Should employee apps be native apps, hybrid native apps or responsive mobile websites?

January 13, 2017 Tushneem Dhamagadda Employee Communications, Employee Mobile Apps, Internal Communications Tags: , , , , , , , 0 Comments

All the experts agree based on the latest research: Mobile will be the choice of employee communication in the enterprise by end of 2017. There are obviously benefits of mobile over web-based intranets as we discussed in a recent blog post. Moreover, with the changing workforce of which millennials are becoming a big part of and increasing the usage of smartphones, if you have not thought about it yet, it is time that you start thinking about mobile so you are not stuck in the stone age.

dilbert-evolution-of-tech-phones

On the other hand, if you have already started thinking about deploying mobile apps for employees in your company, there are three options you are probably thinking about – should it be a mobile website (where you just make your existing intranet mobile friendly), a hybrid app (mix of native and web features) or a completely native app. Additionally, you are also probably thinking if this mobile website or app should be developed internally or outsourced, or if you should consider a SAAS solution.

Lets try to understand each of these options in detail and evaluate their pros and cons.

MOBILE WEBSITES (RESPONSIVE SITES)

For companies that have traditional intranets on SharePoint, WordPress or other platforms, mobile websites are perhaps the simplest and easiest way to get their content on mobile devices. In a responsive site, the website automatically detects the devices and formats the layout to the device. Employees can open their browser on the phones and access the intranet wherever they are.

Pros:

  1. Most CMS systems today come with responsive HTML templates making it quick and easy to deploy.
  2. Employees don’t need to download a specific App. However, they need to bookmark the URL for quick access.
Cons:
  1. Mobile websites are slow to load because you are downloading everything from layout to graphics to JavaScript (that helps with animation dynamic layout etc.)
  2. Mobile websites can’t cache data unless the websites are specifically designed to do so (most are not).
  3. Mobile website user interfaces are not as crisp and intuitive as native. If you can make them fancy, they’ll become eve slower to load because of the additional JavaScript
  4. While user targeting can be done, it will further slow down the App because of the additional processing on the server required to fetch the right content for the right user.
  5. Push notifications are not available – so you can’t reach employees where they are.
  6. Location based features like geofencing, iBeacons etc. can’t be used for targeting.
 

FULLY NATIVE MOBILE APPS

Fully native mobile apps are apps that can be installed on user devices either from the App Store or through an internal adhoc enterprise distribution system. These apps are good mostly for companies with no existing intranet websites since all content has to be created in the CMS for the App. For any integration of existing platforms, you’ll need to create APIs that can get the data in the format needed for the App or to import it into the App CMS.

Pros:

  1. Native Apps only fetch content that is needed so they are really fast.
  2. Content can be cached making it easy to view previously viewed content when internet connectivity isn’t great.
  3. Employees install an App making it quick to launch rather than bookmarking URLs.
  4. Push notifications can be sent to users – so you can reach employees wherever they are.
  5. Location based features like geofencing and ibeacons can be implemented and used for user targeting.

Cons:

  1. If you have an existing CMS, data needs to be converted for the apps or re-populated in the mobile CMS – HR and Internal Communication specialists need to spend more time creating and managing content.
  2. Need to allocate more budget and time to re-do existing web modules to support Apps.

HYBRID NATIVE MOBILE APPS (NATIVE APPS W ACCESS TO RESPONSIVE SITES)

In pure technology terms, a hybrid mobile app is one that is developed on web technologies but wrapped in native code (like iOS or Android). However, for our purposes here we’ll move away from the technology definition and define Hybrid Mobile Apps as essentially native mobile apps but with hooks in the app to access responsive websites (intranet or HR Modules) as and where needed. This has benefits for all. For those companies who do not have existing intranet websites, they can use the App CMS to easily populate their content while companies that have existing website modules can initially integrate those into the app to get started quickly but gradually build the APIs and develop integrations to make that web content completely mobile. Taking this approach will eliminate the the cons for the fully native approach above.

Pros:

  1. Native app content loads up really fast, as only the data that is necessary is being fetched.
  2. Content can be cached making it easy to view previously viewed content when internet connectivity isn’t great.
  3. Employees install an app making it quick to launch.
  4. Push notifications can be sent to users–so you can reach employees wherever they are.
  5. Location based features like geofencing and iBeacons can be implemented and used for user targeting
  6. Existing web-based intranet or HR modules can be included as menus in the app and accessed as responsive sites. No need to bookmark URLs for different modules. Authentication can be passed from App to these sites with single sign-on.
  7. HR and IT teams can allocate budget and resources to convert web-based HR modules to native gradually as and when needed.

Therefore based on the above comparison, it’s clear that the the Hybrid Native is the best approach.  However keep in mind that Apps are only 50% of the solution. You also need a powerful back-end that helps you publish the content, analyze metrics and re-target employees. hubEngage employee communication and engagement platform offers this hybrid native approach along with a powerful back-end so HR teams in companies can get started quickly. Contact us to schedule a demo or get a trial for the App.

The final question is whether you should build these apps (either internally or through out-sourced teams) or look for a SAAS platform. I’ll talk about both these approaches in my next post.

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