Inside-Out versus Outside-In

Providing the social tools and IT environment the front line needs

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In my last article, What to Do When Your Business Model Changes, I concluded by stating I would define the emerging focus and need for ‘platforms’ to provision and manage the use of technology within an enterprise in a later article. However, first it is necessary to add one more demand, or requirement, that is linked to the change in business models and relates to another of my articles, Free Your Users (or They Will Free Themselves). The subtitle for that piece is The Vexed Issue of Social Media and BYOD in the Workplace, which leads to this article about the biggest driver for change – people – and the manner in which they are using technology to work in new ways.

An important element in the article on business models that I want to build on is the concept of “Inside-Out” versus “Outside-In”. These terms define the difference between internal business processes focused on supporting some degree of external web access, Inside-Out, versus externally focused cloud, mobility solutions, apps, and of course, social tools (all which need restricted internal access), Outside-In.

After over twenty years of optimizing internal processes and workflows, the manner in which people work inside the business is fully understood. Linking the business activities of the back office with the Inside-Out focus of technology helps to bring technology and business together.

The disruptive technologies of cloud-based applications, delivered through browsers and apps to a variety of devices, are all part of the external environment and linked to the role of front office. New business models are focused on taking these external capabilities and redefining how to find, win and deliver new forms of competitive offerings.

Front office environments are focused on people who create value through external interactions to win and deliver business, people working Outside-In. This is unlike the back office where the focus is on process removing people and cost.

Outside-In technologies enable the people in the front office to find and share the resource they need to improve their performance within these new business models. “The Future of Work” is a term used to describe the manner in which these new technologies are deployed in new optimal ways.

Much of the confusion about the increasing use of social tools, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs, and trend to bypass the IT department to use external cloud solutions, arises from the disconnect between the Outside-In work practices of the front office and the Inside-Out practices of IT’s traditional back office deployments.

Understanding this and refocusing on the new working practices of the front office is a necessary break through in reacting to the inevitable changes already under way in most enterprises.

Whether it’s called BYOD, Shadow IT, Business-Technology, or Consumer IT, there is a common change in the younger generation from around 35 years of age down who have grown up with technology and see it as a lifestyle tool. This is markedly different to the generations before whose relationship with IT was most likely forced on them, directed to use a locked down enterprise PC with a narrow selection of relatively unfriendly monolithic applications. The difference in approach to technology can be broken down into nine common attitudes to different aspects of work.

Driving Workforce Productivity by Enabling Social Connection

Source: Adapted from IBM report ‘Driving Workforce Productivity by Enabling Social Connection’ (June 2009)

Of course nobody is an exact fit to all the nine behaviors but this table goes a long way towards explaining some of the internal tensions in an enterprise.

Front office roles tend to employ younger people whilst senior people controlling the enterprise through its back office processes tend to be in the older two groups.

Most of the senior management will have reached their current level through the business model revolution called Business Process Re-Engineering during mid 1990s when Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) was developed to make integrate the disruptive technology capabilities that networked PCs introduced into the mainstream of the business.

Business process engineering and the redesign of a firm’s business processes, workflows and the technology that supported them highlighted the need for a new form of enterprise communication along the new processes, the introduction of email! The redesigned business processes deliberately crossed and broke up the old departmental management structure substituting a process based management structure in its place. Email was seized on as the replacement for the office memo and an efficient means to communicate with the known and named people in each process.

Today email has become one of the most significant tools used to manage an enterprise.

Actually, we should probably say “manage back office defined processes” because as many front office staff would be quick to point out it doesn’t help them to try to find answers to external questions, events and opportunities. The ‘structure’ of email and the mapping to names, rather than knowledge, is exactly what Inside-Out back office needs. A senior manager will want to know who is responsible for what in the core processes. However, for a front office worker the limitations of this are severe; after all if their role is externally focused they simply will not know who they should send which question on what topic to if it doesn’t fit with the enterprises internal processes.

The new Outside-In business models, supported by social tools and collaborative working, need answers to questions based on their topic or content, without having to determine which person to address an email too.

The issue is to integrate these tools and work practice into a business in accordance with the nine characteristics of the ‘technology conscious generation’. This almost certainly requires the front office staff to adopt BYOD and the Outside-In model.

At this point it should be clear as to what, where and why a change is taking place in the tools being used by employees. The strategic nature of this change, from an enterprise point of view, should also be clear.

The new focus for an enterprise is to reform the front office capabilities to enable it to support new competitive market demands. As such, the adoption of new working practices will be a given.

More particularly, it should enable a thoughtful CIO to decide when and how to accept the introduction of new technologies, using the concepts of Inside-Out and Outside-In as the basis for technology separation.

Its been a big topic to cover but hopefully it brings out the key issues, relating them to the immediate tactical needs to address the issues being raised by the use of new technologies by employees, usually backed by their younger business managers. However, it also raises some very critical issues about enterprise management and the governance of its technology empowered employees. This is where “platforms” enter the equation.

Creating a new business platform is the strategic answer, a platform that will enable the management of people and their use of apps and devices in enterprise business activities, all in accordance with business rules established by management. That’s the topic for the next article, bringing together all the elements of my previous three.

As a closing thought, this is the beginning of a longer journey that will see radical change in the manner in which an enterprise functions. Businesses will become truly driven by the need to find optimal responses to external market events, opportunities, and requirements. Thought leaders are already actively providing research papers and presentations that really address a whole redesign in what and how we work in the long term. To understand exactly where this may take the future of work, listen to John Seddon make a series of logical connections that make it hard to deny the manner of the change.

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About the Author: Andy Mulholland

Andy Mulholland is retired. He spends his spare time at Reading University's School of Informatics, Henley Business School, British Computer Society and The Open Group. Previously he was Global CTO at Capgemini, and founded (and sold) two startups.