The corporate intranet tries to be a lot of things to a lot of people: a repository for workplace documents, a channel for social collaboration, an employee help desk and a content distribution tool. Yet the intranet does not perform any of those functions all that well. Not only that, but most intranets are difficult if not impossible to use on mobile devices.
"The corporate intranet in a mobile environment is lousy. How do you make it work with a two-and-a- half by 4-inch screen," said Jeff Corbin, founder and CEO of APPrise Mobile, provider of an application development platform that can be used to create native, mobile communications apps for employees, investors and conference attendees, among other audiences.
A need for employees to access content via mobile devices is one reason that Northshore LIJ, New York State's largest private employer and the 14th largest health care system in the U.S., is using APPrise Mobile's EMPLOYEEapp, said Ally Bunin, North Shore's assistant vice president of organizational communications.
While North Shore recently revamped its SharePoint intranet, Bunin said, "It has so many apps baked into it that it's nearly impossible to make it a mobile intranet," adding that the app offered an easy alternative to costly SharePoint customization.
An API makes it possible to integrate content from existing intranets, including those built on SharePoint, as well as other internal systems, Corbin said.
Mobile Apps and Employees on the Move
North Shore's workforce of 60,000 encompasses a huge range of roles and responsibilities, from housekeepers to physicians. North Shore hires at least 100 people every week, Bunin said, and more than three-quarters of them are millennials.
"They expect to interact with their employer on their own devices, so the app plays nicely into that," she said, noting that North Shore does not provide devices for its employees.
Among the app's essential functionalities, she said, are the ability to push out notification messages to employees and the ability to target messages to specific audiences. So, for example, only employees eligible for a particular benefit will see messages relating to it. This is made possible by the app's integration with Microsoft's Active Directory Federation Services.
Noting that an overwhelming majority of Fortune 500 companies use Active Directory, Corbin said, "Given the worldwide market share that ADFS has, pretty much every organization’s employee database can now seamlessly integrate with the EMPLOYEEapp."
A diverse and dispersed workforce with varied levels of technical savvy is a common trait among APPrise Mobile customers, Corbin said. Casino giant Caesars Entertainment, for example, needs to communicate with some 58,000 employees at more than 50 properties, nearly 50,000 of whom do not have a corporate email address.
"Many part-time employees do not have a corporate email address. All we require is a unique identifier such as an employee identification number," he said. "We give communications professionals as easy way to push content to mobile devices, and we give employees easy access to content through mobile devices."
Companies seeking a better and easier way to communicate with investors were his company's first customers, but some of those early customers asked for an app that would allow them to communicate with their employees in a similar fashion.
His company sells to communications organizations rather than IT organizations, said Corbin, a former communications professional himself. "It all starts at the content level," he said. "The point of entry is not the CIO, but the corporate communications person. That is the person who is challenged now."
Promoting Mobile App Usage
In January North Shore is changing its name to Northwell Health. EMPLOYEEapp, which is available on both Apple and Android devices, is expected to play a key role in getting employees excited about the new brand, Bunin said. To ensure that happens, the company is not taking a "build it and they will come" approach.
To encourage usage of the app, Bunin said North Shore is using "a Groupon approach" and offering limited-time offers such as codes that can be used to obtain discounts at retail partners.
"We do not want to use the app just to put out mandatory compliance stuff," she said. "If we send messages that, for example, say you can go into a retailer on a given weekend and get 30 percent off sneakers, we think that will help it go viral and keep people coming back."
North Shore's goal was to get at least 10 percent of its workforce using the app in the first month following its introduction, a goal it attained. As part of that effort, it dispatched a 100-person "brand squad," employees decked out in colorful t-shirts and carrying balloons, around its facilities to promote the app and help folks enroll, if necessary. It also heavily promotes the app on employee social media channels.
And it tied the app into a company wellness program that offers incentives for healthy behavior. So, for instance, employees receive incentive points for actions such as downloading the app or joining the wellness program through the app.
Noting that customers continue to suggest use cases that revolve around making a mobile app "a hub for relevant information," Corbin said his company is considering adding note taking and other new capabilities to the platform. He does not plan to spend development time on one-off requests, however. "When we get a request, we generally will not do it unless we've heard it 10 times before."
Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.