Hans Koekkoek is a blogger, author, and business developer from Amsterdam. He worked as an editor for various television stations such as NOS, ARD, and ZDF in the 1990s, and helped to develop one of the first popular European Internet providers “World Online” before taking on a consulting role at Fellow Digitals. In the following interview, he shares his thoughts on the digital workplace, the history of Viadesk, and what the brand has learned from it. You will also find his “5 success factors for your social intranet”.
What are Digital Workplace Solutions and why are they relevant?
Basically, the “digital workplace” is nothing new. IBM has been using this term since the early 2000s. We have also been developing such solutions for 20 years. The fact is that the industry has been changing rapidly in recent years and is now slowly catching up. “Digital workplace” is a collective term, so it can be difficult to explain the concept in its entirety. For us, the Digital Workplace is an online platform that connects different tools, information, and people, with different needs and functions, anywhere and anytime.
Why is it relevant? Well, at the end of the day, the people who work in the organizations are the same people who spend time on social media. They are digital natives who are used to having access to information in a very short time. By giving them tools they are used to using, they increase their satisfaction and productivity. The company as a whole becomes more efficient, because people can share knowledge quickly, work more flexibly, improve and simplify processes, and have all the information they need practically on one platform. Everyone is involved and has access at all times through these solutions; including the field sales force driving through the back country in pursuit of the next deal.
What challenges does the digital workplace industry face?
Obviously, digitalization is changing the way we interact and work. It will be a hard job to adapt to it and to optimize digital processes. This includes keeping up with the speed of digitalization. Also seeing and taking advantage of the opportunities that are available, which is a crucial factor in the digital world. New jobs are constantly being created and artificial intelligence is also changing the way software is developed. In addition, customer demands are changing to the extent that they expect our tools to be intuitive and smart. The option of personalization is becoming increasingly relevant. If they don’t understand a product quickly, you’ve already lost. Ultimately, I assume that we don’t really need the office as such anymore. I mean, of course we need it, but not necessarily to work. This is made possible by the 24/7 economy, in which people can work how and when they want. They can use their own equipment, work on the train or at the beach, if they wanted to. For us, the challenge is to always be one step ahead and to know how people work and what their needs are. Because if we don’t do that, we can’t develop anything for them. Even though our world is changing faster and faster, and new tools are constantly being released, our basic principle remains the same: connecting people.
Fellow Digitals has been offering its products and services for over 20 years. How has the company’s Social Intranet changed over the years?
When people started going online in the 90’s, our founders Marc and Mujibor were among the first movers who saw the opportunity to connect people and solve their problems. Basically, Viadesk was a student platform in the beginning, to be able to work together on homework or cooperate in small groups from home. So, the whole thing started really small on a more or less personal level, from one student to another. Later on, they realized that what they were already doing on a small scale could also work for larger dimensions by connecting larger groups that have the same interests, goals, or values. That’s why they started to specialize in business, equipping them with tools to work smarter and more flexibly on a digital platform that provides them with many great things. From then on, it has obviously evolved into what it is today. Around 2010 or so, we added more and more social components based on classic social media. It has evolved into a platform where people actually work – it’s their big office. The key to developing Viadesk, and later our other tools, is that it was developed based on real needs and opportunities. And our basic principle is still the same: connecting people by giving them the tools to develop their skills and competencies, and gain valuable experience. At the end of the day, it is important that they feel they have achieved something, both for themselves and for the people they work with. Everybody benefits from that!
How did Viadesk customers benefit from this service?
I think that their benefit lies mainly in the flexibility and the simultaneous fast implementation of our solutions. For example, we have set up a platform for over 13,000 general practitioners. They already had a tool back then, but it was outdated and complicated to use and set up. All in all, it took them too much time to get to grips with the technology behind it. As these physicians are always very busy, they have little time to consult colleagues or exchange opinions, so they urgently needed a new platform to share knowledge and information. Our tool is basically ready-made, it has a proven track record with many practical examples, and the GPs did not have to worry about issues such as security, privacy, or the topicality up-to-dateness of the platform, because we take care of all that. Another advantage of our solution for the GPs was the wide range of possibilities our social intranet provides: it is possible to access information, cooperate, plan and implement projects, and build a community. In summary, I would say that the main benefits are the flexibility, quick setup, security, the many possibilities, and our experience. By the way, our solution has allowed the GPs to increase the number of responses by about 29% compared to the old system, and the creation of content even by 59%.
From your experience, what is the thing that customers appreciate most about Fellow Digitals?
I would say that they not only appreciate that we are constantly developing, improving, and personalizing our tools, but also that we really know how to best use them and get the most out of them. With 20 years of experience, we understand how communities work and how to use such platforms in the right way. We take care of the implementation and rollout, as well as personally inform our customers how to use the platforms and how to connect to other applications. In this way, it is possible for customers to gradually set up our tools themselves, which makes our solutions very versatile. It is the all-round package of technology, security, knowledge, and reliability that our customers appreciate and trust in. Not to forget the personal communication with our people, which we value.
And what did Fellow Digitals learn from its clients?
Through the years of continuous development, we have learned a lot from our customers, especially regarding their needs and wishes. We have a wide range of customers, for example municipalities, NGOs, or commercial companies, all of whom have different needs. It was not just an opportunity, no it was a necessity, to learn more about the different ways of working and their needs. It was important not only to tackle problems, but also to always look ahead. What are their real ambitions and goals? What are their companies about? How do they work? Who is involved? What is the purpose? How will it develop in the future? We have learned to listen to the people and to incorporate their insights into our tools. Our Social Intranet has been around for many years, but it has constantly been adapted to changing needs and behaviors. And we have learned that one tool alone is not enough. So, we’ve also developed other applications for the digital workplace, Coursepath and Collegia, which deal with the learning process within a company.
Ultimately, we always try to focus on the essence of the customer’s needs and goals, to create new functionality that solves a broader problem, and helps to achieve the goals of multiple customers simultaneously. We have developed the ability to set priorities and at the same time involve everyone. Without exceptions. Because we want to offer solutions that are accessible to everyone. Basically, we are still learning from our customers every day by constantly gaining new perspectives on our products, developing new functionalities, and also learning to look at ourselves from a different perspective.
Could you summarize again: What are the key experiences in terms of the digital workplace that Fellow Digitals has gained?
Through the last 20 years, we have learned that Digital Workplace Solutions means inclusiveness for us. It means getting everyone involved, having access to information, and developing. Because throughout all these years, this has been the core of what we’ve been all about. We’ve learned to ask the right questions about the purpose of a tool that the customer has in mind, as well as about their general ambitions and problems. We have learned more about the different interests within an organization that our tools have to deal with. We are constantly learning about the specific needs of companies; we listen to them and we develop our tools together with them. The bottom line is that we always try to think and plan ahead in new ways – always one step after the next. Our company started out with small-format platforms and has gradually evolved into something more complex, while our basic principle has always remained the same. Only the nuances have changed.
What would you recommend to customers to successfully introduce a Digital Workplace?
An efficient digital workplace starts with the right mindset. For clients who want to implement their own Digital Workplace, I would recommend five components that we developed a while ago:
Would you like to learn more about the benefits of a social intranet?