The proliferation of smart phones and other browsing and collaboration devices in the enterprise is forcing us to take a long, hard look at what a modern Intranet should be and do.
Smart phones are no longer the ‘new gadgets on the block’ in the enterprise marketplace. And while the trend may not have been started by RIM and their ubiquitous Blackberry, it was certainly popularized by these wildly successful devices.
But RIM has started to lose ground to its competitors as more powerful and fully featured phones come onto the market. The likes of the iPhone 4 and the many variants of Android leave the Blackberry behind when it comes to things like browsing the web.
From Dazzling to Normal
This increasingly sophisticated manner of accessing the web has played a huge role in shaping what enterprise users now expect from their Intranet experience. Pocket browsers, pinch and zoom, and mobile apps are just some of the reasons we need to look again at the humble Intranet. Not only do we need to re-evaluate how these systems are designed and built, but we also need to think carefully how the user will be interacting with them -- its no longer just a case of IE vs Firefox.
Once upon a time the classic Intranet build project need not have concerned itself with anything remotely ‘mobile’ related. Nobody was really use to surfing the web on their mobile, and certainly not on the relatively basic Nokia phones that use to prevail in the corporate world. But RIM made the smart phone cool, and Apple then made the web a pleasure to explore on a similar device. So now CEOs demand that they can access the Intranet on their Blackberry, PAs request to open office documents directly, and everyone wants to access the thing on the move.
Rethinking Intranet Basics
So what does this all mean when building enterprise platforms of the future? The following 3 lessons stand out:
1 - Respect the problem to be solved
Mobile intranets are now a reality, but they are still very much in their infancy. Browsing to content -- even rich mobile content -- is perfectly possible, as is downloading documents and files. But there are limits, and these limits vary from device to device.
Requirement gathering for a mobile CMS system needs to be approached as a problem in its own right, not tacked on the end of existing workshops. The technology is maturing to offer more possibilities than ever before, but clients are expecting more and more. Give this topic the respect it deserves now, or suffer later on in the project.
2 - Pick the right product
Many enterprise platforms now offer mobile specific functionality, but not all are as strong as each other. SharePoint 2010 offers specific mobile versions of many of its pages and webparts, and Office mobile viewers for related documents. Open Text offer bespoke mobile applications for the iOS range of devices, allowing access to its software from mobile devices.
Even more basic platforms embrace new HTML5 standards (or soon to be standards) to embrace mobile usage. Things like interface components and local storage are all being taken advantage of. But the lesson is clear, be sure to pick a platform that plays to your mobile requirements.
3 - Consider the user experience
Users don’t access the web on phones in the same way they do on the desktop. They typically spend less time per session, they tend to read less and watch more, focusing on smaller tasks. The way in which we provide access to the Intranet should reflect this.
One approach is to build custom views of Intranet systems specifically for mobile devices. Think of the Intranet as the main data-store, and the typical web browser experience as the standard presentation layer -- we need to build additional presentation layers for specific mobile tasks such as search, file management, or accessing news stories.
These presentation layers could even be wrapped up as custom mobile applications e.g., a dedicated iPhone app for searching the Intranet, with results opening up in the mobile browser. This approach has even been adopted by third party developers, with a number of mobile apps, across devices, popping up to support a range of enterprise platforms.
In summary, mobile access to Enterprise CMS platforms is only going to become more important. The problems these developments present are unique, and require specific attention to solve. Tackled them correctly and the end result will benefit everyone -- from vendors to end users.