One of the major recurring themes that came out of our Customer Advisory Group process around Clearspacewas the idea that opening your company up (both internally and externally) is now critical to a company's success and competitive advantage, and that this idea now has the support of the C-level execs.


The Idea


Historically, hoarding knowledge was key in order to preserve a company's "special sauce." But now the prevailing idea is that opening up the gates to share information, ideas, knowledge, and even to include partners and customers in the workflow, is pivotal to building loyalty, speeding up innovation and increasing mindshare. It's the process by which you manage the sharing of knowledge that is now becoming the real differentiator (i.e. how good are you at facilitating the flow of ideas and information). Smart companies are using communities externally to improve interactions with customers and internally to boost productivity and connectedness.


External communities


Customer and partner communities have been around for awhile, but it has mostly been just technology companies that have adopted it. Two reasons for this: 1) the primary driver is tech support (lowering incoming support calls) and tech firms are the only ones who have this problem; 2) technology companies are usually early adopters of other technologies because they have a high percentage of geeks.


Now however, all kinds of brick and mortar companies are seeing the benefits of community and rolling them out in the right way -- that is, with the support of the executive team, marketing and all the other stakeholders. And there is usually a visionary CIO or Marketing manager behind it (not all companies have caught on yet). A recent IBM study of Global CEO's found that "partners" and "customers" were numbers 2 and 3 on the top sources of innovation, behind employees (and before consultants, competitors, trade shows, etc.).


Internal communities


Just as important as sharing ideas with customers is the idea that "collaboration without borders" is critical to employees feeling connected to each other (and therefore loyal) and more productive. If people know who knows who, who knows what and who's working on what, they rely less on email to manage the workflow and are able to collaborate more efficiently.


Moreover, there are huge benefits to linking these different communities -- for example, if I'm an expert in "medical insurance claims", the customers I work with online should be aware of my reputation as well as the other employees. And if I build up expertise on the customer community, that should be represented internally.




With C-level support, the idea of the "open" organization has momentum and structure. The companies we spoke to see this and are looking for massive productivity leaps (through good technology) and broad adoption (through elegance and ease-of-use). They believe they can chisel away at the technology silos (departmental blogs, customer communities, etc.) and turn up the volume on smarter collaboration.