The Mobile Enterprise is the editorial theme here at CMSWire this month and many of my colleagues have written interesting articles, which have prompted me to look again at what exactly is required to achieve a "mobile intranet".

Enterprise Information Mobility

In his article “Enterprise Information Mobility: How smart is your smartphone” my esteemed colleague Martin White introduces the concept of Enterprise Information Mobility (EIM, is not to be confused with Enterprise Information Management, of which, I suppose it is a direct sub-set!). Martin references many recent studies which can be summarized as “mobile is where it’s at”.

However as we are calling it ‘Enterprise” Information Mobility, we can think in terms of our extended intranet ecosystem and can ask ourselves what content and information sources do our users really need to be able to access? Figuring that out early will allow you to focus your resources on the real added value elements of mobile access.

For example Martin notes that a recent study suggests the ‘decision support’ role, enabled by mobile access to business intelligence information is a major differentiator for some companies -- does this model fit your organization too?

Mobile Security Issues

Martin also suggests in his article that the security issues of mobile access should not be used as an excuse. This is true, but depending on exactly what you want to give mobile access to, there may still be hurdles. However, IT departments have been here before, with different technologies.

Your organization may have started out with big fat VPN tokens, and the requirement to put VPN access software on your home machine. This may have been replaced by an SSL VPN, providing browser access to the intranet from any machine, anywhere and slim card to fit in your wallet. My company provides all employees with laptops, loaded with special security software, encrypted hard drives and VPN software, expecting us only to access the network from these machines.

Extrapolate these different models to the mobile arena. RIM has been providing secure access to some services like email for years, but all of sudden the demand is put on IT to figure out how to provide secure email access to iPhones and iPads, or all handsets regardless of make and operating system. So security issues can be nuanced and very contextual, but disregard them at your peril.

Mobile ECM

In “Enterprise Content Mobility: The Marriage of ECM and Mobile Technology” Andy Wang describes some selection criteria for marrying ECM to mobility. He suggests users will want to access the full range of ECMS features, but not be tied down by a simply scaled down interface. This leads to additional strategy questions you need to answer, do you focus on:

  • Standards compliant, device agnostic web based interfaces (e.g. HTML 5)
  • Operating environment specific mobile applications (iOS apps, Android Apps)
  • Do you have one official platform (e.g. Blackberry) with tiered, best efforts support for other platforms (“it should work on any mobile browser….”)
  • What type of device (i.e. size of screen) are you aiming for – phone, versus tablet/slate?

The web interface versus mobile apps debate is a generating a lot of heat in the blogosphere. There are obviously benefits for both approaches. Again the answer will be contextual to your organizations specific needs.

If you want to leverage the facilities of a platform like Joomla or Drupal, or .NET environments from Ektron or ThoughtFarmer to allow any employee to access the intranet via their own smartphone, then a web interface is the way to go. However if your business already issues Blackberry devices, then perhaps a specific Blackberry app will provide a better user experience.

More Mobile Design Questions

Of course this in turn leads to further questions; do you have in house developers with mobile expertise or will you need to contract it out? Do you have anyone experienced with mobile web page design or mobile IA smarts?

As we can see, developing a mobile access strategy might be important for your organization, but it won’t necessarily be easy; a theme Dan Keldsen touched on with “Mobile Content & Collaboration: Lets face it, you aren’t ready”.  In his article Dan examines the subject from a number of different perspectives; the corporate IT, end user and web developer perspectives.

He also touches on another key element to mobile information access, the cultural perspective. I know that I have fought against the view that as I carry a corporate issued Blackberry I should answer every call, every email and IM, wherever I am and whatever time of day it is. Always-on, ultra mobile productivity (if that is what it really is?) can be detrimental to the overall “work -- life balance”.

Are We There Yet ? Maybe......

In summary, providing mobile intranet access is going to be a microcosm of all the big issues you have with your non-mobile intranet ecosystem, plus there are going to be those special little factors just sitting there to trip you up.

You will need to undertake a cost benefit analysis, develop a strategy and formulate your plans. Depending on your context, it’s going to be easier for some of you than it is for the rest of us; which is what makes it fun of course…….

Additional CMSWire articles on this topic: