The mobile intranet (and chat bots)

Two of the biggest areas of attention for today’s corporate intranets are mobile and chat bots. These may see incongruous, with the former being an old idea and the latter a new one.

intranet chatbot

Both mobile and chat bots have two common criteria: first, they practically don’t exist as elements of the intranet in today’s Fortune 500 organizations. And secondly, they are concepts that are mistakenly viewed as simply technology, rather than then game changers of communication, collaboration and personal behavior change that they really are.Let’s start with the new idea – chat bots. For many, the idea itself is not well understood. A common definition is simply, “a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.” In reality a chat bot is simply a means for a computer to respond to an inquiry by a user – which could be text-based, audio-based, or even visually based.

Think about it this way – Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are all, in essence, audio chat bots. Ask them a question, get an answer. If virtual reality was added, in the form of visual imagery, that would be another form of a chat bot. And the simplest chat bot is just a text message reply or open chat window of text.

There are many uses for chat bots inside the enterprise for employees and managers – not to mention with customers and suppliers.

The most obviously examples involve any routine query that an employee or manager might make – often today via email, or their intranet’s search engine. For example, an employee could ask “how many vacation days do I have left this year?” or “when is the next pay day?” or, “when are performance reviews due?”. For Managers, especially those on the road, getting simple data requests would be helpful, such as “what was yesterday’s sales of X product?”, or “when is inventory for X product due for replenishment?”

The point is that the technology itself has been around for a while. But people are just now becoming comfortable in interacting with (“talking to, and hearing back from”) chat bots. The question for intranet managers is how and where best to incorporate this core capability.

Mobile, on the other hand, has been around for a long time and is, without a doubt, the biggest change to the technology and social landscape since the invention of the PC, the creation of the internet, and the rise of social media. 

 Yet, while consumer’s flock to mobile, and Facebook makes 80% of its revenue from mobile, it is very common for employees and managers to have little or no access to their enterprise applications and corporate intranet via a mobile-optimized user experience.

 The reasons for this, particularly with large enterprises, are many – and the investment necessary to enable mobile are not small.  The simplest way to think about it is this: If your company doesn’t have a private App store, where do you get your secure apps? Alternatively, the cost of build mobile-designed browser interfaces is an effort that’s above and beyond the desktop.

Ironically, for smaller firms, there are a number of Cloud-based intranets flooding the market – all that have Apps. The challenge is not so much the technology, but managing all the content and getting all employees – across the generational spectrum – comfortable with it.

As with most things associated with intranets – the challenges and successes are usually not due to technology, but are technology enabled. Meeting your employees and managers needs must be top priority. Delivering a user experience that’s fast, clean, mobile and highty relevant should be the priority above and beyond any technology concerns.


Michael Rudnick, Managing Partner, Prescient Digital Media, has helped transform Fortune-500 organizations in the areas of Intranets, enterprise social collaboration, internal communication, HR service delivery and HR technology for over 20 years.