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Practical Internet Groupware by Jon Udell

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Ask Not What the IT Department Can Do for Us

We like to imagine that IT departments manage information. In fact they manage very little of the information that flows through a modern company. People, communicating with one another, create most of the raw materials of the knowledge base that every company wishes it could capture and use. The painful truth, unfortunately, is that the IT department cannot deliver applications that will reliably channel all this free-flowing communication. Collaboration is inherently fluid and will not survive if forced into a strict rows-and-columns data-management discipline.

Much of what we collectively know is expressed in the form of messages—email conversations, forum discussions. We create this body of information all the time, every day, message by message. As individuals and in groups, we need to understand why and how good communication habits are not merely a matter of etiquette but, equally important, a way to collectively transform information into knowledge.

When a group relies on electronic messaging, every mistitled or misdirected message, and every poorly organized discussion, is a small act of sabotage. Conversely, every message that is carefully packaged and properly targeted, and every well-organized discussion, adds to the sum of the group’s knowledge.

So ask not what the IT department can do for us. Ask, instead, what we can do for ourselves. We use the Internet’s standard communication tools to enact what we do as groups. The value of the message bases that we create isn’t an IT responsibility; it’s ours. Groups that collaborate most effectively will be those that understand the common-sense principles outlined in the last few chapters and strive to make messages carry more signal and less noise.

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