There is an interesting blog post on the Intranet Benchmarking Forum site by Chris Tubb in which he considers reasons by most organisations are not embracing the digital workplace. This question also came up during the excellent Digital Workplace track created by Jane McConnell for KMWorld this year.

I can see some parallels here with arguably the first digital workplace application outside of email, and that is Electronic Data Interchange, which was developed in the early 1980s to place orders and confirm shipping details over telecommunications links. EDI was regarded as the first Value Added Network (VAN) service, a term that is now obsolete. The problem was one of critical mass. Until a substantial number of companies adopted EDI the costs of using it were higher than manual order processing as the manual and EDI services had to be maintained concurrently. One of the factors that catalysed EDI adoption was the arrival of the X400 messaging standard (now overtaken by SMPT internet protocols) and the Edifact and Tradacom protocols. The second, and arguably most important factor, was that vertical market sectors, notably the automobile industry started to work together to implement links between suppliers and customers.

To a significant extent the discussions around the development of digital workplaces focus on achieving internal benefits. There is never a discussion about how digital workplaces will create links with suppliers and customers, and other business partners, even though these are the primary reason for an organisation to exist.

In 2012 Accenture published a short but very well written report on cross-enterprise collaboration. The report noted

“To succeed in this coming era of cross enterprise collaboration, companies must be able to manage relationships across organizational boundaries as effectively as they do within those boundaries. Success, in other words, involves far more than how contracts are established, how marketing is managed and how work handoffs are documented. What’s needed is coordinated attention to a range of human capital strategy issues covering talent, culture change, establishment of trust, shared learning experiences, organizational designs, governance structures, technologies that enable knowledge sharing and more.”

It is well worth reading this report as I think there are many lessons in it for organisations considering investing in digital workplaces. We need to start looking in detail at those processes that link an organisation with its suppliers and customers and the seek to prioritise support these with digital workplace strategies, policies and technologies. As with EDI these opportunities will be along vertical sector lines.  Until we do the business case for organisations to adopt a digital workplace approach will continue to be internal process efficiencies which on their own do not create revenue and margin growth.

Martin White