In Enterprise Architecture, one of the most important aspects of the job is not only to communicate, but to lead change.  In other words, it is great to have the data to point to a problem in an enterprise.  It is better to help that enterprise overcome it by changing something (processes, technology, training, staff levels, departmental structures, roles and responsibilities, artifacts, governance mechanisms, etc).  Change requires more than simple communication.  It requires a kind of in-person, face-to-face, listening and hearing and absorbing interaction that is difficult or impossible over written mechanisms like e-mail, word documents, and powerpoint presentations.

Our technology has led us to the point, in modern business, that we consider outsourcing and remote work to be a net benefit for all involved, but each of these “distance” mechanisms introduces the RISK of poor communication.  That risk is magnified when the person on one end of the line is hoping to change something that the person on the other end is doing.  Change is harder across distance, and that difficulty becomes magnified when dealing with the array of different interactions that are needed at the enterprise level.

I wonder if the PC revolution, that brought us personal access to written communication, has created a deep reliance on written communication in corporate processes.  I wonder, further, if that access to technology isn’t directly harming our ability to look a person in the eyes and communicate with them.

As a culture, we have moved from the age of face-to-face all the way to text-messaging-someone-in-the-same-room in the course of a single generation. 

Enterprise Architecture is more difficult because of this shift in communication patterns.  All forms of face-to-face communication are hampered by it.

Modern technology has done more to damage interpersonal communication than any other paradigm shift in human history.

This worries me.

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

2 thoughts on “Has in-person communication become the unwilling victim of technology?”
  1. Hi Nick,

    I do not only wonder IF, but I am convinced THAT these technologies made life more difficult in such a role. Of course there are many positive aspects in video and audio conferences and written follow ups. But every now and then – especially for kick-offs or tough negotiation with people who should change their ways – physical meetings are absolutely essential. And I am also convinced that it is not only the meeting itself, but also the coffee in between or the beer afterwards.

    And exactly that gets almost impossible nowadays to make management understand. They see that can easily save a few bucks on flight and hotel costs by replacing meetings by VCs. And the soft factors you describe are not visible on the balance sheet. At least not directly. I saw many such projects either fail or at least underperform. In the end the blame is put on the guy in the middle who tried to convince people that for a million Euro project, a few thousands spent on travel costs can make all the difference.

    So agreed, it worries me too. And I wonder how to reverse that trend…


  2. I started using electronic communications (email) extensively back in the early 00's because we were dealing with remote team members who had English as a second language. It removed some of the ambiguity when trying to communicate abstract technical points and it made me think about what I was really saying as I wrote.

    These days I find it a damned nuisance because the succinct emails have been replaced by single sentences which are open to interpretation and cause confusion. I miss the old days of just talking with people and having some type of personal relationship with them but I doubt we'll be going back.

    Maybe that explains the popularity of conferences and the like – an opportunity to actually sit down and chat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

nineteen − 18 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.