Communication and IT: a natural partnership

cannesbeach2

Picture the scene: sun-drenched beaches, a harbour packed with yachts and superyachts, Bentley and Lamborghini showrooms jostling next to Hermes and Chanel stores, crowded bars and restaurants, and attractive men and women strolling the wide avenues by the sea.

Yes, it’s Cannes on the French Mediterranean coast, a town well known as the venue for the annual Cannes Film Festival. And of course that picture I’ve painted is what this town by the sea is like in the summer rather than in chilly November. But you can imagine the scene, can’t you?

I was there last week as a guest of Nokia – who were there to introduce the Nokia E7, their new flagship smartphone launching in December – and it was a remarkably similar experience to that summer description, even to a sun-drenched beach on the day I arrived as my picture suggests (more pictures on Flickr).

From the business perspective, Cannes is also known as a place where technology is the prime focus when industry analysts Gartner come to town with the Gartner Symposium and ITxpo. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Gartner’s annual tech-fest. the largest and most important gathering of CIOs and senior IT leaders which attracted some 3,500 participants this year including over 1,600 CIOs according to Gartner.

My interest in such a tech event is fuelled by my firm belief that, as communicators in whatever industry or business sector we’re part of, technology and our awareness of what it can do for people in business is an essential element of our understanding the relationships between people and technology in organizations and, thus, how we credibly provide effective business counsel to our clients and colleagues.

itxpoAmong the myriad announcements, commentaries and opinions going on in Cannes last week – not only from Gartner but also from the many other companies and organizations who were part of the event ecosystem either as presenters in the Symposium or exhibitors in the Expo – one in particular caught my attention.

In an announcement during the event, Gartner predicts that social networks will become the primary means of interaction with other people that employees in 20 percent of businesses will be using, rather than email, by 2014.

It’s a credible prediction because it reflects what we’re already seeing in the workplace in many organizations. It’s something I do myself with increasing frequency, where tools like Facebook and Twitter are often far more effective in real-time connecting with a colleague or a client than firing up Outlook and writing an email, especially on a mobile device.

Gartner makes some significant points in connecting IT and people:

[...] “In the past, organizations supported collaboration through e-mail and highly structured applications only,” said Monica Basso, research vice president at Gartner. “Today, social paradigms are converging with e-mail, instant messaging (IM) and presence, creating new collaboration styles. However, a truly collaborative, effective and efficient workplace will not arise until organizations make these capabilities widely available and users become more comfortable with them. Technology is only an enabler; culture is a must for success.”

While microblogging is reshaping enterprise communications, business communications are evolving. Newer employees will enter the workforce with a predisposition to communicate via a social network, but they will use e-mail in parallel — optimizing the business need with the communication modality.

“The rigid distinction between e-mail and social networks will erode,” Ms. Basso said. “E-mail will take on many social attributes, such as contact brokering, while social networks will develop richer e-mail capabilities.”

On that last point, note some immediate topical events, eg, Facebook and email evolution. And don’t forget about the cloud – a word I heard mentioned a lot last week.

So a key point to grasp from this is not that social networks will replace email. On the contrary, email will evolve – according to Gartner, vendors like Microsoft and IBM will add links to internal and external social networks from within their email clients and servers, making services such as contacts, calendars and tasks shareable across email and social networks.

Strolling the halls of Gartner’s ITxpo last week, and scanning the #GartnerSym hashtag, I heard snippets of conversation here and there as well as casual chat with delegates I encountered that clearly showed high awareness of such developments and likelihoods, and recognition of the key role IT will play as an enabler in the organization.

I’d argue that communication is IT’s essential partner in this regard – both functions go hand in hand to ensure everyone not only has the best tools to enable them to succeed in their roles, but also the knowledge on how to use them effectively.

(Cross-posted from the WCG Common Sense blog.)