Organizations have pushed information and communications technology out to field workers for decades, including (if you go back far enough) telephone linemen physically connecting a “mobile” handset to telephone wires with crocodile clips.
When wireless data came along, some companies paid a great deal of money to deploy specialist proprietary networks, while others used radio frequencies and equipment similar to what emergency services used. Fast forward to today and urban mobile data access is ubiquitous. Losing your signal would require a trip to the wilderness (but please, no griping in the comments section about how bad your wireless provider is if that's not the case!).
So now that we have close to universal network access, why would you need mobile access to your organization's intranet? What do your people do with it ? And before we answer those questions, how do you define mobile?
Mobile Should Be Table Stakes
The reasons why your people need mobile intranet access will depend on what your organization does. Perhaps it’s the best way to provide access to “must have” content such as complex field service manuals and schematics for field engineers. Or it provides news and employee engagement-type content for regular and occasional home workers (because mobile and remote are becoming synonymous). Perhaps it's social collaboration functionality.
What your people do with mobile access will depend on their role. For example, I might be considered a corridor roamer. I often use the 3G data connection on my BYOD iPad Mini because there's no company wi-fi in certain buildings or meeting rooms — certainly a very different use case to a field service engineer! Outside of deeply compelling business reasons, you might provide mobile access because your workforce — who are used to easily accessible consumer IT — demand it.
Luckily the basic mobile technology is becoming table stakes for most intranet vendors, be that for CMS, or collaboration platform. While we continue to debate the mobile app versus mobile web, the mobile web has evolved from responsive design to a mobile first footing, and some vendors simply give you the choice of an app or a good mobile web experience.
Two Conversations, Two Vendors
Over the last few months we've looked at how some social collaboration platforms might be moving into more traditional intranet web CMS ground, so it was interesting to find out about EZONES.
EZONES is a part of OWNZONES Media Network, Inc., a content aggregation service that wants to change the way consumers discover, access, collect and subscribe to digital content. EZONES brings that functionality into the enterprise via an SaaS model, but includes integration with SharePoint from the get go via web parts. Integrations with various portal software offerings are on its roadmap.
Most of the EZONES senior team are ex-Microsoft, so integration with SharePoint and other portals is in their blood. This allows EZONES to focus on what it does better than generic portals: providing a personalized view of rich content, some of which can be pulled in from external feeds. It puts the emphasis squarely back on publishing and presenting engaging content to your employees, including functionality such as a built in video player.
This secure video player is optimized for tablets and phones to cope with lower bandwidth connections. As noted above, mobile access is now considered standard functionality, and with EZONES, as with many other software offerings, the ease of mobile access is at least partly due to the public Internet accessible, cloud based model. You can read more about EZONES here.
A view of EZONES in the browser on a traditional computing platform, tablet and smart phone
I recently spoke with Dan Hauck, CEO of ThreadKM. ThreadKM is a specialist social collaboration type platform with a distinct legal focus — “matter centric” if you're in the legal space. Think of it as a secure Slack for lawyers if you're not.
ThreadKM offers a deep integration with legal document management. Although it has modern web interface, the company has gone the route of making apps available for mobile clients (and desktop OSs, too):
threadKM mobile app options
It's Not Them, It's You
My point in highlighting two vendor's products that, though very different, loosely fall into the intranet or digital workplace category is this: vendors jumped on mobile a while ago. So if execution of a mobile intranet does not work well for your organization, it likely has more to do with your organization.
Paul Miller of the Digital Workplace Group argued this point well in “4 Ways Enterprise Mobile Repeats Intranet Mistakes.” Quite often, the capability or maturity of IT departments fail on execution, but the issue is not that alone.
Have you put thought upfront into what you want or need mobile intranet access to provide to your people? Do you want it for good reasons, or simply because the vendors can provide it ? If you have good reasons, writing a business case for the appropriate funding should be straightforward.
My organization may soon give mobile access to SharePoint via the Blackberry BES servers (or so I hear …), but whether this means intranet access from my BYOD iOS device remains to be seen. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it simply means the funding priorities are elsewhere. Which brings us back to the point that it is often easier to engineer secure mobile access to cloud based systems than it is to open holes in the firewalls and set up complex security provisions.
If you have been foiled in your attempts to set up a mobile intranet, or conversely if you're really happy with yours, please let us know in the comments.