Security and data protection have priority in organizations. That said, life would be impossible today without mobile apps. So how do we go about achieving a balance between usability and security?

Mobile apps are essential for a social intranet today. That doesn’t make me an advocate of the “mobile-first” approach though. Far from it, in fact, and I firmly believe that mobile device management (MDM) solutions are given too much importance in organizations. “Bring your own device” (BYOD) is more practical and can also be made to work securely. Organizations have to pay attention to issues like security, data protection, and confidentiality, of course. But a collaborative solution only has value when it’s used by lots of employees. And for that to succeed, it has to have a low level of complexity and a high level of usability. Unfortunately, usability and security in organizations are natural antagonists in this regard. So, how can we do justice to both? What options do we have? 

No More Intranet without Smartphones

The ability to access corporate content and business-related information on smartphones has become increasingly important in recent years. People who work don’t spend all day sitting at their desks. We travel, move around the building, or spend time out and about in some way. For many knowledge workers, the amount of time they spend on their smartphones these days is now much more than the amount of time they spend working on their desktops. People use their smartphones on the bus, on the train, in bed, at the breakfast table, and in lots of other credible and incredible situations.

At some point in the past, the founders of Google were asked if they intended to make money one day. Back then, Google had already burned through hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knew how they were ever going to make a profit. The glib answer from the founders was, “Money follows the eyeballs.” This sentence didn’t come from them originally, but it was the first time I’d ever heard it. Ultimately, it’s all about garnering attention: if you can garner people’s attention, you can earn money. Or transferred to the intranet: If you can garner people’s attention, you can influence, control, and have an impact. This means that an intranet team that knows what they’re doing embraces smartphones with apps, a mobile-accessible solution, push notifications, and offline content that can be accessed quickly and easily, regardless of the internet connection. 

Why Mobile First is not the Top Priority for a Company

I’ve become angry countless times about the misunderstandings that these two simple words bring about among customers and intranet teams: mobile-first. A little bit like “America first.” When Donald Trump uttered these two words during his 2016 election campaign, it sounded to me like he was saying “America only.” And this is exactly how some intranet teams understand mobile-first: “Yeah, let’s create an intranet that people can use first and foremost on their smartphones. Most of our employees spend all of their time on the go anyway and don’t even use a desktop.” And before you know it the horse has already bolted.

Allow me to quote Jakob Nielsen, the ‘father of usability research’, from the Intranet Design Annual 2018 (see 

If you’re not familiar with the Intranet Design Annual, you should definitely get it. At our company, we consider it to be the Bible of the intranet, published on an annual basis. Nielsen says,


Organizations know that their employees consider mobile important, and the pioneers are in the process of or are already providing them with mobile intranet access. Nonetheless, many of them follow a realistic and pragmatic approach to mobile design – an approach that involves setting high goals, but with very real resource constraints. In some cases, teams focus on the desktop environment first, as eBay did. In other cases, they take an incremental approach. At AMA, for example, the first version was designed for tablets, but not for smartphones; although the team had already developed a framework for mobile phones, the first intranet release did not include it. Security can also be a challenge for the mobile environment. The responsive intranet from Capital Power works across all devices. But because mobile users have to use two-factor authentication, mobile use has fallen short of expectations. The team is now looking for a simpler security solution. 

I have a strong opinion when it comes to this: in the long term, an intranet will have no promise of success if it can only be used in its full scope on mobile devices but offers a slimmed-down version of its mobile features over a web interface. 

Although intranet content is created on desktop computers, its consumption is increasingly taking place on smartphones.

Information and communication form the heart of an intranet. And the smartphone is indisputably on an impressive march toward success when it comes to the consumption of this information. When it comes to creating information, however, a smartphone can only contribute photos, videos, and sound. No question about it, these are certainly exciting things, especially for social applications. But videos that hundreds or thousands of people will watch should or, even better, must be edited. And the vast majority of information can best be conveyed simply by using a combination of text and contextual images or visualizations. And for that, you need a desktop computer. 

A modern intranet has to support the desktop computer used by the editor just as much as mobile consumers and the bite-sized editing processes performed on a smartphone. What I don’t mean by that is just a capture interface for messages that can then be broadcast on the go or an interface to a system that works well on computers. You need an information center that’s buzzing. This center is used extensively by every employee in all situations whether on their desktop or on their smartphone on the go. It’s this fusion of mobile-first and desktop-first applications that makes intranets successful today. 

The next time you’re faced with intranet concepts that attempt to make very complex things extremely simple, please take a closer look. It’s most likely to be nonsense and will not work well in reality.

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The Social Intranet

Foster collaboration and strengthen communication. Be effective with enterprise intranets mobile and in the cloud.

Virtual Collaboration in Companies: Social Intranets as a Digital Home 

Never before has the business world been so overrun by cloud software and specialized vendors as it is now. There is so much software out there that it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of things. It is all the more important for the future of work to have a place for digital meeting - a reliable home port meaningfully networked with numerous other systems that makes it quick and easy to navigate. This will increase transparency in the company and make collaboration more effective. Based on many years of experience, this book tells you how it already works in today's digitalized world and which trends you probably should rather than shouldn't follow.

About the author

Martin Seibert was 17 when he founded the software company Seibert Media. Twenty-four years later, it has nearly 200 employees and generates 35 million euros in annual sales. He has been sharing his enthusiasm for technology in YouTube videos for many years - and now also in his new book about social intranets.

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This content was last updated on 03/31/2021.

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