Late in 2012, we asked the question Should intranet teams stop and do mobile instead? The idea being that if teams are stuck waiting for approval to start an intranet project, the best approach could be to switch focus to something equally useful but more “sexy”.
Last week we received an email from Andrew Mitchell at Urbis, an Australian consultancy focusing offering services in planning, design, property, social planning, economics and research. Andrew is a long-time “friend of Step Two”, and he took up our challenge, and has delivered the firm’s first mobile intranet.
Andrew has generously agreed to share some screenshots of what they’ve delivered, as well as answer a few questions about the “what” and “why”.
Question: You’ve been trying to improve the intranet for a long time, what’s been the delay?
Andrew: Well we’ve been improving the intranet regularly for years – like when we added the Commercial Dashboard a bit over a year ago – but all of these have been custom-built systems for specific business needs. I think what you’re referring to is the fact that over the last few years I’ve been increasingly frustrated by the core of our intranet. It was hand-built in ASP more than 7 years ago and it’s hard to maintain, static, inflexible, and ultimately stale and unloved. Some of the core tools on our intranet are well used and well loved – things like People Finder and Project Finder – but I know what a modern intranet could do for us and there’s so much more we COULD be doing to help the organisation.
So we’ve been talking seriously about replacing the core intranet for the last couple of years but – to be honest – we’ve been stuck at platitudes like “we want it to help us share information and knowledge” or “it needs to be engaging” or “we want to communicate better”. While these are all these are things that an intranet can help with, they’re not enough to actually design a new internet that our people will actually WANT to use.
I’ve therefore been really hesitant to push for the required investment without that clear purpose.
Why switch focus to mobile?
It was really the combination of a lot of different factors:
- creating something totally new seemed to be a lot more achievable than dealing with the mountain of out-of-date content on our current intranet
- we had a desire to learn something new (HTML 5 for responsive design)
- we had an initial request from multiple staff who, when switching from a BlackBerry to an iPhone, lost the ability to access our staff directory
- the absolutely massive growth in smartphones and tablets for both personal and business use
- the feeling that achieving something ‘usable and useful’ for staff was going to be a whole lot more practical on mobile
We know we still need an intranet re-build but the mobile platform was a ‘low-hanging fruit’ which we plucked first.
What have you delivered, and why?
Our focus for the project really just fell out of the principles we use to guide our decisions on how to invest our time. We wanted to do something useful and usable for staff – in this case while they are “out of the office” – while leveraging and extending what we knew. We started with a few ideas for useful functionality and then extended it as we iterated the concept and design.
The two core (database driven) features are:
- the staff and client contact search (one search, providing two sets of results) which help staff easily contact both staff and clients
- ‘My Debtors’ which helps directors and managers follow up outstanding debt to help with our cash-flow.
The other features include:
- useful information including travel & hotel details
- contact details for support staff
- our office locations with maps
- help pages for traveller’s most common IT questions
During testing we also added a link to the Urbis website at the request of staff.
Advice for other organisations?
For us, this was pretty low risk, low cost and high return. So once we got the idea, it was pretty obvious that we should do it
In retrospect, however, the project took a lot more time than I was expecting. We already had most of the technical skills in-house and we developed a proof-of-concept to prove to ourselves we could do what we wanted to do.
The proof-of-concept turned out to be useful in stimulating discussions with various staff about what we should deliver and how different aspects of the functionality would work. Prior to development we invested a lot of time in security design and configuration and in the detailed design of the user interface and responsive elements.
Even though we’d made this design investment we still needed to enhance or re-work elements during development. Our usual iterative approach to testing and release worked well.
We know we’ve been successful because a third of staff have used it in the two weeks since it was launched.
Want to know more about enterprise mobility?
All kudos to Andrew and his team for delivering this solution! For us, it’s a great example of how quickly valuable functionality can be delivered to mobile devices, and it demonstrates what internal teams can create.
This is a rapidly moving space that will end up having a major impact on how we will work in organisations. To help guide early planning and decision decisions, we’ve published the 2nd edition of Best practices: enterprise mobility. This is packed with screenshots and examples that will inspire and inform.
Also watch this space for details on the winners of this year’s Intranet Innovation Awards, which will be announced in a few months. There are some great mobile entries that we’re looking forward to sharing!