A Primer on Corporate Mobile Communication

This post was co-authored by Jeff Corbin.

Mobile technology is one of the fastest growing industries today. Businesses must stay cutting edge to stay competitive. Nowhere is this more apparent than internal employee communication.

The Gallup Organization recently conducted a study on workplace engagement and found that poor employee communications results in a disengaged workforce, decreased productivity and loss in revenue. According to the study, only 30 percent of U.S. employees are engaged at work and this problem costs businesses almost $550 billion per year.

In a separate study conducted by tech analyst group Gartner, research shows that tablet sales will be higher than PC and laptop sales combined by 2015. 80 percent of businesses will support a tablet enabled workforce by the end of 2014.

Bringing these two studies together, it's logical to steer companies towards improving employee communication via mobile technology. Doing so would significantly boost engagement and productivity, ultimately saving corporate America billions.

In creating a mobile communications strategy, businesses should leverage new technology and apps to keep employees "in the know," as well as connected to the business and each other. In the internet era, information is easily disseminated globally, simultaneously and instantaneously. Mobile social intranet platforms allow teams around the world to collaborate much more easily than ever before.

Some of the options available today for mobile communication are described briefly below:

Native apps

Native apps are programs designed to be used on specific mobile devices or platforms. They offer functionality such as push notifications to alert users when new content is available. Content can also be downloaded for offline viewing and listening when an internet connection is not available. If extensive customization and design are required, native apps can be expensive to develop. However, there are solutions available that provide ways to implement a native app mobile communications strategy quickly, cost effectively and without the need for IT or systems integration.

Web apps

Web apps are an alternative to native apps. Some argue that web apps are not really apps -- rather they are mobile websites that cannot be found in app stores, or they are skinned to exist in app stores by using HTML5 coding so the website responds accordingly in different mobile devices. As a website, an internet or Wi-Fi connection must exist for the "app" to work. This can prove challenging for the employee who is not in an office, frequently on the road and/or travels internationally. Nevertheless, for the company looking for a down and dirty mobile solution, a web app may suffice.

Mobile social collaboration

Social collaboration tools provide a way for companies to connect people, content and business data. The enterprise social collaboration market in 2010 was a $600 million industry. Forrester estimates that it will reach $6.4 billion in 2016. Solutions presently available include Cisco WebEx Social, Jive, Microsoft SharePoint, Yammer and Salesforce Chatter. One platform may be preferable to another depending on particular business needs such as document /file sharing, peer collaboration or access to company information.

Social collaboration platforms do present challenges as they originally were created for the desktop. While many now offer a mobile version (i.e., a web app), user experiences may vary. In addition, since social collaboration platforms can be costly and often require systems integration, the need to confront IT and security may make the decision to embark on such a mobile communications strategy one that communications professionals wish to avoid.

Mobile corporate intranets

Corporate intranets have been in existence since the Internet became commercialized and present another strategy for communications professionals to consider. As with social collaboration platforms, most corporate intranets were developed for desktop computing first. Recognizing the importance of mobile, developers today are conforming existing intranets to the mobile market. However, this does not necessarily make for a user friendly experience.

According to Prescient Digital Media, satisfaction with intranets overall is poor, and if employees don't like a particular solution, they won't use it. Stephan Schillerwein, a Switzerland-based independent Digital Workplace consultant, says that more than one hour every day is wasted by workers ineffectively searching for information needed to do their jobs. While intranets were a good place to start 15+ years ago, unless developed with a mobile first approach, significant cost and time may be spent developing a solution that will never be used.

As the workforce becomes more disparate, employees will yearn for greater communication options to stay in touch and connected to their companies. Similarly, companies will remain vexed with how to communicate simultaneously with their workforce and to keep their employees engaged. Mobile technology provides a solution for both. It is here to stay and allows employers and employees alike to connect, share and engage. Since every business is different, each must consider its specific needs, and find their own best strategy and solution.

Jeff Corbin is a communications consultant with more than 15 years experience. A pioneer in the use of technology in the communications industry, he is the founder of theCOMMSapp™, a family of communications app building solutions that includes theIRapp® for investor relations and theEMPLOYEEapp™ for internal communications.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this blog post erroneously stated that Stephan Schillerwein is Research Director at Infocentric Research. In fact, Mr. Schillerwein no longer works for Infocentric Research but is an independent Digital Workplace consultant. The post has been updated accordingly.