Three years ago we had high hopes for enterprise mobile, but large organizations have made sluggish progress overall. Many of the failures stem from four mistakes common to poor intranet management.

I distinctly remember an autumn day in New York City in 2012 when my team ran a prioritization exercise with intranet teams from over a dozen Fortune 1000 organizations.

Using a bucket of post-it notes and a structured, silent brainstorming exercise, we watched as the teams listed, grouped and ranked the top challenges of enterprise mobile. Collectively we had a clear handle on the challenges ahead and left the session expecting great things.

At that moment in 2012, the iPhone had turned five years old, Blackberry smartphones had become the butt of many a joke, and the digital workplace industry had a sense of the impending takeoff of mobile phone and tablet use. But three years on, that rocketship still hasn’t really left the ground.

Many factors contribute to the slow implementation of effective smartphone and tablet use, but four reasons particularly match the patterns of poor intranet management that we’ve seen time and again.

1. Lack of a Dedicated Program with Clear Ownership

Many organizations have struggled with intranet management because they simply don’t know who should own the intranet. Time and again, major global organizations kick intranet responsibility from one team to the next. Or different divisions manage separate aspects of the intranet or different sites, but without central management and coordination.

This problem only amplifies as organizations struggle to shift their perspective to managing the broader digital workplace in a cohesive manner.

The siloed design of support functions within large organizations simply doesn’t meet the needs of intranet and digital workplace management.

This same issue has repeated itself with enterprise mobile. The effective delivery of mobile apps and services to employees requires a strong centralized function. Large organizations need an enterprise mobility program to run in parallel with a strong intranet program, or to have the two running together in an integrated fashion.

But most organizations still don’t know who should lead the enterprise mobile effort. The result is that the IT department manages the tools on a one-off basis, either leading their own efforts or responding in a bilateral way to individual business units’ requests for mobile tools. Or each major business division has its own IT department running its own mobile app program (sound familiar to all you intranet managers out there?).

Which brings us to the second major mistake.

2. Leaving IT in Charge of Enterprise Mobile

Ouch, ouch, ouch! That’s the sound of me being hit with stones chucked by a quarter of the digital workplace industry.

There are two types of IT department: 1. those that maintain and support technology tools; and 2. those that see their role as finding innovative technological solutions to the needs of the business.

Type #1 makes up the majority of IT departments. They aren’t strategic business partners. They focus on cost reduction, risk and security, and basically keeping the lights on.

Type #2 is a rare breed, but can offer much more strategic value to the organization. If you are reading this and work in the IT department, it is worth ruminating over which of these two approaches best describes your role.

Historically, IT departments that own the intranet manage it from a technology-first perspective. They deliver the basic functionality needed, but often with poorly designed interfaces and information architectures (IA), poorly managed content and a lack of positive governance.

Our research has shown that good change management sits at the core of most successful intranet and digital workplace projects.

This negative pattern of IT departments under-managing the intranet has replicated itself with enterprise mobile.

In large organizations it rarely makes sense to have the Internal Communications team, HR, Knowledge Management function or any other support function leading efforts on enterprise mobile. So it defaults to being managed by the IT department.

The IT department ends up managing enterprise mobile from a limited technology-first perspective, with a lack of attention to change management and user experience design (UXD).

This leads to the third item on our list.

3. Lack of User Experience Design Capabilities

I remember a conversation with an IT team when we asked about their use of UXD techniques and user testing for a project. They promptly said: “Oh yes, we already conducted UAT (user acceptance testing).”

They thought that user involvement should only happen once the technology had been configured and was ready to be rolled out. User acceptance testing is not a design tool, but an error-finding technique. It lets you know if users run into technical errors when trying to use certain functionality.

The dominant school of thought among IT teams is that technologists should design the system and users should simply be invited in at the end to test it.

This may be an overstatement, but the reality is that most IT teams are not familiar with UXD techniques. Neither are the other teams that have typically managed intranets. UXD is not a common prerequisite for Internal Communications managers or HR leaders.

The prevalence of UXD capabilities within the intranet realm has grown substantially over the past few years, but there still exists a major deficit.

This deficit has extended to the management of enterprise mobile, where proper user research and user testing simply aren’t the norm.

Which leads directly to my final point.

4. Lack of Focus on Frontline Workers

Do you remember the first thing that happened within large enterprises when the first-generation iPad hit the market? Executives got them, hand-delivered by IT departments. The tablets were basically expensive toys for executives, who maybe used them to read email and review PowerPoint presentations more easily than opening up a laptop at the airport.

Similarly, I’ve seen too many intranet teams who think they understand their users because they’ve run focus groups in HQ. Often they have virtually no idea how people work on the organization’s frontline, let alone in other offices.

Research has indicated that (unsurprisingly) frontline workers extract the greatest value from enterprise mobility. But in order to deliver that value, an organization must conduct user research and direct user observation of frontline workers, and design user-friendly apps to solve specific daily challenges those workers face.

Enterprise mobile efforts have struggled to deliver high value to organizations and often miss the mark for frontline workers. Historically, intranets have fallen short in these areas as well.

What to Do to Right the Enterprise Mobile Ship

All is not lost. We see many examples of effective enterprise mobile implementations and every day a few more organizations find the keys to success.

Each of the above challenges listed can be addressed by organizational leaders at a strategic level, and this list of actions can be a good starting point:

  • Find a home within the organization for enterprise mobile leadership, and build up stakeholder engagement, governance and change management capacities
  • Ensure your IT function operates at a strategic level, working closely with business units to understand their challenges
  • Increase in-house UXD capabilities for all your digital workplace projects
  • Conduct research into the challenges and needs of frontline workers, including direct observational research

Not coincidentally, these exact same actions can bolster a flailing intranet program or build up a new digital workplace function. 

Remember what the Spanish-American philosopher of the 19th and earlier 20th century, George Santayana, said about digital workplace management: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Let’s try to avoid the common mistakes of intranet management and instead replicate the known success factors as we forge ahead in driving innovation and value with enterprise mobile.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by  katrinket