In recent years, the focus within organisations has been on the customer. Large corporations have “customer experience” teams, who have transformed everything from customer-facing websites and mobile applications, to the layout of bank branches. Within government, there has been widespread efforts to improve service delivery, often as part of major “government 2.0” campaigns.
This has delivered many benefits. More than just creating happier customers, these design-lead activities have started to have a big impact on how organisations connect with the wider world.
The customer focus, however, has largely only looked at the digital skin of organisations — the face they present to the outside world.
What has been neglected is the digital muscle and bones of organisations — which underpins the skin — providing strength, endurance and agility. Here, much more work is still required.
A lost decade for enterprise systems
There is no question that efforts to improve the internal practices of organisations have languished for the last decade. Upgrades to major IT and business systems have been sporadic, with hit-and-miss results.
New applications have been introduced alongside old, making the working life of staff more complex, not simpler. Hundreds of day-to-day tasks that fall between the major systems still run on manual processes and paper forms (or their PDF equivalents).
Even when organisations make major acquisitions or restructures, internal systems often lag far behind. Too often, this robs organisations of a clear communication channel that reaches all staff, with flow-on impacts to staff engagement.
Most importantly, the weakness of internal systems, the muscle and bones, makes it difficult to deliver a truly delightful experience for customers. (How many of us have run our bank or telecommunications company, for example, only to be transferred between multiple staff, each using different systems?)
Few organisations see their internal platforms and processes as a strategic advantage that helps them meet new challenges and opportunities in the marketplace.
A new focus on the digital workplace
All of this is changing, driven by a recognition that a the broader digital workplace provides new perspectives and opportunities.
Within IT, CIOs are now looking at the technology platforms provided to the workforce as single integrated offerings. This is enabling “anywhere” productivity, a more modern user experience, and a greater responsiveness to change. Whether on premise or in the cloud, business and IT systems are starting to move more quickly.
From the perspective of internal communications and HR, staff engagement has come to the fore. Digital communications channels, including revamped intranets, are now being used to reach staff in a more timely and compelling way.
Collaboration and social tools are also having a transformative effect, strengthening linkages between different areas of organisations, and driving bottom-up innovation.
Innovators are showing the way
We are already seeing compelling examples of where a focus on the muscle and bone of organisations is delivering business benefits.
Barclays Bank, a 2013 winner of a platinum Intranet Innovation Award, delivered a BYOD mobile solution to its branch and other frontline staff. This provided key knowledge articles, timely internal communication, and a simple mechanism for staff to suggest improvements.
The results were nothing short of remarkable. Within a short period of time, there was a 22% increase in staff engagement, a 50% drop in customer complaints relating to product knowledge, a 2% increase in the net promoter score (NPS), and a million pounds of savings.
All this came from delivering a solution that supported the fundamental working practices of staff — the key staff that deliver customer service.
In 2014, Coles, one of the two major supermarkets in Australia, delivered a similar solution to their 100,000 staff in stores. Also winning an Intranet Innovation Award for their efforts, their solution was carefully designed to meet the needs of staff who had previously been neglected by the organisation, generating substantial business benefits.
While on a recent European trip, we heard from a global bank in Paris whose explicit strategy was to put the focus on the individual, improving their productivity and connecting them with their peers. This was being done to deliver wider benefits for the organisation as a whole. We heard similar stories in Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe.
In our work, we have a growing number of large corporate clients who have established a new strategic role for a director of internal digital channels, who have been given the remit of improving the digital workplaces within their businesses.
Design is the key to improving the workplace
There is still much to be done. Efforts to improve digital workplaces are still in their early days, and enterprise systems and processes remain in poor shape.
The starting point must be a recognition at senior levels that organisations require strong muscles and bones, enabling them to drive business results, and to move in a more rapid and nimble way. This must be given equal weight as the focus on the customer, who are served by the outwards face — the skin — of organisations.
To make changes happen, an internal team must then be established that matches the customer experience teams that are already in place. These digital workplace teams have the responsibility to improve the enterprise experience for the workplace as a whole.
Like outwards-facing initiatives, enterprise projects must use design techniques and methodologies to uncover problems and determine solutions. Personas, journey maps and user experience techniques are every bit as powerful within businesses as they’ve proven to be in customer-facing projects.
To deliver the greatest benefits, design is combined with technology (and all the new opportunities it provides) and business (improving practices, rather than just automating existing ways of working). The Barclays Bank and Coles examples both show how much can be done when all three elements are brought together.
In our work to help our clients deliver better workplace solutions, we’re seeing a renewed energy and a greater sense of ambition. This can only be a good thing, and we look forward to a new decade of projects that strengthen all aspects of organisations: the skin, muscles and bones.
(For detailed case studies of innovative workplace solutions, obtain a copy of this year’s Intranet Innovations report, which shares hundreds of screenshots and insights. Do also get in touch if you need assistance with your digital workplace strategy or project.)