Where Enterprise Mobile Fits in the Digital Workplace

7 minute read
Paul Miller avatar

“Let’s just make the intranet accessible on mobile devices. It looks fine on my smartphone, I just have to zoom in a little.”

Nope. No, no, no. That is not a good enterprise mobile strategy. It misunderstands the role of mobile devices in employees’ work lives and the transformative power of well-designed mobile tools.

For those looking to develop strategic, integrated digital workplaces that deliver high business value, understanding the role of mobile devices is critical.

The list below describes eight common misconceptions about enterprise mobile and explains how mobile smart devices can fit into a broader digital workplace strategy and environment.

1. Treat mobile as an “AND” not an “OR”

Back in 2010, a CTO told me that we were moving towards a one-screen world and that soon office workers would no longer have desktops or laptops. That definitely hasn’t happened yet.

It turns out that smartphones and tablets are not replacing desktops and laptops. Instead, many office-based workers now have more devices than ever and expect the organization’s digital tools to work seamlessly on all of them.

This means that intranet managers and IT departments are now responsible for delivering the intranet AND mobile tools, either via apps or mobile versions of the intranet.

Enterprise mobile is an addition to the bailiwick of digital workplace teams, not a replacement of existing work.

2. See enterprise mobile as many things, not one thing

Related to my opening statement, “enterprise mobile” is not just one thing. There are many considerations that will likely result in a mobile ecosystem similar to the desktop ecosystem of the enterprise applications organizations currently maintain.

Ungoverned, chaotic app proliferation: In many cases, the vendors for desktop enterprise software are offering mobile app versions. Each vendor’s application is designed differently from the next, with varying branding, button placement, access standards, etc.

Additionally, in large organizations, IT departments for different functions and locations are going off on their own to design mobile apps. I heard from one large organization that they had catalogued 80 mobile apps, yet had no bodies or structures in place to govern them.

To this point, managing enterprise mobile isn’t like managing an HR portal or intranet based on a single technology platform. Instead, there are many platforms, designs, processes and expectations.

Different employee roles and needs: Perhaps more important than the technological chaos is the fact that different employees need very different things from their mobile devices.

A travelling sales manager needs access to sales related documents and collaboration tools on the go. A retail store manager needs inventory and training tools she can walk around the the floor with. A factory floor worker needs machining instructions and calculators for different industrial tools.

Each major employee audience could have highly different needs. Digital workplace teams need to deliver different views of the digital workplace to different types of employee, which makes enterprise mobile a variety of products for different internal “customers” rather than one big thing.

3. Go beyond responsive design

If different employees need different things from enterprise mobile, then simply making the intranet available on mobile devices will not do the trick.

Even delivering an intranet with top-to-bottom responsive design won’t deliver the kind of immediate, personalized and contextualized mobile experience that different employees need.

Related to the first point, digital workplace teams may need to provide a responsively designed, mobile accessible intranet as well as mobile apps.

There are plenty of other approaches too. The digital workplace manager for an airline recently told me that his strategy was to leave the main intranet with a desktop-focused design and instead create targeted mobile apps for specific audiences and tasks.

4. Focus on user tasks, not site content

Which gets us to the idea of tasks ....

Think about how you use your smartphone today and how functionality is delivered. Small screens have necessitated simpler design and single-purpose apps.

Functionality you once accessed through multiple browser tabs you now access through individual apps. Email, Facebook, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Calendar, Google Maps, Weather -- this stuff might all have been in one browser window on your desktop but now each task has its own app.

Smartphones and enterprise mobility are forcing digital workplace managers to make an important mental leap they should have made a long time ago for the intranet: think about employees’ tasks, not about the content.

Learning Opportunities

As Gerry McGovern artfully said several years ago: “Information is a task.”

Digital workplace managers should think about audiences and tasks first and foremost. The next step is to identify the physical context for those tasks, the proper channels and devices to complete them, and then the design standards required to make tasks easy, if not pleasurable, to achieve.

5. Recognize that doing less for small screens requires more work

A recent article by user experience consultant Louise Kennedy explained the 6 intranet usability truths that are magnified on smaller (mobile) screens.

As it turns out, designing for big desktop and laptop screens let the intranet managers of yore become lazy. You can fit so much more onto that big screen than on a palm-sized smartphone screen that you don’t need to prioritize as much, design as carefully or test as fully.

For a screen that’s only 10 percent the size of a laptop screen, the design needs to be 10 times better. If the digital workplace team is designing a variety of mobile apps for a variety of employee audiences, the effort adds up.

6. Implement governance and design standards

So, we’re looking at a world in which enterprise mobile is increasingly important and an add-on to existing work, but where chaotic proliferation is the norm.

Digital workplace managers can’t let trending winds buffet them around. Instead, they need to establish governing bodies, mobile design processes and decision-making structures for managing enterprise mobile.

The digital workplace strategist at a global healthcare products company told me that the organization had established an “enterprise mobile center of excellence” and a related steering group. That’s the way to go.
Design standards may force some rigidity, but they can also make mobile design much more efficient by providing templates and specific design elements that don’t need to be reinvented each time around.

7. Learn from the 'front door' concept for intranets

As enterprise mobile apps proliferate, we’re seeing the same “wild west” environments that we saw in the early days of intranets. Years ago, every intranet manager had a story about the intranets run from servers under people’s desks. Now, at big companies, there may be dozens of mobile apps for employees that the intranet team doesn’t even know exist.

The digital workplace manager at an airline recently suggested applying the Google Now concept to delivering mobile apps. This would mean that a central app “front door” would deliver the right enterprise mobile apps to an employee based on her role (airport customer service vs. pilot), her location (which airport she’s just landed in), her upcoming events (what her next flight is), etc.

This vision is almost that of a portal for mobile apps, but far more intelligent and adaptive.

8. Nest enterprise mobile within a broader digital workplace strategy

Enterprise mobile is not “the digital workplace” and doesn’t replace any existing aspects of it -- it’s a new piece that is more complex, nuanced and potentially transformative than any previous piece.

Large organizations that don’t manage enterprise mobile at all will face massive risks and inefficiencies. Those that strap on blinders and manage enterprise mobile in a siloed manner will risk creating a more fractured digital workplace, even if they deliver a strong mobile user experience.

While digital workplace teams and executives need to understand the complexities and power of enterprise mobile, they also need to tie these initiatives tightly to their broader digital workplace strategies.

And those broader digital workplace strategies need to be rooted in clear business needs and goals, an audience- and task-based approach, and extensive user research.

About the author

Paul Miller

Paul Miller is CEO and Founder of Digital Workplace Group. His book The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future (co-authored with Elizabeth Marsh), was shortlisted for the CMI Management Book of the Year 2016 Award.