual’s needs should take precedence over any “perceived” organizational need, while others will say that “individual needs” are unimportant and that individuals should learn to work within the corporate construct.

    I think the latter sentiment is diminishing in the wake of 2.0, but I don’t think we should completely wish it away. Somewhere in there is a balance, and that’s what we need to find.


  • chris

    Communication or collaboration, is there a differance? I been wondering about this for the last few weeks. Collaboration has been so hyped it has become a bit of an empty word and I wonder if in the work place if communication is more important? I see collaboration is a more social experience and communication more aligned to the transfer of knowledge. In your data and tool rich environment certainly requires people to word together to debate things but I expect tht in many cases this happens on the back of messages (email) and therefore the exchange is not real-time nor does it really need to be. If I am working on A and you on B and they have a connection we must communicate about the impact one has on the other. But what if these connections were known and what if these connections were socialable? What I mean is what if messages connected A & B and therefore if I wanted to see what was going on I could filter on A & B. In this case a third person could also see A & B have connection and could see these basis of these connections since the connection is a discussion.


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