Mind your language

How we communicate internally, within our own IT departments, with our business customers and with our suppliers, plays a major...

How we communicate internally, within our own IT departments, with our business customers and with our suppliers, plays a major part in determining our personal, team and corporate success.

David Taylor

Inside track

In IT we seem to have made communication a science of its own, full of jargon, acronyms and gobbledegook - take a bow, DDBMS (distributed database management systems), GIOP (General Inter-ORB Protocols) and application-specific integrated circuits.

Note how acronyms are even more confusing once we know what they stand for!

We seem to enjoy surrounding ourselves with mystery and a language no-one understands, it makes us feel special, indispensable. In fact it has the reverse effect, making us and our departments look arrogant, full of techies and out of touch with the business world, let alone the real world.

Some people will argue that these words and terms have to be used, as they are accurate and common throughout the industry. Wrong. They may be common within a certain level of geek communication, but they need not be common in the business world. It is possible to explain complex technical ideas and results in business language.

Much has been written on the importance of using the language of our business customers in everything we communicate and ensuring that everyone in the department also speaks the lingo. Many IT departments now put in place communication guides, in which people are encouraged to use plain English expressed in the needs of the overall company.

Developing a common internal business language is not enough in itself. Your suppliers must also understand and use it.

In the eyes of your business customers your suppliers are your department, and they must speak the same language. This takes time but the results are very powerful, both for you, your department and the supplier, whose relationships at all levels with your organisation will improve. More effective service will naturally follow.

The supplier will also have their own style of language and understanding of industry terminology. You should take time to understand the most significant of these terms, as well as taking the time to teach your suppliers the language of your business sector and company.

A common language is first about understanding, and then about communication.

I was recently on a television panel discussion for a station broadcast mostly to the supplier industry. The two other panellists possessed a far deeper technical understanding than I did, so I was aware that a question might arise that I could not answer. It did - the very first one!

We have an e-mail from John, who is a technical services analyst: "What is the panel's view of HMOM as a controller to management data?"

I had been told most questions for me would be about IT directors and leadership issues!

"What does HMOM stand for"? I asked, expecting the panellists, programme researchers and others present to respond in a loud chorus with the correct answer. After a few minutes of confusion the director paused the show, as no-one had a clue.

I have since found out that it stands for Hypermedia Object Manager and it really is quite good as a controller to management data. Make sure you let your business customers know this important information first thing tomorrow - it will change their lives forever.

David Taylor is president of the association of IT directors, Certus. His collected columns, David Taylor's Inside Track, is published in Butterworth-Heinemann's Computer Weekly series. Contact 01865-888180.

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