How do you go about contacting the various target groups and contacts inside and outside the intranet? An extranet as an effective supplement to an intranet.
You may not believe it, but I first read about this really catchy and convincing idea at Microsoft (also see https://seibert.biz/microsoftinnerouterloop). Microsoft has similar explanations for their customers as we do with Linchpin. They arise from an actual need, which the concept of the inner and outer loop makes wonderfully clear.
You have direct employees who you deal with either daily or at least not infrequently. They don’t necessarily have to come from a single department, but you regularly work with them on projects and task forces. It’s important for you to remain in close contact with them - a little bit like a family. You let them know when your child is sick and when you suddenly have to stay home, when you’ll be at a customer’s for longer than expected or perhaps when you’re in a meeting. According to Microsoft, this is their “inner loop” (I will simply call it “inner circle”). To coordinate things with these people you need a group chat application. For Microsoft, this is Microsoft Teams. For us, it’s Google Hangouts Chat, and for many others, it’s Slack. If WhatsApp is still shadow IT for you, you now know why this is a serious problem that you need to address.
Microsoft then refers to the entire department, business unit, or even all of their colleagues (depending on the size of the company) as the “outer loop.” This outer circle is the one you contact to celebrate your successes - for example, landing a huge contract. When you need some new input for a concept or idea, sharing your thoughts with the outer loop is helpful too. Microsoft uses Yammer for this, while we have microblogging in our Linchpin solution.
In Microsoft’s model, Outlook is synonymous with email communication. I’d like to replace email with an extranet, because email is so omnipresent, and at the same time so weak that it shouldn’t really exist as a concept (see “Email Chaos – Ubiquitous, Much Analyzed, Mostly Unsolved”). Everyone uses it so frequently, without thought as to whether or not the tool is suited for the message or not. But one thing that I can say with confidence is that things that can be displayed better outside of email, should be displayed there.
What’s important here is the word “better.” If you can’t work better using another technology, then email will continue to reign supreme. Email doesn’t need to be explained to anyone. It’s interwoven into all our daily routines and is here to stay. What we’re looking for is the magic spell that will help you detach yourself from it and find a better solution for your needs elsewhere.
Why Microsoft relies on email is easily explained. Their problem is that their customers don’t understand why Outlook, Yammer, and Microsoft Teams exist. The answer can’t be conjured out of thin air, because the user scenarios for the products overlap.
In the conceptual approach, I believe an extranet fits better than Outlook. You really can reach everyone by email – including machines and bots these days, alarmingly enough. However, in the scenario that makes up our context, a few emails exchanged with strangers are of little interest to us. They don’t take up much time. The few emails involved will not distract many colleagues for long.
Communication with customers, however, takes up a lot of time and quite rightly so. And that communication should take place in a virtual space that your organization provides for your customers. An extranet like this basically takes the same form as an intranet, but for you and your customers, suppliers, partners, interested parties, and job applicants.
An Extranet for Customers, Partners, and Suppliers
I’m not entirely sure if our customers see the extranet as an extension of the intranet or not. For many it is different because an extranet is usually controlled by customer service and sales, whereas an intranet is mainly controlled by corporate communications, personnel, or marketing. The technological requirements are similar, as are the conditions and argument.
The introduction of an intranet is mainly a measure that stems from the need to solve a problem regarding cooperation, information, coordination, transparency, and/or discoverability within the company. The introduction of an extranet, on the other hand, often stems from the desire to exploit potential benefits.
It’s a rather sobering thought to know that problems tend to receive so much attention while potential receives so little. This is because the benefits and effectiveness of an extranet are much quicker and easier to produce than with an intranet.
Of course, a very good extranet also requires the cooperation and active participation of your customers. You can easily create the conditions for this participation, though, by making the relevant information available to the customer.
And what I don’t mean by this is automated interfaces to ERP or CRM systems. I’m not saying that the ability for customers to easily access offers, orders, invoices, and other processes automatically isn’t important. I would simply stress that a central location for communicating with customers and documenting the business relationship is also extremely valuable - especially with business customers (B2B).
Communication with customers takes place between people: a contact person at the customer communicates with a contact person at your organization. Another contact person talks to your colleague, and so on. As a result, many one-on-one communication relationships are established. In order to make the entire conversation more transparent for everyone, however, the go-to strategy is simply to cc every colleague possible. This is how emails intended for coordination mutate into a mass mailing list with true information overkill.
You don’t need to know about how your two colleagues are faring with customer A right now? This information is only relevant if you have to fill in for them when they go on vacation or are sick. This information is meaningless now, because it requires no immediate action on your part. The implicit expectation of these inbox-clogging info dumps is that you read the entire thread just in case these matters happen to be relevant to you in the future. It’s nothing more than a massive waste of attention and creative potential in your company.
An extranet, offers a space in which you can communicate in the form of microposts in the microblog. Those who are interested follow the topic – and everyone else is spared the avalanche of push messages. If you find yourself in the embarrassing situation of not knowing about the current status of a project or a certain line of communication with a customer, you can easily find the information in their extranet section.
But a good extranet can do much more than just collect communication in a central location and make it available to everyone who needs it. Let’s take a look at some of the most common extranet applications that we map for our customers.
We regularly create and use pages with file attachments made available through the extranet. These pages are usually contract quotations, orders, invoices, and other, similar forms. As yet, we haven’t been able to facilitate this with our ERP system, which is why we create everything manually to make things easier.
This service is only provided to customers who really need it and for whom we need to provide the highest level of customer service. Additionally, customers like this often receive budget overviews that take the form of annual budget projections. They also receive reviews of the past, so they can better plan.
The extranet is also the place where we exchange ideas with our customers. We develop ideas on a wiki page to later share with their contact person. Their contact person then has the opportunity to work on changes until the concept is ready to be used as a basis for decision making.
This process is an excellent way to collaborate with customers, because everyone on the team can access content. The “Watch” option on the wiki pages also gives stakeholders and participants who are not directly involved on a day-to-day basis, the chance to access information quickly when needed. Working on concepts that contain texts, diagrams, and charts is one of the main forms of work we carry out together with our customers.
We also use the extranet in conjunction with microblog timelines so that we can quickly and easily record the various stages of the project as well as short-term developments.
Link to this page: https://seibert.biz/intranetbookextranet
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