Paula O’Kane, Owen Hargie and Dennis Tourish
I think there is a world market for maybe five computers
(Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943)
Communication has been shown to be at the centre of successful organizations (for example Clampitt and Downs, 1993; Hargie and Tourish, 2000) and so the challenge for businesses is to create a communication system that is both effective and efficient. In so doing they must address the needs of their customers, external stakeholders, such as suppliers or shareholders, and internal clients or employees. A key feature of the organizational landscape has been the surging river of technology that has become a torrent in recent years. Its impact has been evident in every aspect of organizational life. When harnessed effectively, this has proved to be a definite boon. As noted by Cohen (2000:12), ‘electronic media has come to the forefront of human resources to solve critical challenges in employee communication’.
At the same time, as we shall illustrate in this chapter, there are also dangers. Billions of dollars were lost in the great dot.com investment mania in the 1990s. Investors felt they simply had to join in the collective madness of the race for stocks in this virtual wonderland. It was as if the technology was a form of Midas touch that would turn shares to gold. But, of course, it all came to an abrupt and sorry end as companies folded and fortunes vanished (Cassidy, 2002). In the same way, the implementation of new technology must not be viewed as a panacea that will in and of itself solve problems. Rather, it must fit neatly into an already existing communication strategy. For many years, Audi motor cars were promoted with the advertising slogan ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ (progress through technology). However, technology alone does not lead to progress. It merely offers new opportunities that need to be properly harnessed if benefits are to be reaped. As summarized by Gattiker (2001:185), ‘with every opportunity for positive outcomes, we also have a chance to have negative results instead. It is not so much the technology as the way we use the technology that will shape our information future’. This chapter therefore not