Getting the business message across

With so many forms of communication available, is it still necessary to think carefully about medium as well as message?

Sometimes, yes. Electronic communications might all appear to be instant and completely effective, but there are the occasional blips.

The odd didnt get your text in timeor didnt you get my email?probably does not matter that much for personal communication, but for business, the problems can be much more serious – missing orders, payments or critical alerts can have disastrous consequences.

On the face of it, all business communication is about sending a message or opening a conversation, between two or more participants. But all of these activities have a purpose (apart perhaps from some of those agenda-less meetings that drag on all morning and have no actions or outcomes, that afflict many large organisations!) The purpose is inherent in the business process and may imply many things that will influence what form of communication should be used – intent, importance, timeliness, criticality, relevance – in order to achieve a desired business outcome.

For all conversations from informal ones over the phone, ad hoc videoconferences, team gatherings or right up to formal meetings, the outcome can (and should) be clear. As long as there is some sort of implicit or explicit agenda along with sufficient interaction leading to a raising of the mutual level of understanding, the results can be seen, heard and if required, minuted.

Sending business messages – whether using electronic data interchange (EDI) or personal email, text or otherwise – can be much more problematic partly due to the lack of feedback. Was it definitely sent, or received, and by the correct recipient audience? But the content is also more important. Was it securely delivered, recorded for audit or suitable compliance longevity, and checked against the leaking of private information to the wrong places?

With highly connected businesses and their supply chains increasingly becoming digital, messages are sent automatically as instructions and alerts, which have important consequences if not delivered to the right place at the right time or even in the right format.

This can throw up some surprising blasts from the past.

Research Quocirca conducted in 2008 suggested that 80% of employees had fax numbers on their business cards, only slightly behind those having a mobile number. Many might have been surprised it was so high back then, but surely now fax has gone the way of the Telex?

Not at all, and the reasons might be surprising. When a twenty-something recently started a new role in a UK Internet of Things (IoT) business, he tweeted how shocked he was to send a message using apparently archaic media – fax. It turned out that the industry sector his customers occupied still generally expected to receive faxes.

A conversation with business messaging specialist, Retarus, revealed that not only is this not unusual, but in some areas it is seeing increasing use of fax. Some of this is apparent at a regional level; in Europe fax is generally being replaced by other messaging systems, but perhaps surprisingly fax usage is still very strong in the US and actually growing in Asia.

One reason perhaps for fax longevity is the growth in the so-called sharing economy, where an internet order is placed to a centralised service, which is then assigned to a local service provider for delivery. It might look ubernew wave, but it is not a new business model, having being around since 1910 with the arrival of Interflora and messages being telegraphed between florists.  

Today, a similar approach is being taken by online platforms for ordering food from takeaways found via centralised service platforms. So, from a mobile app, linked to a central ordering platform, the message goes out via fax to the local organisation delivering the service – food, flowers etc. Not everyone has the wherewithal to accept these disseminated requests in a fully electronic manner: this is where the venerable fax machine provides a simple, trusted and cheap mechanism for the recipient to receive them.

These messages have to get through and media should be chosen for effectiveness in meeting the business purpose, not from using the latest cool technology. Guaranteeing the message gets deliver is a service all of its own, and this is where companies like Retarus fit in. Telecoms networks enable connectivity, but organisations and especially their value chains are diverse, dispersed and global. Ensuring communication is secure, efficient and effective requires some thought and effort to avoid awkward questions like didnt you get my order?or why wasnt I alerted as soon as it failed?. Businesses need to make sure they are getting the right strategic message, not just the facts.