- Go and meet up with your colleagues and stakeholders in IT and Marketing to persuade them to try and them to look at internal and external digital channels more holistically.
- If this only gets as far as a polite conversation wait for an actual project or small instance which needs that approach to re-open negotiations.
- Identify opportunities where you can expose either existing external channels via the intranet or current internal digital channels externally. Focus on value, cost-savings and process improvement.
- Try and do something simple – even if it is just extending internal search to include website content.
- Communicate success stories.
- Try and work in this way as many times as possible, so that you can influence future projects or ideally an over-arching digital strategy which more formally encapsulates your thinking
“I’m afraid we’re spending next year’s entire digital budget on the website, so there’s nothing for the intranet. I know this is the seventh year in a row this has happened, but…”
Woah! Stop there a moment! Aren’t internal digital channels as important as external-facing digital channels? “No of course, not” is the prevailing view in many organisations.
This lazy thinking has tended to cast the intranet as the bumbling poor cousin that’s perpetually at the back of the ration queue.
It would be simplistic to say that simply budget prioritisation is wrong and if you spent more on the intranet and less on the website everything would be OK. True, that can help, particularly when you are implementing a new platform, but there is a deeper issue at hand.
The vast pre-eminence of “external” is fuelled by a belief, often perpetuated by intranet teams themselves, that there is a very clear and comfortable distinction between the external facing web environment and the intranet ecosystem. This is underpinned by factors such as channel ownership, technical compatibility, politics and yes, the ring fencing of budgets. Of course in a time when redundancies are still rife individuals are also highly protective of what they do and the channels they are associated with.
There is an accepted wisdom that internal channels are only for internal staff and for external channels are only for external parties. Instinctively that might sound correct, but while the first half of the statement is largely true, the second half is only partially true. In fact every external digital channel is also for an internal audience, to varying degrees. And in many cases there is a surprising level of overlap in the needs of an external and internal audience.
Every external digital channel is also for an internal audience
Here’s a few examples to try and illustrate what I mean by the above statement:
Different lines of business like to see their presence in the marketplace. Sometimes the content on an external digital channel is there as much to satisfy an internal stakeholder as it is to target a set of clients or consumers.
Key messages to customers
It’s important that employees are aware of the key messages that their organisation puts out externally. Obviously for customer-facing staff this is very important for delivering consistent client service, and good product knowledge also contributes to this. For example I’m reminded of some of the recent examples at Barclays, where the ability to try out customer-facing digital banking apps on the internal mobile intranet allowed branch staff to be comfortable and familiar with these products. It contributed to a significant uptake of mobile apps among products.
It’s also important for the back-room guys. Commercial awareness and having an end-to-end process view helps improve services.
Feedback from customers
Social media is now tracking customer sentiment and experiences, and there is obvious value in employees being aware of what is being said. (Beyond just being able to react to it.)
Websites and extranets contain important information and knowledge that can support internal employees Some of this might need to be referred to in interacting with customers, some might be special expert knowledge from one section of an organisation which is not known by another section, and some might be key operational data.
A few real examples of external information which is also referred to internally includes nutritional information about items on a menu, a huge database of product manuals, the order of business of a government chamber, an article summarising the latest legal developments in a particular sector and service updates on a travel situation.
Also the various constituent parts of huge global corporations often act like a bunch of separate organisations. Want to find out about your Chile office or that really obscure subsidiary? Yep, looking at the website is often easiest.
The website is nice and responsive, but the intranet sure isn’t. What’s the easiest way to find the Southampton Office telephone number on my SmartPhone? Oh yes, the corporate website…
Systems which give a status view of particular transactions or processes for customers is often as useful internally as it is externally. This occurs in both B2B and B2C organisations. Sometimes the summary view created for customers is just better designed than the one intended for internal use.
In times of crisis, particularly in large organisations (think BP Oil Spill), external communications can be an important reference point for employees.
In a way this is obvious but external collaboration in the form of online workspaces and Team Sites are generally regarded by employees as a hybrid of an external and internal environment, although there may be a restricted area sorted by permissions for the really internal stuff.
Values, transparency, branding and all that engagement type stuff
Employees aren’t idiots, but they’re often treated like they are. They’re going to stumble across the corporate website and Twitter account occasionally. If there is an inconsistency between the external messages put out and the reality of working at the company, then this is clearly bad for morale. On the other hand if there is consistency and transparency and then you might be on to a winner.
Consistency is also important in user experience. Personally there seems nothing better to undermine a new branding initiative by implementing it internally months after it has been implemented externally. Surely it is far more sensible and logical to do it the other way around?
“Actually you’re better looking at my LinkedIn profile rather than my personal profile in the employee directory. At least that has a non-awful photo.”
So what does this all mean for intranet strategy?
By looking at internal and external channels in a holistic way there are many opportunities to:
Add relevant content, features and applications to the intranet resulting in better customer service, knowledge and engagement
Get more bang for your buck in digital projects by designing systems which serve both internal and external needs, and focus on end-to-end processes
Give legitimacy for “internal” projects by showing they are actually “external”
Get consistency and alignment in internal and external communications with all the benefits that flow from this
Encourage sharing and cross-fertilisation of digital skills through cross-functional work
This results in the following types of initiatives:
Both internal and external collaboration sites integrated into the intranet environment
Social media feeds embedded into the homepage
Reposting of external news stories on the homepage
Extending intranet or internal search to include global website and microsite content
Databases and repositories of valuable content on different themes and which can also be accessed directly by clients and third parties (e.g. brand information, product data, articles etc.)
Extending of self-service directly to customers and clients in some fields
Key customer data which can be accessed by staff on mobile devices
This direction is worth moving forward with if you really are stuck behind the external folk, or if you’re both struggling for budget . This is about joining forces for the common (and mutual) good.
Well that’s nice, but how do I move this direction forward?
Your ability to move this Direction forward does depend quite a lot on the way digital is budgeted for and which functions control the channels. Obviously if you’re all one department and you already work closely together it is going to be easier. If you’re split functionally, less so.
I think the best approach is to try and work on discrete projects which encapsulate this way of thinking and then move on from there, so it is either a more common way of working or helps to refine or define an overall digital strategy.
As with most Directions this involves a bit of cross-functional conversation. Go and meet up with your colleagues and stakeholders in IT and Marketing to try and do some persuasion. If your fantastic plans fall on deaf ears then work on something smaller or wait for the opportunity. It’s also worth keeping Legal and Risk in the loop if you’re looking at anything to do with transactions and process, or if you’re working on anything which is current internal only but could clearly be external.
Overall you need to be identify opportunities where you can expose either existing external channels via the intranet or current internal digital channels externally. This may be focus on what you already have or what you want to do in the future.
A good idea is to keep it simple and focus on the obvious, because there is bound to be something of value which helps reduce cost-savings and improves processes. Often there is a usually a no-brainer somewhere if you look for it hard enough.
And then the usual stuff applies. Communicate the success stories and make some noise.
Effectively your aim is for you not to have the same ambition-crushing conversation with your budget holder about intranet funding for the eighth-year-in-a-row.
Steve Bynghall December 2013
“Yep it’s the fear. Fear that those guys across the hall have all the budget. The fear that they look down on poor Jonny Intranet. The fear of going over there and working on stuff together. The fear of what your bosses will say. But, damn-it-all-to-hell what weird and arbitrary boundaries we like to draw over organisations – they start for the sake of convenience and then they there like a twelve-foot-wall. If we are trying to be more holistic and take a digital workplace view, then clearly the external assets of an organisation are there to help employees achieve their tasks, as much as they are there for the customers.
The business processes will be stitched through both the inside and the outside like a thread through silk and you should know their twists and turns. If you were going to draw the web site on your intranet site map where would the arrows go? Do you even know all the content and functionality that’s on your organisation’s web site? Maybe they’ve got the good stuff. So: lose the fear, get up, walk across the hall and go and buy them coffee.”