Digital tools and software are increasingly important for communications. The Covid-19 pandemic has been a driving force for the digital transformation of workflows in communication departments. They are introducing new digital tools and software to support virtual collaboration, create and align content, and track resources.
While communicators see the relevance of the digital transformation and building digital infrastructure, there is still much room for improvement in implementing digital technology. This shows the European Communication Monitor 2021, a survey among more than 2600 communicators in Europe. Oftentimes, an overview and a broad understanding of digital technology's different applications is lacking. Project teams introduce digital tools and software bottom-up, sometimes without knowing what is already being used in their own department or company.
The following framework helps communication managers to analyze the current use of digital technology in their organizations and supports decision-making for digital investments.
How to select and implement digital technology successfully?
Stakeholder Communication and Advising: The first layer depicts primary activities that are directly linked to value creation through communications. They include preparing, creating, executing as well as evaluating and adjusting stakeholder communications. Other processes like analyzing and preparing insights, delivering presentations, or reflecting and discussing relevant issues are part of advisory activities, which are another key contribution of communications to corporate success.
Functional Support Activies for Communication: The second layer is also related to specific tasks in communications. It includes workflows that are necessary to manage communication in organizations professionally. Such activities include overall planning (aligning communication and business goals) and monitoring, but also handling digital assets (logos, templates, pictures, videos) or tracking staff hours and resources for projects.
Generic digital Infrastructure: The third layer illustrates processes that are basic workflows which are needed in any organization for task fulfilment, especially for collaboration and workplace needs.
© Zerfass & Brockhaus, 2021
- CommTech (Communication Technology) describes the intersection of communications and technology. It is an umbrella term for all digital technologies, tools and software services - similar to MarTech, a term used in Marketing.
- The debate on CommTech widens the previous view on digital technologies as channels and instruments (social media, websites, intranets) by asking how digital technologies modify communication processes throughoutthe stakeholder journey.
- Digital infrastructure is twofold: It considers mainstream IT, which includes back-end solutions (e.g., enterprise resource planning systems like SAP), as well as front-end solutions, which directly address the needs of users (e.g., apps).
Theoretical Background of the Framework
- The model builds on literature from information systems, management, marketing, and communication research.
- Business Process Analysis (Jeston, 2018) is an established approach to address complexity in organizational settings. Its basic idea is to analyze all workstreams and activities and their relations, in order to identify options for conceptual improvement as well as for technological support.
- The Value Chain concept in management research (Porter, 1985) combines this with the proposition that business processes should be distinguished according to their contribution to value creation. He distinguishes between primary and support activities: Primary activities include the creation of a product, its marketing, and servicing after sale. Support activities allow the primary activities to take place, i. e. by providing human resources, and infrastructure.
- This process-oriented and value chain approach can be transferred to communication management. It helps to prioritize communication processes which can be supported by digital technologies.
Three steps: How to introduce digital technology?
- Analyzing and considering the current use of digital technology in the communication department:
- What digital technology and tools are already available?
- What is used extensively?
- How satisfied are users?
- Identifying and prioritizing activities to be transformed by digital technology:
- What activities are carried out frequently?
- What activities are critical for creating communication value?
- Support decision-making for digital investments:
- Where is specific software needed?
- When does it make sense to consider adopting digital tools already used in other functions, or to share costs by joining forces with other departments?
- In what cases should team initiatives be revised because only generic activities are being addressed?
About the research project
- The topic has been investigated in a student's research project headed by Prof. Dr. Ansgar Zerfass and Jana Brockhaus, M.A. at Leipzig University in close collaboration with Siemens Healthineers in 2020/2021.
- Zerfass, A., Buhmann, A., Tench, R., Verčič, D., & Moreno, A. (2021). European Communication Monitor 2021. CommTech and digital infrastructure, video-conferencing, and future roles for communication professionals. Results of a survey in 46 countries. Brussels: EUPRERA/EACD.
- Zerfass, A., & Brockhaus, J. (2021, March 7–9). Towards a research agenda for CommTech and digital infrastructure in public relations and strategic communication. Paper presented at the 24th Annual International Public Relations Research Conference, Orlando, FL, USA.
- Weiner, M. (2021). PR technology, data and insights: Igniting a positive return on your communications investment. Kogan Page.