Whether you think intranets remain an important part of the digital workplace or fall under the "why bother" school of thought for giving mobile access to intranets, the variety and differences of our organizations require that we eschew any overly simplistic advice. Instead we need to consider what the real business drivers and employee needs are as we work out what constitutes a suitable mobile employee experience.
A Vendor View – the 'New Microsoft'
Last month the Redmond-Wash. behemoth’s new CEO, Satya Nadella took the stage to introduce Office for iPad. At least that was the crux of Nadella’s address if you read much of the coverage. If you watched the keynote or read more in depth articles you would see that Microsoft is pushing a “suite” (that is, a bunch of yet to be fully integrated applications) for managing mobile devices and BYOD -- the Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite.
It may be accused of being behind the times in this market as it gets its Office tools onto Apple’s tablets, but Microsoft remains big (HUGE) in the enterprise IT space. The most important element of Nadella’s presentation for me was the emphasis he put on mobile computing needing the cloud to be successful, and his point that the cloud is in effect quite useless if it can't facilitate mobile. This concept was not new to many of us, but it was refreshing to see the new CEO of Microsoft putting it in such blunt terms.
I admit, you do not have to provide access to JUST cloud apps from mobile devices, you can build and deploy on site applications with responsive web interfaces or as cross platform apps. But let's just say deploying in the cloud makes it easier. Here's a little 2 by 2 matrix just to get us thinking ....
Security vs. Utility = Cost vs. Complexity?
So if we agree that the easiest (and best?) way to enable a good mobile employee experience is through cloud services, what is potentially the cheapest and simplest route to this promised land?
Figure 1: Mobile access via the cloud
What I am attempting to show here is the cost benefit analysis and potential trade off between the utility of the mobile experience to the user, and the security required by the enterprise.
The consumer level IT services that come with pre-built apps for most, if not all platforms (Blackberry 10?) might suffice for many organizations, but might not offer enough utility to other organizations because of the lack of security functionality. Many organizations might offer highly secure mobile access to some employees via devices issued by, and heavily managed (read: constrained) by the organization, while others might try to find the sweet spot (or suite spot?) of balancing managed BYOD services with consumer or custom apps.
The dotted blue line is simply a suggestion that there could be a linear correlation of cost and complexity. The dotted purple line suggests that there might be more of a gradual ramp up in both cost and complexity before reaching a leveling off point.
The problem is (as I noted in the introduction) there is no one size fits all solution. For the Small to Medium Business sector consumer IT apps may well be good enough. For a highly regulated industry or security conscious industry, it may be cheaper and simpler to stick with well managed company issued devices and a less than perfect user experience that includes “VPN tags,” 2 factor authentication, etc. For other organizations it might actually be simpler to buy an SDK that can be used to build cross platform apps, and go with a hybrid or private cloud model. In the end it all depends on what your business is, and what you want to do!
What Do You Want a Mobile Intranet to Do?
The crux of the matter is this -- what exactly do you want or expect a mobile enabled intranet to do? What is your definition of an intranet in this context? Do you think of the term as encompassing all your “internal” applications and tools, or do you consider it to be an element within a wider overall digital workplace? Your way of thinking about this will influence what you want to deliver.
What are the real business drivers behind your need to push information to mobile workers? Perhaps you have a largely mobile workforce -- engineers or sales staff who really fulfill the “road warrior” stereotype and need quick and easy access to specific specialist applications in order to do their everyday productivity tasks. Or perhaps the majority are “corridor warrior” knowledge workers, moving around a large campus, or working in multiple office buildings, attending many meetings and forming ad hoc collaborative groups to get work done?
Again lets try another simple 2 by 2 matrix to assist the conversation:
Figure 2: Access to information versus complexity of that information
Obviously this grid is overly simplistic, but the point is while considerable time, money and effort will provide great ROI for some organizations, it will not be the same for everyone. If you’re a 500 person company with all your workers in one office block, do you really need the office juniors to be able to read the canteen menu on the mobile device of their choice?
The death knells of the intranet, as always, are premature. Some organizations will need to take mobile access to data and information very seriously in order to simply stay in business. For such organizations a loose collection of apps may indeed replace the old style web publishing based intranet. For other organizations there is no compelling business need for mobile access to information and tools other than “the new generation of workers demand it” -- and how seriously you take that demand will depend on your budget and other strategic priorities.
If you have deployed either a responsive design based intranet, or custom apps please let us know in the comments section.