Simplifying Communications

Author Keith Jennings
July 01, 2009 - 12:00pm

The movie “Cool Hand Luke” includes the famous line, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” For today’s businesses, no matter the size, there’s no excuse for failing to communicate because there are so many helpful tools available.

Our shop uses several tools to help us communicate easier and more effectively. These methods are well-tested, readily available, cost-effective and, in my experience, underutilized by machine shops.

One key tool is server-based communications. This software tool enables employees to share calendars and business contacts, project management and e-mail lists. Even though this technology has been around for several years and is widely used, most machine shops I’ve spoken with are either underutilizing this tool or not using it at all.

Server-based communications allows employees on your network to send, store and organize e-mails, maintain a calendar of appointments and activities that co-workers can see, keep a to-do list of projects with due dates and maintain contact lists for quick retrieval. When employees use this technology, a shop can reduce or eliminate paper files and easily see what’s going on within the company, find a phone number, organize a meeting by inviting participants who accept or decline, and see who’s out of the office.

Another benefit is that you can create e-mail distribution lists for mass mailings. Why keep business cards and paper files when you can enter all the information into your lists, make all the necessary notations and save the files permanently?

The most common software product in this category is Microsoft Exchange Server, which is installed on a Windows server. It stores and shares data across your company network. Because it’s nearly impossible to run a business without a server-based network, chances are you’re already running a server with a Microsoft operating system. It’s then a matter of configuring Exchange Server.

Our shop maintains a shared calendar for employee vacations and business outings. Employees post them on the calendar, and co-workers can review the calendar for literally up-to-the-minute information. You can also provide employees with remote access to their e-mails and contact lists.

If you are already using an accounting or enterprise resource planning package that requires much of the same information, these shared tools will not replace that function. You’ll still have to enter customer and vendor data and maintain those records separately. These two software tools serve different purposes and I recommend maintaining both. Your accounting package or manufacturing software package will continue to process purchase orders and create job routers. However, they’re less efficient with contact management, calendars and e-mail functionality.

Server-based data sharing isn’t the only tool available to improve communications in a machine shop. Another is using cordless telephones that integrate into your regular phone system and can be carried by key employees. Most business phone systems have them now, but they are not usually a standard item. This tool allows designated employees to make and receive calls, answer pages and page others within your facility. This tool is a big hit in our shop because office employees can more easily locate and communicate with shop personnel, sometimes getting an immediate response or get calls answered much faster.

Rapid, effective communication within a manufacturing facility is critical and these two technologies provide a quick return on investment. Take advantage of them. CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned machine shop. He can be e-mailed at 


Manager's Desk Columnist

Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping.