In early March I’ll be speaking on the subject of “The internal digital workplace as an incubator for external facing channels” at the excellent IntraTeam event in Copenhagen.
A common theme I’ve seen in even global organisations is that they don’t always have a link between the provision of internal and external client-focused collaboration. Perhaps there might be the use of the same platform (hello, SharePoint) or nominally the same owner (hello, IT) but in reality there is seldom a holistic view which takes in both the internal- and external-facing world.
The line between internal and external is inherently fuzzy
This is a mistake because every external-facing platform, application, website, social media presence or other digital channel is, to a certain extent, an internal-facing channel too. Employees need to interact with these channels as they use or maintain them, and they will view content. Moreover internal and external audiences have more in common than is often credited.
Taking a more holistic and strategic view of the digital experience is currently a cornerstone of the rise in interest in the “digital workplace”. However once you wade through all the vendor messages and look at the re-branding of internal initiatives as the “digital workplace” (often which are effectively still intranet-centred projects) I still see little holistic thinking in terms of blending internal and external.
Opportunities for collaboration by going “internal first”
When considering internal and external digital channels together some exciting opportunities start to emerge to drive more successful systems. This is true in the area for internal and external collaboration where the tools and how they are used are not dissimilar inside and outside the company.
In my experience there’s a link between getting internal collaboration right and successful external collaboration. If you can achieve good adoption and efficient internal collaboration – both project-based (workspaces) and networked (communities) – then you’ve got a better chance of achieving this externally too.
If you agree that there’s a link between internal and external collaboration success, then its worth considering a policy of going “internal first” for a collaboration platform, reaching a level of internal maturity before extending a system so it can be accessed externally. (Obviously with all the right layers of security and permissions.)
When a system or application has developed internally and is already sustainable it usually means it has value for employees. All too often external-facing platforms which deal with client collaboration (especially when use is non-mandatory) forget about the importance of “what’s in it for me” for employees. WIIFM is critical for internal adoption as a call for “good client service” is not a convincing enough driver to get an employee to use an external-facing solution.
A sustainable collaboration platform that is seen as having value internally is far more likely to be sustainable externally because it:
- Drives advocacy: It will have internal advocates who are knowledgeable about a system and can talk confidently about it to customers and clients, and represent its value
- Drives efficiency: Because the platform technology covering both internal and external may overlap and there will be more of a focus on end-to-end processes, usage should evolve to drive more efficient processes
- Minimises risk: Irons out bugs and quirks in the system and has more skilled users to avoid common pitfalls
- Develops roles: Develops roles such as site and community managers which are critical to make collaboration work
- Drives a collaborative culture: Employees are more likely to repeat the pattern externally which they’ve already seen work internally
Of course there are some disadvantages to taking an ‘internal first’ approach.
If a client-focused solution has to be launched internally first, then it takes longer to go to market and in highly competitive environments that won’t be feasible. And even if it was just about possible, it may not be palatable for your stakeholders.
Secondly there are some custom collaboration offerings which might be highly confidential, and need a short time between the ‘internal reveal’ and the external launch. A true internal first approach might be too risky.
Thirdly without a clear “external” launch and focus, an initiative can lose impetus and momentum. If there is a perception that a solution is an internal project only which may only be launched externally if all goes well, there can be a danger that it is deprioritised in the minds of stakeholders and the wider business. It may be difficult to get their sustained support and enthusiasm.
I’d be fascinated to hear what others think. Has going “internal first” for collaboration got value? Is it a rather simplistic view? Can you apply the same thinking about going “external first”? (I don’t think you can.)
I’ll be expanding on the idea in my upcoming conference presentation and I’d love to hear your thoughts.