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5/24/2012
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Don't Be The Nerdiest Person In The Room

Technical language has its place, but overuse hampers compliance

In the interest of full disclosure, I am fluent in "nerd." I have an engineering degree and years of experience working on technical projects. I know the purpose of a processor reset pin, why "i" is the most common loop counter for software developers, and the purpose of a debounce function in a keyboard driver. Only recently did I give away my EPROM programmer.

In any specialized field, a corresponding technical language is almost always very important. It allows for greater precision, accuracy, and efficiency. We don't want our surgeon to ask for "that long, sharp, curved knife" when we're on the operating table. Surgery requires a number of highly specialized instruments, and accurate, efficient communication between a surgeon and his team is a matter of life and death.

Likewise, designing and managing secure and compliant data systems requires language and terminology a home PC user would never need. For your business, however, precise technical language is not only helpful, it can be a matter of life and death.

Technical documentation designed for other technical professionals must include such precise, technical language to ensure that the systems are secure and verifiable. Such technical documents are a required part of every compliance process.

It is important to recognize that even though highly technical documentation is critical for proper system operation and for passing compliance audits, this level of documentation alone is insufficient. The processes and procedures of people must also be documented and done so in a way that makes sense to the people performing these tasks.

Using jargon and complex technical terms may create important-looking documentation. Unfortunately, this type of documentation can not only be inappropriate for your nontechnical employees and end users, but also absolutely useless. If the documentation governing "people processes" is unusable by your people, then probably the correct people processes necessary for compliance are not happening.

For instance, which of these statements will a nontechnical employee mostly likely remember and follow daily:

1. "Duplication, replication, or any other reproduction of system data files to any media, device, or network by unauthorized employees or other individuals is strictly prohibited in all instances."

Or

2. "Staff should never copy system data."

Compliant systems include people operating in compliant ways. Highly technical language not only hinders nontechnical staff, but also increases the likelihood it will be ignored. Furthermore, nontechnical senior management who cannot understand certain documents cannot honestly vouch for them or help integrate them into a companywide compliant culture.

Excessive and ill-applied use of technical language is, at best, inappropriate and disrespectful. At worst, it is arrogant and dangerous.

Compliant systems need documentation and training that all applicable staff can understand and easily follow. Remember, there is no value in confusing or overly complicated language. The goal should always be to communicate in the most efficient manner that will help create successful and complaint business operations.

Glenn S. Phillips, the president of Forte' Incorporated, works with business leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. He is the author of the book Nerd-to-English and you can find him on twitter at @NerdToEnglish.

Glenn works with business leaders who want to leverage technology and understand the often hidden risks awaiting them. The Founder and Sr. Consultant of Forte' Incorporated, Glenn and his team work with business leaders to support growth, increase profits, and address ... View Full Bio

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