By Gloria Lombardi

“Mobile is everywhere and broadly applicable to everyone. It has the opportunity to change how employees connect and communicate. It facilitates the sharing of whatever they need to access for doing their job. And, it makes it easier for them to participate in important conversations.”

MLMaribel Lopez (pictured right) has had a keen interest in mobility since a young age. She started her career at Motorola in the 1990’s. Since those early years, she developed a deep knowledge about the technology industry. As an analyst, she worked at Forrester Research for over 10 years. Now, she heads up her own business Lopez Research, where she interprets the impact of mobile applications and digital transformation on business practices and processes.

I spoke with Lopez to explore what happens when mobile enters the world of Internal Communication. In this interview, she shares the latest trends, the opportunities, benefits as well as challenges, and the role of internal communicators, leadership and culture in driving digital transformation. Plus, how organisations are measuring the success of their mobile apps.

Gloria Lombardi: Based on your research, what are the most remarkable changes that enterprise mobility has faced over the last five to ten years?

touch-screenMaribel Lopez: Phase one of enterprise mobility focused on Bringing Your Own Devices (BYOD) into the organisation. And, the security and management aspects of those devices.

Now, most companies have entered into the second phase of mobility. Enterprises are moving beyond providing email, contacts and calendar to provide real business applications. The current big trend is to figure out which types of mobile apps make sense for any particular organisation.

In the next phase, companies will use mobility to evolve and transform business processes with context such as location, image capture and sensor data.

GL: Which mobile apps for internal communication are currently having the most impact on businesses?

ML: There are a variety of different apps and uses. It can start from very simple services such as making approvals and expense reports easily actionable.

smartphoneHowever, the apps that are currently very popular allow better collaboration amongst employees. There is high demand of those services for field workers. For example, this group can now share logistics or customers’ information – from inventory to a product’s details to industry news – wherever they are, whenever they need it. Hence, they serve the customer better. Because those apps are replacing paper forms and collecting the data electronically, employees can send information back to their headquarters seamlessly. And, by allowing the sharing of data and actionable content, internal communication apps are anchoring the social angle of the business. This is a big thing for every organisation I talk to, across all the roles and industry. Probably, it is the most universal adoption trend right now.

There is also demand for employee recognition apps. They give colleagues the ability to acknowledge the great work of their peers in front of the company. In the past, the only review that employees received was the direct feedback from their manager. Now, there is an opportunity for team members to have a say on the skills, achievements and expertise of co-workers.

GL: What are the key challenges for internal communicators who need to implement and drive mobile apps?

finger-769300_960_720ML: Part of the challenge is that there is a lot of choice. They need to make sure that they choose the right apps for the right job. The other part of the challenge is that they have to ensure that those apps are secure; that they are not giving away company data; that the organisation can’t be hacked. For this to be achieved, there is a real need for all the lines of business to work with IT.

Equally important, and challenging, is making sure that the mobile applications integrate with the existing enterprise data sources such as ERP and finance. Sometimes organisations just buy a solution that looks good, but when they try to implement it, they cannot connect it to the existing data. At that point, the company realises that it has to buy another solution, wasting time and money.

GL: How does the organisational culture impact on the successful – or unsuccessful – implementation of mobile apps?

ML: Something interesting happens with mobile. An organisation can build and deploy apps without conducting internal research first. It results in a disaster.

The role of internal communicators is to go across the company and find people who can become natural evangelists. They should talk with those employees and ask them what they would like and need to do with mobile. And find uses that provide the business case for funding mobile. IT won’t get funding if there isn’t real demand from the users.

GL: Different employees probably have different mobile needs. A group could ask for a people directory; other individuals may require an internal news app and more. How should an internal communicator approach such diverse needs?

personalML: It isn’t easy. The first thing to do is to create a list of the organisational needs that can be met with mobile. And what groups of employees each app is able to support.

Then, they should map those applications back to the key performance indicators of the company (KPIs). The apps that have the most impact on the KPIs are the ones to adopt first. It is about creating alignment with the company, but also with staff.

What often happens is that internal communicators start implementing one or two apps because of the demand. But suddenly, they end up with a list of a hundred apps that people want. Yet, the company cannot adopt all of them. So, it is about focusing on the main business goals and evaluating which applications are really going to meet the key objectives.

GL: How are organisations measuring the value of their internal mobile applications?

ML: Sometimes organisations directly evaluate the time it takes to perform a task. For example, they track the number of days it took to close a contract before and after implementing a mobile app. One company was able to capture the barcode of the products and easily log all of the products sold. Before having the app, even without intentions, some numbers were missed. Thanks to mobile, employees did not miss any product sales, and improved billing. Plus, the field workers became more efficient and they could do one more service call a day.

GL: Internal communication apps have become a big part of the digital transformation of an organisation. How can leaders lead this change, effectively and in the right way?

monitorML: It’s an important question. Organisations should not just adopt mobile because it is now available. They should think of the actual digital transformation, and ask themselves, ‘What can we do better because of mobile?’ Probably, many of their existing applications were not originally designed for services such us photo or video capturing, motion, sensing, or location. Yet, the organisations that are serious about becoming a digital company, are going to rebuild their entire business processes with these type of services in mind.

GL: Could you give me some concrete examples?

ML: A simple example can be with construction workers who check in for a time clock. If they walk into the building with their phone, and they stay in the building, their timekeeping card can be automatically punched. They don’t need to have to go to a device and register their presence. A CRM system could also automatically log when a salesperson entered a customer site, making it easier to capture a record of the visit.

To embrace digital transformation, organisations should be thinking about wearables and smartphones to leverage location. That fits into the cross between mobile and The Internet of Things (IoT) where sensors are on devices. Employees will be able to track shipments, know exactly where an equipment is, and check the health of that equipment at any given point in time.