Tech Comm Needs to Talk Business

In a recent blog post reflecting on TCUK Ellis Pratt recounted the fairy tale style story he’d spoken about at the much-loved “rants” session.

The essence of his story was that as new approaches for sharing information have arrived in the work place tech comm practitioners have been passed by. He cites intranets, wikis, and most recently content strategy, as missed opportunities for members of the technical communication profession. The number of cases in which conventional technical writers have stepped up to take the lead with these tools and techniques are few and far between, while there are many examples of companies where other people have taken the lead, leaving the technical writers out in the cold. Until technical writers can talk business, and explain the business benefits of what they do, they won’t make much headway.

Sadly, my own experience broadly supports Ellis’s view. Tech comm folks love to talk about being “user advocates” and doing their best to “help users get their work done”. That’s all well and good, but it’s not the sort of talk that grabs the attention of decision makers and budget holders in any business. We’re surprisingly reluctant to talk about numbers, perhaps because we’re frightened someone will start counting pages and judge us simply on the quantity of the words we write. The irony is that if we don’t learn how to talk business to business leaders all that will be left for them to do is count the pages. (Back in the days of hard-copy manuals one Finance Director told me off for writing such long user guides: “do you know how much it costs to print that stuff?”)

In her Keynote presentation to TCUK 2013 (Fame, glory and …tech comm?, Sarah O’Keefe spoke about the need to speak to management in the terms that management understands. Tech comm must be aligned with the organisation’s priorities – just like everything else the organisation does. In short, tech comm is not “all about the user”, it’s “all about the business”.

The problem may be that tech comm people often lack the technical vocabulary with which to describe what they do in business management terms. For example, we may be impressed by Ann Rockley’s ROI calculator for a unified enterprise content management strategy, but how many of us fully understand what ROI is?

We are not the only professionals who face that sort of challenge. Back in May 2012 I heard Kate Kenyon give a very concise presentation on how to present the business case for content strategy in business terms, including her recommendations of a couple of business books worth reading. Luckily, there is a video recording of her presentation, Bursting the Content Bubble, and it’s definitely worth investing a few minutes in watching it. I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the ROI in this case.

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2 Responses to Tech Comm Needs to Talk Business

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    Excellent words. Thank you, David. As I read about our history of missed opportunities, about our reluctance to speak the language of business, one question emerges: What are we afraid of?

  2. Craig Wright says:

    Isn’t this because we are all trained/inclined to avoid jargon and the business world is riddled with it? We need to be able to justify work with numbers or benefits, but I’m very hesitant to start using business-speak. Who knows where it may lead…one minute you are talking about ROI, the next you are grovelling to Alan Sugar on The Apprentice.

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