“Mobile apps have an exponentially-growing reputation among the savviest of companies. Highly-regarded as streamlined and convenient, they are often developed around the most popular and essential functions, and can be introduced quickly“ - exactly the opposite of what is true with large and cumbersome IT projects, which many have experienced in the past. Thus, it is not surprising that apps are now the hot topic of discussion for internal communications' specialists.
In a perfect world, communication is pointed towards as many people as possible (or even more perfectly: to ALL) but should not be enforced. Everyone chooses their own personal level of data consumption, voluntarily.
Employees without easy access to a desktop PC are not exactly a marginal group. Nowadays, each large company owns an intranet, which is mainly used for distributing documents ie. communication content. In most cases, intranets are primarily accessible only via PC. In both warehouses, and on the production level, the intranet terminals have become increasingly common during recent years, but haven't exactly gained popularity. This lack of engagement is particularly painful, because those employees receiving the least information are also those who need it most.
The Benefits of a Digital Employee Communication Channel
Apps facilitate access to the employees, via their smartphones, as a new channel for internal communications. This is true for devices provided by the company as well as private smartphones. Accessing this new channel has many benefits compared to traditional communication media such as the intranet and email. Digital communication encourages social interaction such as comments, likes and sharing while also allowing administrators to analyse which content is most engaging.
These new elements in communication establish a dialogue between top management, middle management and the operational level but also help communication officers to spot important topics and actively managing them. Moreover, an app aligns with the digital transformation of the workplace and automatically compiles mobile-first content for your readers. In addition, targeting content becomes easier which results in employees receiving only the information that is important to them, such as location or department specific news.
An Internal Communications App for iPhone, Android and what else?
The mobile operating systems iOS (Apple) and Android (Google) have more or less divided the market between themselves. There is no disputing on whether or not an internal communications app should be made available on iOS and Android. Consequently, the market is very well covered and there are only few devices left that should not be forgotten: regular PC or laptop browser, covering the possibility that employees want to gain information by using their own device at home. In addition, it makes sense that particularly writers might wish to directly process content on a larger screen – editing articles and pages should, therefore, be possible on both PC and app.
How to Implement an Internal Communications App – 8 Key Points to Get Started
As easy as the idea of an internal communications app might seem at first sight, the topic can be rather tricky when looked at more closely. Whoever initially thought that an app is only an additional channel for the intranet adjusting content to mobile screens and thus displaying it responsively, has been fooled. There are some challenges to overcome, which are not only owed to different screen formats. Below we have compiled the most important aspects.
1. Voluntary or mandatory?
Voluntariness is the basic principle of internal communications. To a large extent, employees decide on their own which information from the company they want to have available. The closer these pieces of information are to their own work and interests, the more exiting they are. Thus, starting an internal communications app is of voluntary nature and replaces in-house journals and bulletin boards.
However, possible applications like easy communication processes making rota or manuals accessible on the app are easily conceivable. As soon as the use becomes more mandatory, employees need to be granted the requirements like providing company devices or data tariffs. Low-priced tablets, which would still have been unthinkable some years ago due to high costs, can now be run with proprietary WiFi without expansive, individual data tariffs.
2. What Sort of Contents?
Modern intranets come up with a growing number of new features and with that supported use cases. While intranets have been used as storage for frequently used documents, soon news and with that company communication were added. The next step were establishing employee portals focussing especially on self-service of employee processes – the so-called Employee Self Services.
The latest step involves the adaption of communities and project rooms, where teams can work together and all important documents are stored. These 4 main use cases (information, communication, processes and teamwork) build the basic framework for modern intranets and by that a starting point for the following question: Which use cases and related contents should be made accessible on mobile?
Based on our experience, communication reaching all employees by using a mobile app is the first step. The second step is split up between information (manuals, phone directory, menu, contact information) and processes (surveys, holidays left and time account). Teamwork is to be provided for a small number of employees only, making it more safety-critical in general.
3. What new Features does a Mobile Channel Need?
First of all, it is important to realise that solely an app is not enough. An easy way for filling the app with contents is needed, which includes not only one single administrator maintaining an app kit but also full-time and part-time writers, who can create content easily and maintain it continuously with minimal training efforts. This covers the need for a so-called Content Management System (CMS). CMS systems have already been in existence for many years being initially used for websites and later for intranets. Due to the increasingly diverging requirements the CMS used for intranet and the Internet nowadays are hardly the same.
The mobile app demands a further specialisation of an intranet CMS. One of the most important features is the Push functionality. Apps are able to display a so-called push notification on the smartphones' home screen actively informing and directly leading the user to the app. Push notifications are a powerful tool and as always with power comes responsibility. Users should not be overwhelmed by push notifications, because then the effect would wear off, let alone employees completely disabling this feature on their device. A mobile app CMS should, therefore, make push notifications only accessible to a specific target group and an selected number of writers.
Learn more about the management of push notifications from our T-Systems case: How T-Systems Cuts Through the Noise with an Employee App
4. How to Keep Users up to date?
This question has been raised especially for all other company-related IT applications. The remarkable thing about this is that the target group of an employee app also includes non-desk employees, who often are not recorded in any sort of IT system or user directory. In most cases, those employees are only recorded in the personnel system for they receive wages or salaries. Thus, the CMS system needs to provide an easy method for importing employee lists including not only the name and clear characteristic (e. g. ID) but also further personalisation information (location, area).
For all the details about user onboarding and manangement of an internal app check out this epic blogpost: How to Onboard Employees to an Internal Communications App
5. Native App or Web App?
Native apps are those apps known from the private smartphone use: small programmes, which are downloaded from an app store. The huge benefit is that only native apps are able to deeply affect the devices’ features which enable e. g. push notifications. On the contrary, web apps are nothing more than websites accessed through a mobile browser on the smartphone.
In fact, they are easier to create, but they cannot be distributed through an app store and are, thus, not capable to enable push notifications. Even though developing and maintaining native apps is costlier, the functional benefits outweigh those of web apps.
A good approach to combine the best of both worlds are Hybrid Apps. Those are native apps which have a web app inside.
6. How to Distribute the App?
An internal communications app is best distributed through a public app store. Employees are already used to this process due to having installed other apps on their device. The app store also ensures that the app is updated on a regular basis. Only registered users with a login will gain actual access to the app content. This ensures that only the target group can access the specific content. General contents of the company can be displayed on a public site in the app helping to remarkably increase the potential target group of such an app.
Alternatively distributing the app beyond app stores is possible, but often limited in access and easy installation and are, thus, only suitable for a very limited number of users.
7. How Does that Fit the Intranet Strategy?
An employee app can be viewed as channel displaying the intranet. The already mentioned CMS is, then, nothing else than the intranet itself. Most insurmountable challenges in this scenario result from information security and two related competing requirements. On the one hand, intranets are hosting a growing pile of projects, documents and business-critical information, which have to be reliably protected from unauthorised access.
On the other side, as many employees as possible should be able to access communication through their private devices preferably without entering login data in every time. Out of this results a (at least) dichotomy of modern intranets: company communication apps with an own CMS stands apart from the actual intranet and are only offering mobile displayable content to the employees. A best of breed approach will therefore prevail for future intranets.
8. How to get Management Support?
“Given the ever growing digital revolution, many companies are driven by one question: How can we reach decisions quicker and implement them faster?“ An employee communications app represents an ideal tool for quickly and manageably build up an interactive channel for all employees. This argument is well understood and is supported by a large number of managers.
The Costs of an Internal Communications App
The initial development of an easy app based on a kit is financially manageable. Adding specific features and maintenance by various s makes this solution costlier. App kits cannot keep up with the highly specialised functionality of mobile intranet CMS and are only suitable for functionally elementary apps like in-house publications. Providing an app for various app stores and keeping it up to date requires continuous effort that most companies are not used to when comparing it to past intranet projects and are, therefore, not included in budget planning. The conflict between high costs and growing functionality demands can only be settled by using standard solutions. The costs calculate on basis of the users and include continuous maintenance of the app and further development of its functions.
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