Taking Bull by the Horns

NEW YORK -- "We've had it with repurposeable, value-added knowledge capital and robust, leverageable mindshare," said Brian Fugere, a partner at Deloitte Consulting. "Enough, already. If corporate America wants to restore public trust, we need to start speaking and writing more clearly. Less empty rhetoric about openness, honesty and accountability, and more straight talk."

Enter Bullfighter, a new program developed by Deloitte Consulting that searches documents for jargon and unnecessarily complex language. Once installed, the Bullfighter toolbar appears in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint documents, and works much like the spell-check feature. The software scans documents for egregious bull, flogs the author for trying to use the words, suggests replacements and assigns a Bull Composite score.

Bullfighter can be downloaded for free at Web site.

Deloitte used the tool to examine a wide range of communications from companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), and found straight-talking companies outperform companies that use vague, unclear communications. Some other Bull findings:

-- Among the 30 DJIA companies analyzed, Home Depot earned the top spot for clarity in communications.

-- Computer hardware and software segments suffered the lowest readability scores and used the most jargon overall. Apple Computer is a notable exception, proving that even technical companies can speak clearly.

-- Consulting firms were slightly ahead of technology segments -- but earned no bragging rights when it came to clear communication.

-- Consumer goods companies, even those selling complex products, were very clear communicators.

The emergence of "bull" in corporate documents may provide an early warning sign of troubles. A review of Enron's communications during the last three years indicates that, when performance began to sink, its communications became increasingly laden with ambiguous words and sentences.

Deloitte's conclusion -- that straightforward communications can be linked to financial performance -- mirrors the findings of two accounting and finance professors, Malcolm Smith of the University of South Australia and Richard Taffler of England's Cranfield University. Their independent study concluded that clarity of communications can be an indicator of corporate performance.

"We're hoping Bullfighter will shatter the credibility of business jargon and make business communications safer for all of us," said Fugere. "We're just as guilty as the next consultant when it comes to using words like paradigm, bandwidth and leverage, but we're committed to straight talk as a way of doing business -- and Bullfighter is helping us get there." -- Deloitte Consulting

Sewer-Net?

SAN FRANCISCO --San Francisco's effort to connect municipal buildings to E-Net -- a city-owned public-safety fiber-optic network -- is sinking to new depths: the sewer.

The city used conventional methods and conduit in public rights of way to deploy the first phase of E-Net, but encountered difficulties with some hard-to-connect city facilities. The project's second phase includes a pilot project that will run as much as two miles of fiber-optic cable through city sewer pipes to reach government facilities.

San Francisco's Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DTIS) is working with CableRunner North America, a public-private business venture partly owned and operated by the Vienna, Austria, Water and Sewer Department on a pilot that started in June.

Half of the work will be performed in regular, man-accessible sewer pipes using a two-person mounting vehicle. The rest of the fiber will be strung in sewer pipes ranging from 12 to 24 inches in diameter by the company's "FiberCop" robots, which navigate pipes and perform "all-at-once" infrastructure installation.

The pilot project includes the installation of microducts, individual fiber tubes (IFT), and "flexible profiles." Microducts can house up to 19 IFTs, which hold up to 12 fiber strands. "Flexible profiles" -- long, thin enclosures that

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor