Internal vs. External Digitalization

In today’s business world, the terms “internal” and “external digitalization” are no longer news. They represent two complementary pillars that form the core of digital transformation. While internal digitalization focuses on changing and improving internal company processes, external digitalization centers around the company’s relationship with the outside world, particularly with customers and partners. This article will provide a deep insight into both areas, their benefits, challenges, and how companies can leverage them to succeed in the digital landscape.

Internal Digitalization

Definition and Examples:

Internal digitalization refers to the process where companies modernize their internal operations, systems, and cultures through the use of digital technologies. A simple example would be transitioning from physical files and documents to a digital document management system. Another example could be the implementation of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software that connects different departments within a company to enhance efficiency and information exchange.

Benefits of Internal Digitalization:

Process Optimization: Digitization automates processes, making them more efficient. This reduces manual errors and speeds up many routine tasks. Cost Efficiency: In the long run, digitization can reduce costs. Initial investments in technology can be offset by saved time and resources and a decrease in errors. Enhanced Collaboration: Digital platforms and tools enable improved collaboration between teams, regardless of their physical location. Cloud-based collaboration tools, for instance, facilitate information exchange and project work between departments. Faster Decision-Making: Real-time data and improved analytics allow decision-makers to make more informed and timely decisions.

Challenges and Obstacles:

Resistance to Change: Not all employees are open to change. This can stem from uncertainty about the new technology or fear of the unknown. Need for Training: To effectively use new digital tools, employee training is often necessary. This can consume time and resources. Technological Integration: Adding new digital solutions can pose technical challenges, especially when they need to integrate with older systems within the company.

External Digitalization

Definition and Examples:

External digitalization encompasses all measures, technologies, and strategies that companies use to optimize their relationships with customers, suppliers, and other external partners. This could involve launching an online store, utilizing social media for marketing purposes, or implementing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. Another example could be using digital platforms to communicate with suppliers and partners and digitally sign contracts.

Benefits of External Digitalization:

Expanded Market Presence: Digital channels allow companies to reach a wider audience, regardless of geographical boundaries. This opens up new markets and customer bases that were previously unreachable. Personalized Customer Experience: Through data analysis and digital interaction, companies can offer more personalized and targeted customer experiences. This enhances not only customer satisfaction but also customer loyalty. New Business Models and Revenue Streams: Digitization enables the development of innovative business models, such as subscription models, on-demand services, or monetizing data.

Challenges and Obstacles:

Data Privacy and Security Concerns: With increasing reliance on digital channels, the risk of data breaches also rises. Companies must ensure they have robust security systems and comply with data privacy laws. Intensity of Competition: As digital platforms facilitate market entry, this can lead to more competitors and intensified competition. Adapting to Changing Customer Requirements: In the digital world, customer expectations and demands change rapidly. Companies need to be agile and regularly review their strategies to stay relevant.

Synergies between Internal and External Digitalization

How they can reinforce each other:

Internal and external digitalization are not isolated concepts; in fact, they often go hand in hand, generating synergies that amplify the potential of both. Effective internal digitalization, for instance, can lead to better addressing customer needs, thereby improving external digitalization. Conversely, a strong external focus can help identify internal processes that need improvement.

Examples of companies that successfully integrated both aspects:

A prominent example is Amazon. Internally, the company optimized its logistics, warehouse management, and inventory through digitalization. Externally, it offers customers a personalized shopping experience through algorithms that analyze buying habits. Both layers of digitalization contributed to making Amazon one of the world’s leading e-commerce companies.

Another example is Siemens. The company streamlined internal processes through digital technologies like AI and automation, while externally developing digital solutions for customers in areas such as energy, healthcare, and industry.

Conclusion and Outlook

Key takeaways and lessons:

  • Both internal and external digitalization are essential for the long-term success of companies. They must go hand in hand to create real business value.
  • Addressing the challenges of digitization requires a clear vision, top-level engagement, and a culture of continuous learning.

Trends and forecasts for the future of digitalization:

As technology advances, the boundary between internal and external digitalization will continue to blur. Technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain will further change how companies work and interact with customers. Adaptability is expected to be a critical factor for success in the digital era.


The journey of digitalization is both challenging and rewarding. Internal and external digitalization offer immense opportunities to enhance efficiency and expand market presence, but they also come with their own challenges. Companies that manage to harmoniously integrate both aspects are likely to thrive in the digital era. It’s crucial for companies to focus not only on technology but also on people and processes in their digitalization strategy. While the future may be uncertain, one thing is clear: Digitization will continue to play a dominant role in the business world, and those who adapt and innovate will lead the way.

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