U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
January 6, 1999
Memorandum For The Record
Subject: Evaluation Communication Metrics for Use Throughout USACE
Communication Metrics is a system that professes to bring "intelligence" to the management of written information, such as correspondence or meeting minutes. As represented, the system is Internet based, and allows connection between pieces of written material by the use of "hyperlinks." This method is commonly known as "threading." San Francisco District used Communication Metrics to manage information on the project to deepen the Oakland Harbor, and prepared a report dated March 28, 1997. Based on anecdotal information, the district feels that Communication Metrics saved over $300,000. In October 1998, San Francisco District Counsel attributed another almost $200,000 savings to Communication Metrics. No comprehensive analytical analysis is available to support the estimate of savings.
The San Francisco District test of this system involved hiring the program's developer (The Welch Company, Mr. Rod Welch) to act as a reporter for meetings and repository for correspondence. He took all meeting minutes and tracked correspondence, phone conversation records, etc. These documents were distributed to all parties through e-mail and printed page. The tracking of information was enhanced by the method's Schedule Diary System (SDS), which allowed Mr. Welch to establish links between communication records.
An enhancement that has been added since the Oakland Harbor effort is the ability to post the communications on a web site. For example, a discussion in a meeting may be linked to a previous letter or a specification section. In publishing the minutes, a link would be established which would allow the reader to jump to the referenced piece of correspondence or specification, read it, and then, using the web browser's "Back" button, return to the minutes.
When questions were posed to Mr. Welch about cost of the software and the amount of training time needed, no firm answers were received. Mr. Welch offered to develop a four to six month test program which would answer those questions, for a cost of $100,000 to $200,000.
Because of the lack of hard data on training and software costs, the time needed to become familiar with the system, and the single source nature of the supplier of Communication Metrics software and services, it is not recommended that the Communication Metrics product be endorsed for use throughout the Corps at this time. There are no data available to compare the costs and benefits of this program to the costs and benefits involved in hiring someone to manage correspondence, etc., or the use of competitive information technology and processes.
It is recommended that the HQ USACE Information Management Directorate evaluate Communication Metrics as a potential tool in any overall efforts to improve linking of and access to information within USACE. More investigation and comparison with other competitive products is recommended by appropriate IM personnel.
Communication Metrics is advertised as a system of tracking correspondence, meeting minutes, telephone call logs, and any other written record. The Welch Company, www.welchco.com, has developed the technology called the "Schedule Diary System" (SDS) to track and link written records.
The Welch Company was hired by San Francisco District to provide Communication Metrics for their Oakland Harbor Deepening Project. The Scope of Services (SOS) called for The Welch Company (Mr. Rod Welch) to provide communication management services. Some of the items called for in the SOS required him to prepare a diary of verbal and written communication, analyze the communications, maintain action items and a record of documents issued and received, and provide access to all of these items to appropriate parties. This was accomplished by Mr. Welch recording minutes of meetings, obtaining and distributing written correspondence, etc., and incorporating comments.
A report written by San Francisco District dated March 28, 1997 called out a cost avoidance of $317,000 over three months. This was extrapolated to show a potential savings of $5,800,000 over the life of the project, if Communication Metrics were used for the entire project period. This report was provided to HQ USACE. A demonstration of Communication Metrics was done for Military Programs at HQ USACE in December 1997. In October 1998, San Francisco District Counsel attributed another almost $200,000 savings to Communication Metrics.
There are two drawbacks to this analysis. First, there is no way to determine if these costs would have been avoided by diligent district project management. Second, during the three months that Communication Metrics was in use, Mr. Welch himself was the recorder of minutes and distributor of the information for review and comment. It is unknown if the same savings would have been realized if district personnel had been responsible for running the program, or if anyone designated as a "communications manager" would have been able to effect the same savings without computer assistance.
The marketing information presented on The Welch Company web site is largely anecdotal and full of catchphrases. It successfully makes the case that well documented and hyperlinked records are useful, but it relies on testimonials and references to business "gurus" and historical figures. The lack of repeatable, conclusive evidence does not mean that the method is bad; it means that tangible benefits and expected costs of any systemic use of this technique/technology can not be accurately determined.
After getting past the infomercial style of the marketing, the method may have value; however, it is currently not in a form that could be bought and, after a short training period, be useful to a manager. When asked about the logistics of purchase, training and use of Communication Metrics, Mr. Welch advised that Communication Metrics is not simply a program, but rather a management philosophy. He further stated that the best way to answer those questions would be to have him develop a program with San Francisco District, which would take about four to six months, and cost between $100,000 and $200,000. That expenditure is certainly not warranted at this time.
Robert C. Gordon