FAYETTEVILLE, ARK. — Technology can be both an enabler and a disabler of effective communication among architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental consulting firms. Too much reliance on e-mail and instant messaging leads to communication problems among firms, while tools such as intranets are hugely useful.

According to ZweigWhite’s 2010 Principals, Partners, and Owners Survey, communication is the seventh concern among firm leaders-with many leading efforts to improve communication both at the interpersonal and project levels.

Firm leaders interviewed for an article in the Oct. 18 issue of The Zweig Letter, said breakdowns in communication can lead to much bigger problems if not addressed.

"Flawed or misunderstood communications are the number one reason for project problems," said Brian Funkhouser, president and chief executive officer of Buchart Horn, Inc. / BASCO Associates in York, Pa.

Many firms are addressing their communication problems by encouraging more face-to-face interaction among staff members.

"I think we are losing our ability to communicate with each other as we rely more on digital means of communicating," said Keith Scoular, chief operating officer at Archaeological Consulting Services, Ltd., in Tempe, Ariz.

"What we are trying to do is discourage the in-house use of e-mails in order to force more one-on-one communication," Scoular said. "We have found that in many instances we can get more done in person than we can with the constant back and forth of e-mails."

SSOE Inc. in Toledo, Ohio, has created an electronic newspaper through its intranet that has "become the most popular method for our staff to keep current with company news," said Vice President, Principal, and Director of Human Resources Monica Dugan.

Additionally, among other things, SSOE business units also maintain Microsoft SharePoint sites, which contain information, documents, and others news; a number of committees that are appointed by the management team or board of directors; and employee-governed groups across the corporation that have sites on the intranet to regularly communicate upcoming events and activities.

With 15 offices in seven U.S. states and Germany, Buchart Horn recently initiated a strategic planning process that gravitated toward a sustainable organization model — for example, consolidating its profit and loss centers into three discipline areas, rather than by office. The firm revised and simplified its electronic files structure, is implementing BIM, and established a process that keeps project managers as the hub for all project communications.

Buchart Horn also created an intranet for in-house communications, which lists a wide range of information-from the ZweigWhite model of the Corporate Performance Open Book, to notable wins and personal news submitted by employees.

For more information, contact Sonya Stout at 479-582-5700 or sstout@zweigwhite.com.